Khrushchev's Shoe Returns to Russian Diplomacy

ISTANBUL, TURKEY --   By the shores of the Bosporus, I listen to a high Russian official utter bellicose threats, unprecedented since the demise of Communism.  The occasion was an annual Istanbul conference on regional security sponsored by ARI Movement, an eminent Turkish think tank. Through all the ten years I have participated in this meeting, the discussions have been candid but civil (indeed ARI's mission is to build "civil society"), even as we tackled contentious issues like Turkish-European or Israeli-Palestinian relations or the Iraq war.  Discussants have included officials, academics and journalists from the U.S., Europe, Middle East, and even Iran.  My Turkish hosts, knowing my passions, were astonished one year to observe that my dinner partner on our boat ride was the Palestinian ambassador.

All that civility disappeared last week when we moved to discussion of Russian actions in Georgia (which I visit next week as guest of its beleaguered Government). Sergei Alexandrovich Markov, Director of the Institute for Political Studies in Moscow and Deputy Chair of the Russian International Affairs Forum, was delegated by the Kremlin to explain Russia's actions. His explanation was crude, blunt and simplified:  Vice-President Cheney ordered the war to help the election campaign of Senator McCain.  He repeated interminably that Georgian President Saakashvili is "a war criminal."  American likes a weakened Russia, but Russia "will never step back."  Just as Saakashvili was elected by fraud, so the President of Ukraine is not supported by the vast majority of his citizens.  Russia reserves the right to issue passports to ethnic Russians and then protect them.  He actually warned against creating a new Gavril Princip, i.e., the assassin whose shots at Sarajevo in 1914 ignited World War 1. More ominous than the substance of these crude notions was the blustering tone, signifying that not an iota of disagreement could be countenanced.  Hostile Russian action toward Ukraine-a country of 60 million people-could trigger a disastrous war.

Two of Us Challenge the Russians

Two of us accepted the challenge.  David Smith, a former U.S. Ambassador who is now Director of the Security Analysis Center in Tbilisi, told Markov that his country had committed a well-planned aggression in order to accomplish energy blackmail against one of the few alternative east-west pipelines.  He detailed Russian actions including  blowing up Georgian police stations, two amphibious landings, two land fronts, a decree turning Abkhazia (inside Georgia's borders) into a Russian protectorate and-worst of all-the destruction of every Georgian village in South Ossetia in an ethnic cleansing campaign of killing, raping and burning.

I deferred to Ambassador Smith's knowledge of the ugly facts on the ground.  But I told Markov that the tone he used at an academic conference put us in a time warp with echoes of Stalin's Foreign Minister Vyshinsky and Nikita Khrushchev's crudely banging his shoe on the table at the U.N.  I suggested that that the aggression might succeed in the short run because America was engaged elsewhere, but that in the long run such actions would undermine Russian security for reasons including that, just as in the Cold War, Russia would be unable to sustain the economic cost.  E.g., in recent months, the Russian stock market has lost $108 billion, $900 million has flowed out of Russian private equities and Russia's daily oil earnings are down by $200 million per day.  I added that detaching territory from small nations made all countries less secure.

Smith, other American speakers and I were resolute about the unacceptability of aggression.  Representatives of other countries were more passive.  Although one high Turkish official told me it was very important for Markov to hear what I had said, none of the Turkish diplomats or academics openly criticized Russia (one assured us that in the event of a showdown with Iran "we will be with you").  This is related to the unpleasant realties that

(1) the Turkish government encourages demonization of the U.S. in Turkish media; and

(2) the Turkish public is furious that, despite imposing many reforms, the European Union keeps placing obstacles in the way of Turkish membership. 

As a wise Turkish official told us, "The floodgates of religion have been opened in Turkey, threatening the immune system of Turkish democracy which is based on secularism."  Western European countries,  reliant  on Russian energy supply and wedded to the "soft power" which defines relations between e.g., Belgium and Holland, are too timid to stand up to Russia.  I bonded with representatives of three former Soviet satellites who told me they are aware of the menace of renewed Russian hegemonic tendencies and hoped their Western EU partners would stand taller.

U.S. Must Repair Alliances

Further complicating these dynamics is that when, as is likely in forthcoming years, the EU finally denies Turkey full membership, there will be acceleration of current anti-Western and pro-Islamist tendencies in Turkey. This is likely in turn to influence Turkey's foreign policy into an anti-Western-and therefore possibly pro-Russian direction.  This makes it imperative for the U.S. -- which is not directly involved in the EU impasse -- to do all it can to enhance diplomatic and military rapport which characterized relations during the Cold War when Turkey guarded NATO's eastern border.  Turkish co-operation in Afghanistan and the Balkans provide examples of places where this co-operation still takes place.

In short, the Russian aggression makes it imperative to strengthen our alliances wherever possible.  The new Administration will be challenged early to demonstrate purpose, resolve and vision in the face of Russian challenges-not only in Georgia-but in Venezuela and Nicaragua as well.  The first aggression is never the last.

Joel J. Sprayregen is a Chicago lawyer and writer in international security matters.  He has just arrived in Georgia as a guest of the government and will be attending a conference on regional security matters in Azerbaijan.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY --   By the shores of the Bosporus, I listen to a high Russian official utter bellicose threats, unprecedented since the demise of Communism.  The occasion was an annual Istanbul conference on regional security sponsored by ARI Movement, an eminent Turkish think tank. Through all the ten years I have participated in this meeting, the discussions have been candid but civil (indeed ARI's mission is to build "civil society"), even as we tackled contentious issues like Turkish-European or Israeli-Palestinian relations or the Iraq war.  Discussants have included officials, academics and journalists from the U.S., Europe, Middle East, and even Iran.  My Turkish hosts, knowing my passions, were astonished one year to observe that my dinner partner on our boat ride was the Palestinian ambassador.

All that civility disappeared last week when we moved to discussion of Russian actions in Georgia (which I visit next week as guest of its beleaguered Government). Sergei Alexandrovich Markov, Director of the Institute for Political Studies in Moscow and Deputy Chair of the Russian International Affairs Forum, was delegated by the Kremlin to explain Russia's actions. His explanation was crude, blunt and simplified:  Vice-President Cheney ordered the war to help the election campaign of Senator McCain.  He repeated interminably that Georgian President Saakashvili is "a war criminal."  American likes a weakened Russia, but Russia "will never step back."  Just as Saakashvili was elected by fraud, so the President of Ukraine is not supported by the vast majority of his citizens.  Russia reserves the right to issue passports to ethnic Russians and then protect them.  He actually warned against creating a new Gavril Princip, i.e., the assassin whose shots at Sarajevo in 1914 ignited World War 1. More ominous than the substance of these crude notions was the blustering tone, signifying that not an iota of disagreement could be countenanced.  Hostile Russian action toward Ukraine-a country of 60 million people-could trigger a disastrous war.

Two of Us Challenge the Russians

Two of us accepted the challenge.  David Smith, a former U.S. Ambassador who is now Director of the Security Analysis Center in Tbilisi, told Markov that his country had committed a well-planned aggression in order to accomplish energy blackmail against one of the few alternative east-west pipelines.  He detailed Russian actions including  blowing up Georgian police stations, two amphibious landings, two land fronts, a decree turning Abkhazia (inside Georgia's borders) into a Russian protectorate and-worst of all-the destruction of every Georgian village in South Ossetia in an ethnic cleansing campaign of killing, raping and burning.

I deferred to Ambassador Smith's knowledge of the ugly facts on the ground.  But I told Markov that the tone he used at an academic conference put us in a time warp with echoes of Stalin's Foreign Minister Vyshinsky and Nikita Khrushchev's crudely banging his shoe on the table at the U.N.  I suggested that that the aggression might succeed in the short run because America was engaged elsewhere, but that in the long run such actions would undermine Russian security for reasons including that, just as in the Cold War, Russia would be unable to sustain the economic cost.  E.g., in recent months, the Russian stock market has lost $108 billion, $900 million has flowed out of Russian private equities and Russia's daily oil earnings are down by $200 million per day.  I added that detaching territory from small nations made all countries less secure.

Smith, other American speakers and I were resolute about the unacceptability of aggression.  Representatives of other countries were more passive.  Although one high Turkish official told me it was very important for Markov to hear what I had said, none of the Turkish diplomats or academics openly criticized Russia (one assured us that in the event of a showdown with Iran "we will be with you").  This is related to the unpleasant realties that

(1) the Turkish government encourages demonization of the U.S. in Turkish media; and

(2) the Turkish public is furious that, despite imposing many reforms, the European Union keeps placing obstacles in the way of Turkish membership. 

As a wise Turkish official told us, "The floodgates of religion have been opened in Turkey, threatening the immune system of Turkish democracy which is based on secularism."  Western European countries,  reliant  on Russian energy supply and wedded to the "soft power" which defines relations between e.g., Belgium and Holland, are too timid to stand up to Russia.  I bonded with representatives of three former Soviet satellites who told me they are aware of the menace of renewed Russian hegemonic tendencies and hoped their Western EU partners would stand taller.

U.S. Must Repair Alliances

Further complicating these dynamics is that when, as is likely in forthcoming years, the EU finally denies Turkey full membership, there will be acceleration of current anti-Western and pro-Islamist tendencies in Turkey. This is likely in turn to influence Turkey's foreign policy into an anti-Western-and therefore possibly pro-Russian direction.  This makes it imperative for the U.S. -- which is not directly involved in the EU impasse -- to do all it can to enhance diplomatic and military rapport which characterized relations during the Cold War when Turkey guarded NATO's eastern border.  Turkish co-operation in Afghanistan and the Balkans provide examples of places where this co-operation still takes place.

In short, the Russian aggression makes it imperative to strengthen our alliances wherever possible.  The new Administration will be challenged early to demonstrate purpose, resolve and vision in the face of Russian challenges-not only in Georgia-but in Venezuela and Nicaragua as well.  The first aggression is never the last.

Joel J. Sprayregen is a Chicago lawyer and writer in international security matters.  He has just arrived in Georgia as a guest of the government and will be attending a conference on regional security matters in Azerbaijan.