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Russia: Analysis From Washington--Rewarding Bad Behavior?

Washington, D.C.; 21 June 1999 (RFE/RL) - Governments routinely reward other states which cooperate on common goals with aid, diplomatic support and other forms of favor. Indeed, both these rewards and the expectation of them often make significant contributions to stability.

But when some states conclude that they can extract even greater rewards by failing to cooperate or even by seeking to frustrate the policies of those who provide them with help, there is the risk that these states will decide that bad behavior works and hence will engage in more of it.

And that in turn may set the stage both for even more concessions by donor states in the short term and for more and larger conflicts between those in a position to give and those who expect to receive over the longer haul.

The behavior of Russia, NATO, and the G-7 countries over the last week has called attention to all these possibilities. Moscow expects to be rewarded for its role in helping to end the Kosovo crisis, something Western governments have indicated that they are prepared to do.

Indeed, Russian officials from President Boris Yeltsin on down pointedly said that they expected the G-7 plus Russia summit in Cologne to be payback time for their contributions to resolving the Kosovo crisis in a way that eliminated the need for the use of NATO ground troops.

And Western officials -- including U.S. President Bill Clinton and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder -- have said they plan to do just that not only as a way to express their gratitude for what Moscow did but also to help the Russian economy and end the recent chill in East-West relations.

This is something everyone involved understands and sees as completely natural. As Andrei Piontkovsky, one of Russia's leading political analysts, said last week, at Cologne, Yeltsin will present "his bill for his services, and he will be paid."

But Piontkovsky adds that Moscow has concluded that it could extract even more assistance from the West by demonstrating in Kosovo its independence and even its ability to act in ways the West opposes.

Such an approach, Piontkovsky acknowledges "is primitive, but this is the logic. This march of 200 of our boys sitting helplessly at Pristina - for Yeltsin they are a bargaining chip in future talks with friend Bill and others."

The strength of this logic has already been demonstrated to Russia's satisfaction: NATO governments clearly made more concessions to Russian positions than they might have had Moscow not sent troops to the Kosovar capital. And the G-7 countries have backed more aid for the Russian government despite its actions in Kosovo. The backing also comes despite Moscow's failure to push through the economic and fiscal reforms that the International Monetary Fund and others had said were preconditions.

Given these developments over the past two weeks, at least some in Moscow may be inclined to apply this logic more generally in the future, just as weakened but still powerful countries have done in the past.

Such a strategy is likely to be successful in many cases. The West has too great an interest in not seeing Russia fail or Moscow feel isolated to deny Russia the kind of aid it needs regardless of short-term behavior. Indeed, Moscow can count on many in the West to keep pointing this out.

But the continued application of this policy poses some serious risks not only for Russia but also for the international community. Moscow may be encouraged to play the spoiler once too often and thus unintentionally cross a line where the West will refuse to pay up.

Indeed, outrage in many NATO capitals about Moscow's decision to unilaterally send troops to Pristina, including calls by some to cut off all assistance to the Russian Federation, is an indication that such a strategy has the potential to backfire.

But even more seriously, other countries -- including the increasingly powerful China -- may decide to adopt the same approach. They may come to expect to be rewarded not only for cooperative moves but also for bad behavior, lest the cooperation cease and the bad behavior become still worse.

To the extent that Moscow, Beijing and other governments around the world decide to operate on that expectation, the world is likely to become a more dangerous place. That would be precisely the outcome that those in a position to offer assistance have said they want to avoid.