Beyond the World news headlines
Russia’s security proposals – about much more than security
Western responses to President Dmitry Medvedev’s proposal for a new European-Atlantic security body that stretches from Vancouver to Vladivostok have ranged from dismissive to lukewarm. None have been enthusiastic.
But some inside and outside Russia argue it would be unwise for Europe and the United States to reject the proposal out of hand, not least because, as one Russian official put it, this is one of the few occasions where Russia isn’t disagreeing but coming up with something constructive.
Yes Moscow’s draft treaty has gaps, they concede, yes it is almost entirely focused on security in the military sense and yes it doesn’t give much weight to liberal democracy and human rights as envisioned in modern perceptions of security – but it is a starting point for discussion.
Shutting Russia out plays in to the hands of those in Moscow, Washington and other capitals who prefer the simplicity of the Cold War’s zero sum game. It does no favours to modernisers in Russia who want to build cordial international relations, promote democratic society and build Russia’s economy away from its over-reliance on natural resources.
Russia needs stability outside its borders in order to modernise at home.
Twenty years after the collapse of communism, Russia and the rest of Europe are still struggling to establish a relationship of mutual trust and respect. They are bound by commerce – Europe is the prime market for Russian energy exports – but even that relationship is rarely straightforward. The annual Russia-Ukraine-EU gas drama is just one example of how fraught the relationship can be.
On a political and diplomatic level the complications are even greater.
One need look no further than the 2008 war in Georgia when preconceptions and stereotypes dictated responses on all sides. Western media and many politicians condemned Russia outright. It was only with the publication of an EU commissioned report into the war this year that a fuller story was told. NATO’s steady expansion towards Russia’s borders has angered Moscow, where it has been noted that the Baltic states and central Europe became far more openly hostile to Russia once they had NATO and EU membership in the bag.
The decision of the United States and EU members to recognise Kosovo still rankles in Moscow, where the move was seen as a dangerous precedent. In the words of one Russian official: “We need to listen to each other. Sometimes Russia is not wrong.”
Russian officials will concede that Russia too needs to change.
In many ways President Medvedev’s proposals highlight the gap between Russian and European perceptions of what constitutes peace and security. For Medvedev it is about military hardware and borders. For the West security is as much about human rights and democracy.
Western countries object to Medvedev’s plan for four main reasons – they suspect it as an attempt to give Russia a veto over security in Europe and make NATO irrelevant, they see it as a way of codifying a Russian sphere of influence, they see it as an attempt to inflate the importance of the CSO and they see it as a way of sidelining the parts of the OSCE the Kremlin dislikes.
So Medvedev’s proposed treaty isn’t going to fly.
But it can be a starting point for discussion.
Preferable to a whole new treaty is a problem solving agenda, says Oksana Antonenko, senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Speaking at a debate organised by the Valdai club and IISS, she argued for ‘a problem solving agenda’ focused on central Asia, the Black Sea, protracted or frozen conflicts and Russia-NATO cooperation.
In a paper prepared for the same event, Sergei Karaganov, deputy director of the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Timofei Bordachev, director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the State University, argued that Russia and the rest of Europe need one another more than they realise, especially in the face of growing Asian economic power:
“If (they) fail to unite on the basis of their cultural proximity and the complementarity of their economies, they will be doomed to play the role of secondary or even tertiary players in the world of the future. Europe will then become a Venice, a rich but decaying continent and a monument to its former greatness, while Russia will play the role of an agrarian and raw material appendage of China and other developed economies.”