Risky Russian Relations

Much advice has been published for President-elect Obama in newspapers about improving diplomatic ties with Russia, most of it implying that the United States has taken advantage of or has bullied Russia. Let's put the past US-Russian relations in perspective and give some recommendations for the Obama team.

Since the downfall of the Soviet Union, no US leadership has consciously tried to exploit Russia; on the contrary, the U.S. has done all it can to try and improve relations with Russia. However, every effort on America's part was manipulated by Russia to their advantage.

For example, when Russia was invited to participate in NATO's Partnership for Peace program back in 1994, they repeatedly tried to imbed GRU agents into NATO HQ.  On the question of NATO, often The United States gets blamed for pushing NATO expansion into what used to be Soviet Union territory; but it is not the US or NATO that is soliciting client states but the states themselves soliciting NATO -- and for good reason, out of fear of their once-dominating eastern neighbor. Recent hostilities in Georgia have certainly not abated those fears.

The United States has been criticized for taking advantage of Russia after the demise of the Soviet Union by giving them bogus capitalistic advice. The fact is the Russian oligarchs were the ones corrupting all the economic advice to their advantage. It was every man for himself back then, and their newfound liberty was perverted into the means to greed. Critics of America's relations with Russia should consider the number of Western businesses that have invested in Russia since the fall of the Berlin Wall and have been intimidated and exploited by Russian authorities. Let them consider the way they have treated non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In addition, Russia's raw nationalism causes foreigners to be very wary of doing business with them.

Their mono-economy is based on energy exports, which is a very precarious basis for a national economy because of inevitable price fluctuations that affect their self esteem. One day they are an influential superpower exporting oil and gas at soaring prices, another day the price of petroleum products goes south and they end up exporting dollars, as is occurring now; hardly a very compelling situation for foreigners to contemplate making sound investments in that country.

America has repeatedly tried to have Russia cooperate in anti-terrorism, yet there isn't one example where Russia has been constructive; rather the reverse, with Russia building Iran's nuclear arms capability and offering to sell them S-300 missiles capable of defending their nuclear sites against an Israeli or US air strike. They invite the Hamas leaders to Moscow and treat them like heads of state.

Some suggest that Russia's aggressive behavior comes out of having to endure centuries of invasions. To that, one can ask what nation in Europe has not endured centuries of invasions? If that gives countries the birthright to be paranoiac and hostile, why is it that Russia is the only country in Europe to consistently behave so belligerently throughout its history?

Is the United States responsible for Russia's intimidating behavior now that it has gained a stranglehold on the pipelines to Europe? They harbor an innate sense of isolation to the outside world due to their authoritarian historical tradition and which manifests itself even today in diplomatic contact with them. Russia appears locked into a tightly bound tradition of ultra-conservatism with no chance of change in the foreseeable future. The only times when they abandoned autocracy, and turned liberal, and as in 1917, their political regime led to anarchy, leading back to autocracy, the very political path it is now following.

They are not at all ashamed of their communist past, on the contrary, countless streets and avenues are named after leading communist figures and statues of Stalin and Lenin are still proudly displayed in this Neo-Soviet Union. Moreover, the founding of the Red Army of 1918 continuers to be a national holiday every February. It is absolutely delusional to imagine Russia could be a democracy; in fact it is an oxymoron.

It comes down to an issue of trust, a question of how much the US and its allies can trust Russia, especially when Russia refuses to trust anyone. The Obama team should not think they could befriend Russia; it is impossible. The majority of the population hates Westerners; it is a historical trait that remains deeply intransigent. Don't expect the Kremlin to work in concert with the West, it won't happen. The best track to follow is to respect them, be firm with them, avoid ideological rhetoric, don't entertain high expectations in discussions, and not be taken in by their bluster and intimidation. Pressuring them to change is counterproductive.

Change in Russia comes in increments or else like an avalanche, if it is the latter, one should simply have the patience to wait for Russia to revert to its old ways before coming to any conclusions.
Much advice has been published for President-elect Obama in newspapers about improving diplomatic ties with Russia, most of it implying that the United States has taken advantage of or has bullied Russia. Let's put the past US-Russian relations in perspective and give some recommendations for the Obama team.

Since the downfall of the Soviet Union, no US leadership has consciously tried to exploit Russia; on the contrary, the U.S. has done all it can to try and improve relations with Russia. However, every effort on America's part was manipulated by Russia to their advantage.

For example, when Russia was invited to participate in NATO's Partnership for Peace program back in 1994, they repeatedly tried to imbed GRU agents into NATO HQ.  On the question of NATO, often The United States gets blamed for pushing NATO expansion into what used to be Soviet Union territory; but it is not the US or NATO that is soliciting client states but the states themselves soliciting NATO -- and for good reason, out of fear of their once-dominating eastern neighbor. Recent hostilities in Georgia have certainly not abated those fears.

The United States has been criticized for taking advantage of Russia after the demise of the Soviet Union by giving them bogus capitalistic advice. The fact is the Russian oligarchs were the ones corrupting all the economic advice to their advantage. It was every man for himself back then, and their newfound liberty was perverted into the means to greed. Critics of America's relations with Russia should consider the number of Western businesses that have invested in Russia since the fall of the Berlin Wall and have been intimidated and exploited by Russian authorities. Let them consider the way they have treated non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In addition, Russia's raw nationalism causes foreigners to be very wary of doing business with them.

Their mono-economy is based on energy exports, which is a very precarious basis for a national economy because of inevitable price fluctuations that affect their self esteem. One day they are an influential superpower exporting oil and gas at soaring prices, another day the price of petroleum products goes south and they end up exporting dollars, as is occurring now; hardly a very compelling situation for foreigners to contemplate making sound investments in that country.

America has repeatedly tried to have Russia cooperate in anti-terrorism, yet there isn't one example where Russia has been constructive; rather the reverse, with Russia building Iran's nuclear arms capability and offering to sell them S-300 missiles capable of defending their nuclear sites against an Israeli or US air strike. They invite the Hamas leaders to Moscow and treat them like heads of state.

Some suggest that Russia's aggressive behavior comes out of having to endure centuries of invasions. To that, one can ask what nation in Europe has not endured centuries of invasions? If that gives countries the birthright to be paranoiac and hostile, why is it that Russia is the only country in Europe to consistently behave so belligerently throughout its history?

Is the United States responsible for Russia's intimidating behavior now that it has gained a stranglehold on the pipelines to Europe? They harbor an innate sense of isolation to the outside world due to their authoritarian historical tradition and which manifests itself even today in diplomatic contact with them. Russia appears locked into a tightly bound tradition of ultra-conservatism with no chance of change in the foreseeable future. The only times when they abandoned autocracy, and turned liberal, and as in 1917, their political regime led to anarchy, leading back to autocracy, the very political path it is now following.

They are not at all ashamed of their communist past, on the contrary, countless streets and avenues are named after leading communist figures and statues of Stalin and Lenin are still proudly displayed in this Neo-Soviet Union. Moreover, the founding of the Red Army of 1918 continuers to be a national holiday every February. It is absolutely delusional to imagine Russia could be a democracy; in fact it is an oxymoron.

It comes down to an issue of trust, a question of how much the US and its allies can trust Russia, especially when Russia refuses to trust anyone. The Obama team should not think they could befriend Russia; it is impossible. The majority of the population hates Westerners; it is a historical trait that remains deeply intransigent. Don't expect the Kremlin to work in concert with the West, it won't happen. The best track to follow is to respect them, be firm with them, avoid ideological rhetoric, don't entertain high expectations in discussions, and not be taken in by their bluster and intimidation. Pressuring them to change is counterproductive.

Change in Russia comes in increments or else like an avalanche, if it is the latter, one should simply have the patience to wait for Russia to revert to its old ways before coming to any conclusions.