By William Pfaff
The issues that have fueled Russian-American tensions in Europe in recent months, and European tensions with both Russia and the United States, have suggested a willingness on all sides to reignite tensions that on the face of it serve no one’s real interests. The past week, however, has displayed different perspectives and the possibility of a general reassessment of problems, with new security arrangements to replace the weakened Cold War structures that currently serve everyone badly.
The United States and NATO headquarters have blamed recent troubles on a “resurgent Russia’s” wish to reclaim its Cold War predominance in Eastern Europe as well as within the old boundaries of Russia. Yet the first is an impossible ambition: Only by a new European war could Russia retake control of the former Warsaw Pact states (not to speak of reconstituting East Germany). That it wants to be left alone within Russia’s historical borders is normal enough, if inconvenient to Georgians. However, as a Georgian leader of Russia, Stalin, once said, “I am not responsible for geography.”
The Warsaw Pact gave Russia a deep defensive glacis to absorb attack by Western armies. The Western armies are no more. The only one that survives, the American, is battling for its life in Afghanistan and sitting on a powder keg in Iraq. No one in Russia today can be so paranoid as to think the country could be threatened by an attack from a NATO alliance currently unable (and unwilling) to scrape up the troops to resist the Taliban in Afghanistan.
That shows the nonexistence of any European interest in pushing Russia into starting a war, as does the formal abstention of nearly all the West European governments from the U.N. General Assembly vote last week to send the question of the legality of Kosovo’s declared independence from Serbia to assessment by the Hague International Court of Justice.
The U.S. created Kosovo independence, but was one of only six states voting against sending the affair off for a verdict in international law (which anyway could only be advisory). The General Assembly vote was 77 to six, with most of the European governments formally abstaining, a devastating defeat for the U.S. and victory for Serbia, backed by Russia. The U.S. reiterated that it will continue to station troops in Kosovo and train and supply an embryonic Kosovo army.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been in Europe to make another generally unsuccessful effort to recruit NATO and non-NATO troops to support the ill-advised U.S. and NATO campaign in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev insisted to a conference at Evian of France’s Institute for International Relations that the United States has forfeited its place at the center of world order by its illegal and unjustified invasion of Iraq; its reintroduction of missiles into Western Europe, interpreted as threatening Russia; its expansion of NATO despite promises not to do so; and its attempt to annex to NATO Ukraine and Georgia, both parts of czarist Russia since the early 19th century.
Medvedev said, “The Warsaw Pact has not existed for almost 20 years, but unfortunately for us ... the expansion of NATO is being carried out with particular fervor. Naturally, no matter what is being said, we regard this as directed against us.”
On the same day, the Georgian government confirmed that Russia had fulfilled its promised withdrawal of forces from the buffer zones protecting the breakaway regions that Georgia (as now is generally acknowledged) attacked and attempted to seize in August, causing South Ossetia and Abkhazia to declare their own independence, under Russian protection.
Medvedev’s colleague, Serguei Karaganov, offered a glimpse of the steel in the Russia reproach by denouncing a Western media “anti-Russian campaign” and reminding the Europeans of their dependence on Russian energy exports (heavily dependent on Western technology, he was reminded, and not worth trading for Russia’s current version of democracy).
However, the affair ended with Nicolas Sarkozy, current holder of the EU presidency, and President Medvedev talking about pan-European security. Sarkozy arguing for a summit called by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to create new security institutions “from Vladivostok to Vancouver,” replacing those of the Cold War with what he called a “new multilateralism.”
The formula is sure to enrage today’s Washington establishment, but possibly would be of interest to Barack Obama.
Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.
© 2008 Tribune Media Services, Inc.