Thursday, July 31, 2008

europe view no 92


Vague but sinister
Jul 31st 2008

Russia’s new foreign policy concept

AS LAUNCHES go, it was more an ominous fizzle than a big bang. At a briefing in Brussels on July 28th, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, answered most questions about the Kremlin’s plans for European security with a mixture of “don’t know” and “wait and see”. But the outlines are clear—and not particularly comforting.

The idea, first put forward by President Dmitri Medvedev, is to have a big international conference in Moscow, perhaps with India and China involved, to agree a legally binding treaty that will set up a European security organisation focussed on hot issues such as migration and terrorism. Its reach will stretch from “Vladivostok to Vancouver”.

But Europe already has an outfit with that mandate: the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Set up in the happy heyday of east-west cooperation, the OSCE is a talking shop with some do-gooding bits attached. Its members include America and Canada as well as every country in “Europe” (including five ex-Soviet republics normally counted as Central Asian). Its activities range from promoting media freedom to arms control. And Russia, lately, has been increasingly critical of the OSCE, particularly its election-monitoring arm.

That is because, put bluntly, Russia now thinks it got a bad deal when the old cold war ended. The OSCE promotes an interfering “western” agenda of human rights and open elections. The associated treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, signed in 1990, allows America to do too much and Russia too little in Europe. NATO and the EU run riot—for example in bombing Serbia and recognising Kosovo—unconstrained by international law.

The first, unstated, aim of the new Russian plan, based on what Mr Medvedev calls “21st-century realities”, seems to be to weaken, supplant, or outright replace the OSCE. Russia has already put the OSCE’s election-monitoring outfit under intense political and budget pressure (and blocked its observers’ visas in both recent Russian elections). Conveniently, Kazakhstan, a Russian ally, will be running the OSCE (into the ground, some think) in 2010.

Another element in the Kremlin plan is to get the outside world to take seriously Russian-led outfits such as the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, the Eurasian Economic Union, the Russian-Belarusian Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States. These bodies are so obscure and bureaucratic that they make the even the lame-duck OSCE seem important. The West has shunned official contact with them, seeing them as mere vehicles for Russia’s post-Soviet grandstanding. The Russian plan would give them similar ranking to the EU and NATO.

A third element may be to promote the “Finlandisation” of Europe, by diminishing American influence (but probably not removing it: Russia likes having some Americans around in Europe in case the Germans start getting uppity).

Now Western countries, divided and distracted as never before, just as Russia is newly rich and confident, must decide what to do. Ignoring the plan would look rude and hypocritical: after years of stroppy whinging, Russia has at least come up with a positive idea.

The main response should be that security is not just about powerful countries and blocks striking legalistic deals; it is also about values. That was the breakthrough that launched the OSCE’s predecessor in 1973 in Helsinki, when the Soviet bloc traded acceptance of its borders for recognition that human rights crossed them. If Russia now chokes on the notion of a Europe-wide commitment to political freedom, the rule of law and the rights of small countries to determine their future, that is troubling. But it is says more about what’s wrong with Russia than about anything else.

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