Russia-NATO summit: Not as positive as portrayed

The spin given to Russia's participation at the NATO summit in Lisbon has been positive in Western government and media circles. President Barack Obama referred to President Dmitri Medvedev as " my friend and partner." and said " most significantly, we agreed to cooperate on missile defense, which turns a source of past tension into a source of potential cooperation against a shared threat." The assessment in Russian circles, however, is not as harmonious.

The Nov. 22 headline at Moscow Times read "Uncertainty Clouds New NATO Era" with a story that stressed the "reservations" Medvedev had voiced. The now unofficial, but very nationalist Pravda called  the Russia-NATO summit "Catching wind in a net" and reported,

Old problems have not gone anywhere. NATO....offers cooperation in the field of missile defense. It is not ruled out that the alliance is trying to trick Russia to be able to deploy elements of missile defense system in Bulgaria and Romania.

NATO officials claim that Russia must withdraw its troops from Georgia and Moldova. There are no Russian troops in Georgia. South Ossetia and Abkhazia are not Georgian territories. As for Moldova, Russia has UN-mandated peacemakers in the Transdniestr region.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia were Georgian territories until Russian invaded in 2008. President George W. Bush backed Georgia in that conflict. And while President Obama has called for Russia to end its occupation, he has downplayed the issue as part of his "reset" of relations away from the tensions Kremlin actions had provoked. Georgia's request to join NATO is on indefinite hold.

Regarding missile defenses, Medvedev agreed to negotiations on equal terms about the nature of any European defense, ensuring Moscow will have  veto power over any deployment that might be effective. This cannot be considered progress or cooperation; it is a recipe for failure. The Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times quoted Medvedev saying at a press conference, "If we fail to agree on missile defense, it could be a new arms race coming our way." Beijing shares Moscow's opposition to any Western missile defense system that could blunt their offensive strike capability. These are the calculations of potential adversaries, not post-Cold War "partners."

The Chinese newspaper reminded its readers, "When the Bush administration first proposed basing elements of its ABM system in Poland and the Czech Republic, Moscow responded with fury -- threatening to re-target its nuclear weapons at the European nations." It also cited a tweet sent out by Russia's NATO Ambassador Dmitry Rogozin, "The NATO gamekeepers invite the Russian bear to go hunting rabbits together. The bear doesn't understand: why do they have bear-hunting rifles?" Rogozin does not trust the claim that defenses are meant only against threats from the Middle East. In fact, Russia poses the greater threat to Europe against which measures should be taken. 

As to the Middle East threat, a discordant note was sounded from another quarter within NATO. Turkey demanded that the final document on defense systems not define any particular states as a threat, especially Iran towards which Turkey's Islamist government has been moving closer in foreign policy. It is also not clear why Russia, which has been providing Iran with diplomatic support, trade, technology, and weapons, would consider Tehran to be the source of a "shared threat" with NATO.

President Obama and liberals on both sides of the Atlantic would like to believe that the world is moving towards peace and disarmament, and that the rise or reemergence of major powers across Eurasia will not mean a continuation of traditional conflict. But spinning the news does not fool foreign leaders who are pursuing their own ambitions from a different perspective.