Why Moscow Doesn't Have a Lot of Friends

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Some members of Moscow's political establishment considered the recent NATO summit in Bucharest a partial victory since Georgia and Ukraine were not invited to join the alliance. But far from saying "no," NATO promised that these countries would eventually become members.

But the main questions for Moscow are: Why are two members of the Commonwealth of Independent States so eager to join NATO? Why do our allies want to establish closer ties with the West? Why does the prospect of better relations with Russia hold so little appeal?

Russia currently has only two staunch allies among CIS countries. The first is Armenia -- a country that is going through difficult economic times, is dependent upon Russia for its energy supplies and has chilly relations with most of its other neighbors. Russia's other ally is Belarus, a rogue state ruled by a dictator with whom even Moscow sometimes has difficulty maintaining a dialogue.

The Kremlin has a few theories as to why the former Soviet republics find NATO membership so appealing. The most popular explanation is the conspiracy theory. This scenario has the United States continuing its Cold War struggle for global influence by displacing Russia as the dominant player in the CIS region. According to this theory, Washington wins the favor of the political elite in the republics and then foments color revolutions against Moscow to prevent it from regaining power. Conspiracy theorists believe that the United States' main objective is to seize Russia's limitless natural resources and take direct control of the country, or else to exercise indirect control by reducing Russia to an "appendage of the West" that submissively supplies it with raw materials.

According to this theory, the foreign policy of the United States and its allies reflects a single aim: to encroach upon Russia using every weapon in its arsenal -- propaganda, economic pressure and even direct military intervention.

A competing theory holds that the political elite in the former Soviet republics are the ones pushing for NATO's expansion. These leaders supposedly view their countries as being too small to have any voice among European nations unless they gain membership in powerful international organizations such as NATO or the European Union. Some among the Russian elite believe that Ukraine and Georgia fear losing their status as independent countries unless they join NATO or the European Union.

These different views reflect the worldviews of the various factions within Russia's political elite. Any attempt to dissuade them from these convictions is futile. Anti-Western, and especially anti-U.S., sentiment has reached such heights that the Kremlin summarily dismisses worthy arguments without even listening.

While these theorists heap scorn on the West, they don't bother to ask whether Russia could be a more appealing partner for its neighbors. Using the energy card as a negotiating tool against other countries clearly won't do the trick. Neither will preaching about the virtues of a multipolar world and the vices of a U.S.-led unipolar world, and taking every possible opportunity to criticize the West while rejecting any constructive proposals it puts forward.

Russia must first offer its own society -- and only later the world -- an attractive model for development that other countries would want to follow. The government should formulate a set of political principles that it would be able to manifest in actual deeds, not just words. Only then can these values and principles gradually take root in Russian society.

Then, Moscow's foreign policy would serve as a logical continuation of those principles practiced at home. Unfortunately, this strategy is not part of the Kremlin's agenda.

Georgy Bovt is a political analyst and hosts a radio program on City-FM.