Monday, July 03, 2006

Alliances - Holy and Unholy

Writing about the barely concealed anti-Americanism that surfaced in Moscow following the kidnapping and execution of four Russian embassy workers in Iraq, Pavel K. Baev notes in EDM:
The point is not that the coalition forces are responsible for the safety of the diplomatic corps and, it might be possible to argue, did not do enough to rescue the Russians. In fact, through the weeks of silence regarding the hostage drama Russian officials kept dropping hints that their Islamic “friends” should secure the release of the diplomats who had been mistaken for “enemies.” It is unclear whether expectations were pinned on Iran, which should be grateful to Russia for protecting it against the threat of sanctions, or on Syria, which depends upon importing Russian arms, or perhaps on the leadership of Hamas, which was rescued from international ostracism by an invitation to Moscow (Kommersant, June 29). What is clear is that Moscow really thought that its demonstrated respect towards the Muslim world would make it safe against Islamic extremism.

The lack of any terrorist attacks in Moscow since summer 2004 has underpinned this wishful thinking, while the escalation of instability in the North Caucasus is commonly downplayed as a “local” phenomenon. For the Russian leadership, it was also much easier to see a growing reputation in the Islamic world as the tensions in relations with the Western world escalate. In the run-up to the G-8 summit, U.S. and European criticism of Moscow for curtailing democratic reforms is interpreted as “lecturing” or “interference,” and warnings about violations of human rights are seen as “ultimatums.” Vladislav Surkov, the chief ideologist of “Putinism,” has recently assured Western journalists that Russia firmly rejects the “standard model of inefficient and externally controlled economic and political regimes” (Vedomosti, June 29). Following this logic, it is not difficult to arrive at the proposition that Washington, worried about Russia’s “sovereign power,” is seeking to pull it into the U.S. “civilizational” conflict with the Muslim world. That is the real point in carefully channeling the public anger over the murders in Iraq towards the convenient and exploitable anti-Americanism (Ekho Moskvy, June 29).

The Russian president may not succeed in apprehending the culprits, but “Comrade Wolf” will certainly not fool him. The day after the tragedy in Iraq was confirmed, Putin asserted that Russia “will not take part in any kind of ‘holy alliance’,” and he emphasized specifically that in relations with the United States, “There is still much to change.” The changes he seeks basically amount to closing the issue of Russia’s retreat from democracy, and the “holy alliance” he rejects so emphatically is in essence the community of liberal democracies. There is certainly nothing holy about this community, it is often disagreeable and has its share of poor leadership, but that is where Russia belongs, and al-Qaeda knows that. Seeking to prove the opposite, Putin makes himself an entirely forgettable figure in Russian history, and journalists might soon be asking: “Who was Mr. Putin?”
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