The Kremlin's Straight Face

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The Kremlin's vision of global affairs after Moscow's victory in the war with Georgia is rife with contradictions. On one hand, President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin justify Russia's actions by claiming that the West -- and primarily the United States -- violated international law in Iraq and Kosovo. They further explain that Moscow had no other option but to repel Georgia's invasion of South Ossetia. But they apparently forgot that Russia's foreign policy guidelines adopted just one month prior to the war clearly assert that "only the United Nations Security Council is authorized to sanction the use of force in order to enforce peace." It appears that the moment Moscow concludes that international relations have broken down, it has no choice but to resort to force.

The Kremlin persistently harps about the need to replace the crumbling world order with a new and more equitable one. In recent remarks, Medvedev said, "The current security system has broken down and, unfortunately, has proven completely ineffective. If this is the case, humanity has two options: either act without rules based on the idea that a small number of countries with the greatest military power will dictate the rules -- although this is a bad option -- or try to build a modern new structure for international cooperation."

But it is unclear what the president means when he speaks of these new rules. Equally uncertain is the status of a proposal Medvedev made a few months ago for a security pact between Russia and the European Union. Aside from declaring once again the need for a multipolar world that can counter the United States' unilateral approach to resolving the world's problems, Russia's leaders have been unable to explain exactly how the new structure for international relations will operate.

When Washington sent a warship into the Black Sea with humanitarian aid for Georgia, Moscow considered it a flagrant violation of its zone of "exclusive interests." Shortly thereafter, the Kremlin sent two Tu-160 strategic bombers for training flights in Venezuela, although there was absolutely no military rationale for these exercises. Major General Pavel Androsov, trying to keep a straight face, claimed that these bombers were sent to Venezuela to train Russian pilots to fly in the tropics.

In addition, ships from Russia's Northern Fleet set sail for the Venezuelan coast. They included the fleet's nuclear-powered flagship, the Pyotr Veliky, and the large anti-submarine destroyer Admiral Chabanenko, along with military tugboats and tanker ships. Like the Tu-160s in Venezuela, there is little military justification for the naval escapade -- except perhaps to remind Washington that the Russian fleet still has ships capable of reaching the Caribbean Sea. The Pyotr Veliky was created to engage other aircraft carrier groups in battle, but without powerful air support, the cruiser is little more than a huge floating target.

Therefore, it is obvious that the main purpose behind Russia's military muscle-flexing is political. The maneuvering of the country's strategic bombers and missile-equipped cruisers is an attempt to demonstrate that, in response to NATO's violation of Russia's sphere of "exclusive interests," Moscow can project its power into South America and in the Caribbean Sea.

Through these actions, it becomes clear that the "new rules" that Moscow is championing are exactly the same that reigned during the Cold War -- the attempt by both superpowers to divide the world into competing spheres of influence.

The system of regulating international relations is in dire need of improvement. The most urgent problem is the need to reconcile the right of sovereignty with the right to self-determination. Maybe the solution will be to create several new supranational organizations along the lines of the EU in other parts of the world. In this way, the sovereign rights of the member countries will be guaranteed, while the divisive issue of the members' self-determination will become less of a source of global conflict.

The real problem is that nobody is planning to work out these difficult issues with Moscow. But on the other hand, there is no point in discussing the rules of the game with a player who regularly threatens to overturn the table if he is not guaranteed his prize in advance.

Alexander Golts is deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal.