Thursday, June 08, 2006

Moscow's NATO Line

Throughout the 1990s, Moscow maintained a steady barrage of opposition to the expansion of NATO. In October 1996, the Russian parliament passed a resolution opposing enlargement by a vote of 307-0, and in December of the same year, defence minister Rodionov spoke of "a return...to the Cold War." "NATO Enlargement" became the most obvious point of dissension between Russia and the West, belying the widely-promoted notions of harmony, the idea that Russia was somehow, gradually though painfully, moving into the Western orbit. Then came Kosovo, and the NATO accessions in March 1999 of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. President Yeltsin resigned, and was replaced by President Putin. Russia invaded Chechnya for a second time.

After September 11, 2001, Russian tactics changed. At the NATO Summit held in Prague in 2002, Moscow government adviser Sergei Karaganov, who throughout the 90s had been one of the most active formulators of Kremlin anti-NATO propaganda, with a particular animus directed against the candidate Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, proposed a new alternative, an account of which was given by RFE/RL's Victor Yasmann:
Karaganov declared that every Russian nationalist today -- and he considers himself a nationalist -- "must be a Westerner and must do everything possible to promote Russian integration with NATO and the EU." He argued that military-strategic cooperation with the West has increased Russia's role in the international arena far beyond any that its diminished economic power would justify. This is especially true for South Asia and the Middle East, where Russia's alliance with the United States has unexpectedly revived Russia's tangible levers of political influence.

This was the new Moscow line, seeking to exploit the fears awoken in Western government circles and among the wider public by the September 11 attacks, and also to gain propaganda points from the recent formation of the NATO-Russia Council at Rome, emphasizing "joint peacekeeping operations" and "the fight against international terrorism". But in March 2004, the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO, along with Bulgaria, Rumania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. In the autumn of the same year, the "Orange Revolution" came to Ukraine. Again, Moscow changed tack. The anti-NATO rhetoric began once more, this time directed against Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova - all of which seek membership of the Atlantic organization. Moscow assiduously cultivated its links with pro-Russian separatist movements in both countries, and let it be known that it would use these links to its own advantage - a tactic last used in the 1930s by Hitler in his Sudetenland policy. While in the 1990s Moscow had exploited disaffection among the Russian-speaking populations of the Baltic States, it had rarely, except perhaps in the case of the Narva referendum crisis of 1993, supported breakaway movements there.

Now, however, in today's London Times it's possible to read an article by Moscow correspondent Jeremy Page, with, among other things, a report on Russian foreign minister Lavrov's latest statement:
Russia issued its strongest warning yet against Nato’s eastward expansion, saying that membership for Ukraine and Georgia would mean a “colossal geopolitical shift”.

The warning was made as anti-Nato protests spread to Kiev from the southern Ukrainian region of Crimea, where joint military exercises with Nato members are due to be held this month and next.

“We have said more than once that every country has the right to take sovereign decisions on who will be its partner in the international arena,” Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, told the Duma.

“At the same time, the acceptance into Nato of Ukraine and Georgia will mean a colossal geopolitical shift and we assess such steps from the point of view of our interests.”

The Duma also unanimously passed a resolution warning Kiev that joining Nato would damage ties with Moscow.

Analysts said that Russia was trying to foment opposition, which is already widespread, to Nato membership within Ukraine to undermine Viktor Yushchenko, the President who led the Orange Revolution in 2004.

Ukraine is supposed to host “Tight Knot” exercises with Britain from June 14 and “Sea Breeze” exercises with the US and other Nato members and partners from July 17.

But the arrival of 200 US Marine reservists in Crimea last week provoked small but passionate anti-Nato protests, which threaten to scupper Ukraine’s chance of joining.

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