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A Voice From Under The Bus?

With Russian President Dmitry Medvedev making his triumphant tour of the United States and everything looking rosy for the U.S.-Russia reset, it seems almost curmudgeonly to be skeptical.

Fellow Power Verticalist Brian Whitmore, in a piece about how the reset is being viewed from Georgia, quotes U.S. President Barack Obama’s senior Russia adviser, Michael McFaul, as stating forcefully that “we’re not ending our assistance to Georgia, throwing the Georgians under the bus….”

In a recent piece for “Foreign Policy” that was aptly titled “There’s No One Under The Bus,” analyst Samuel Charap of the Center for American Progress lays out pretty much what McFaul would say himself:

Yet despite the administration's penchant for bungling its messaging, most officials in these countries have become significantly less worried about the reset with Russia in the last six months. They are adapting to the reality that the administration's top priorities require a working relationship with Moscow and that Washington no longer showers them with highly public displays of devotion. They have also grasped something that the reset-bashers haven't: There have been no grand bargains or quid pro quos with Moscow that affect their relations with the United States. In fact, the administration is delivering for them on the ground, including in ways their supposed champions in the Bush administration never did. Put a different way, there is no bus.

For critical views of the reset, you can see this “Washington Post” column by the Carnegie Endowment’s Robert Kagan or Robert Amsterdam's piece here or this “Foreign Policy” piece by David Kramer or this one by Lilia Shevtsova. To take a quote from Shevtsova’s piece, the hard line on the reset looks like this:

The Kremlin is willing to help Obama try to earn his Nobel Peace Prize as long as he's aware that the reset is possible only on Russian terms: Don't meddle in Moscow's affairs; recognize its spheres of interest; and help with its economic modernization. The United States has fulfilled the first two conditions so far, but help on the third is not yet in sight. Moscow therefore must take a firmer line in bargaining with Washington: All concessions must be prepaid.

There are some good minds lining up on both sides of this question, so it will be interesting to see how things play out. For now, I remain skeptical and see no reason to think that Russia’s key foreign-policy priorities (weakening European unity, dividing “old” and “new” Europe, dividing the United States from Europe, undermining NATO, undermining the U.S. position in the global economy, and the like) have changed. Maybe increased U.S. leverage with Moscow will make a difference eventually, but it hasn’t yet.

But returning to the question of whether there is a bus and whether anyone is under it…. Amid the roar of the reset enthusiasts this week and the booming sound of Washington patting itself on the back, I heard something that sounded to me distinctly like the sound of someone crying out from under a bus.

This week the Czech Republic’s Security Information Service (BIS) issued its annual report on security threats to the country for 2009 and it makes for sobering reading. The BIS spent all (yes, all) its counterintelligence effort against Russia. “In terms of coverage, intensity, aggressive nature and quantity of operations, the Russian intelligence services have no rivals in the territory of the Czech Republic.” (The BIS's 2008 report puts this thought even more amusingly: "As to activities of other intelligence services in our territory, the risks they posed for the Czech Republic in 2008 were negligible.")

Here’s more from this NATO member state's main security agency:

“There were continuing efforts of Russian companies to establish themselves in the Czech energy market, both through supplies of relevant products and through firms owned by companies having their seats in European countries. It is highly likely the complex ownership structure is aimed at camouflaging links to the Russian Federation.”

“There has been an increase of intelligence capacities and intensity of intelligence operations in the Czech Republic, particularly in the field of research and development and in [the] economy….”

“Russian intelligence services have in some cases smoothly picked up where their Soviet predecessors left off.”

Russia is “targeting the community of Russian expatriates living in the Czech Republic.”

“Russian intelligence operatives were, as usual, active in establishing contacts with Czech politicians….”

“In 2009, the Security Information Service also registered stepped-up Russian activities in the field of Czech-Russian scientific and research cooperation."

"Such projects are per se quite legitimate and beneficial. However, given there are Russian intelligence officers under diplomatic cover preparing and coordinating the projects, one can question the Russians’ open and sincere approach to the cooperation.”

If the “there’s-no-one-under-the-bus” crowd still feels like reading further, I’d suggest Anita Orban’s “Power, Energy, And The New Russian Imperialism.” This 2008 book argues that Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia might well be under the bus as well.

-- Robert Coalson

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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