Muzzling the bear: Russia and the west, prospects for partnership

By Yevgenia Issraelyan | 1995-03-01 12:00:00

The Warsaw Treaty Organization, unlike NATO, disbanded when the Cold War ended. Moreover, Russia's geo-political situation has been harmed by the ethnic conflicts in Nagorno Karabakh, Georgia, Tajikistan, Chechnya, and other areas in the Caucasus. Though the Clinton administration promised much and provided some financial credits, the expectations in Russia for partnership with the West far exceeded reality.

Western Europe makes up about half of Russia's foreign trade and provides two-thirds of her foreign investment, but the volume of this trade is declining. Russia is appreciated in Western markets only for its natural resources, which for conservation reasons it is reluctant to sell. It is also unwilling to give up its status as an industrial state and become only a second-rate raw material supplier of the Western countries. At the moment, Russia seems unable to respond adequately to the economic situation in Western states and the initial euphoria has ended in disappointment.

The only influential European structure to which Russia belongs is the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is becoming increasingly less useful. It is helpless in the face of conflicts; it lacks mechanisms to support cooperation; and it is growing distant from Europe, since about one-third of its 52 members are not located in Europe. Russia is not represented in other alliances and is not likely to be admitted. It began applying two years ago to the Council of Europe. Politicians and scholars in the West and in Russia are not publicly discussing the prospects of Russia's joining the European Union. Last April the Western European Union, which is the only all-European structure dealing with defence matters, offered associate membership (and the prospect of full membership) to nine East European countries, including the Baltic states--but did not mention Russia.(f.1)

However, along with other countries, Russia was offered admission to the NATO program, "Partnership for Peace." This option caused broad discussions in the State Duma, in the Foreign Affairs and National Defence Ministries, political parties, and among academics and military experts. Opponents of the program regard NATO as a military alliance hostile to Russia--an instrument of American military presence in Europe. This suspicious view of NATO is shared by a significant part of the Russian public. Russia's joining of the "Partnership" may be interpreted as her okay to extending the bloc into the vacuum left by the disbanding of the Warsaw Treaty Organization. Critics of NATO also question the feasibility of Russian membership in this program, pointing out that Russia has no enemies for the "Partnership" to defend it from. Russia's membership in this program may also have a negative impact on Russian-Chinese relations.(f.2)

Arguments in favor of Russia's membership were set forth in the report of the Centre on National Security and International Relations, headed by Sergei Rogov.(f.3) These experts argued that Russia has no alternative to joining the program, for otherwise it will remain isolated and the program may turn into a partnership against Russia. This program gives Russia a chance to participate in guiding a new system of collective security in Europe and to integrate into the world community. It may also help delay the extension of NATO and find a compromise scenario. Moreover, it may advance the cooperation in security matters between East and West.

The Centre concluded that upon admission to the program, Russia should determine its own commitments, and the obligations of the NATO countries to each other. Having nuclear status, a vigorous armed forces and navy, and outstanding intellectual resources, Russia will claim a special status in the Partnership, foreseeing its active part in decision-making. Some think that Russia's membership in NATO would be the best option, but that is just a rosy dream.

In the present situation, the best plan for Russia would be to prevent the extension of NATO, a military alliance that would approach Russia's border, with destabilizing effects in Ukraine and Belarus. NATO, which does not include Russia, should not have the upper hand in shaping policy in Europe. Other mechanisms should be set up, preferably in the OSCE framework. Finally, the prospects for peacekeeping, cooperation, and for Russia's access to the markets of weaponry should be examined.

However, no concessions were made to Russia upon her admission to the Partnership for Peace in June, 1994. She was not granted any special status or special privileges. She will be consulted only in case of her direct or indirect involvement in a problem. The NATO countries had already turned down the idea of creating new decision-making mechanisms.

There are also other signs that the West is far from accepting Russia as an equal partner. Over Russia's strong objections, the West took the decision to bomb Serbian positions in Bosnia. The Western countries humiliated Russia by failing to invite her to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Front in Europe, though her role in the defeat of Germany was crucial. The West also links technical, humanitarian, and financial assistance to Russia with political concessions, such as Russia's relations with the Baltic states.

After the December 1993 elections, new priorities in Russian foreign policy were formulated. According to Andrei Kozyrev, the Foreign Minister, the Commonwealth of Independent States is the key area of Russia's vital national interests.

The West's attitude to these priorities can be seen in an article by Zbigniew Brzezinski, former assistant on national security to the U.S. President. Brzezinski interpreted the new Russian policies as an indication of its imperial claims and as showing a desire to suppress the newly independent states (NIS). In response, Brzezinski proposed abandoning the declared strategy of partnership with Russia, replacing it with a strategy of global pluralism. This implies that relations with Russia should be balanced by those with the NIS. In Brzezinski's view, distribution of financial assistance to Russia should be used to restrict her attempts to turn the NIS into satellites.

In line with this attitude, the U.S. administration announced that, starting in 1995, more than half of the American assistance to the NIS will be directed to other ex-Soviet republics, not Russia. This declaration marks a shift in the American strategy toward Russia. So long as Russia was a silent, obedient yes-man (in the Persian Gulf and in relation to the unification of Germany), the West was willing to play partnership. As soon as Russia claimed to have her own national interests and attitudes, she was rapidly put in her place. The West is reluctant to lend an ear to Russia on security matters. The Western countries were reluctant to okay participation of the U.N. Blue Berets in the ethnic conflicts in the former Soviet Union. At the same time, they also rejected Russia's request to endow the Russian troops with the U.N. or OSCE mandate.

A mature partnership for Russia and the West is a goal, not a developed reality. However, elements of partnership can be seen in some areas, such as the trilateral agreement on withdrawal of nuclear weapons from the Ukrainian territory, with an American financial contribution. To provide this new partnership in the future, Russia should find its own niches where it can contribute something of value to the West. In recent years, Russia and the U.S. achieved good cooperation in arms control and disarmament (START I and START II, Conventional Arms Limitation Treaty, etc.) and this could provide a solid background for future partnership.

Nonproliferation and the limitation of missile technology proliferation are promising areas. Also, research and technology in spheres where Russia has expertise may be areas of interest for future cooperation. Finally, and not least important, Russia needs partnership with the West based on a balance of their own national interests. To achieve this goal, it needs to build a healthy economy, create democratic institutions, and formulate consistent foreign policy to reestablish links with the NIS damaged by the collapse of the Soviet Union.


(f.1) "The Russian Neo-Gaullism," by Vyacheslav Nikonov, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, May 24, 1994. Nikonov is Chair of the Sub-Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the Russian State Duma.
(f.2) Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 4, 1994.
(f.3) Izvestiya, May 24, 1994.

Yevgenia Issraelyan is a research associate with the USA and Canada Institute, Moscow.

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1995

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1995, page 10. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Yevgenia Issraelyan here

Peace Magazine homepage