Detecting Symptoms of Kremlin Schizophrenia

To Our Readers

The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to oped@imedia.ru, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

A friend in Washington and a seasoned observer of global politics emerged from last week's security conference in Munich with the strong conclusion that Russian diplomacy is schizophrenic.

In a series of diplomatic moves that coincided with the Munich conference and the first appearance there by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden with the new administration's foreign policy priorities, Moscow has managed to simultaneously encourage, confuse and appall its U.S. and European partners.

The Kremlin has sent many encouraging signals to Washington about its intentions to engage in a serious arms control process after eight years of diplomatic neglect under President George W. Bush.

Russia and NATO resumed security cooperation, which was frozen after the war with Georgia. Both sides quickly agreed on transit for NATO's nonmilitary supplies for Afghanistan through Russian territory. The readiness with which Russia has agreed to NATO transit rights indicates the Kremlin's strong willingness to engage the alliance on mutual security challenges.

At the same time, Moscow made no secret that it supported Kyrgyzstan's decision to close down the U.S. air base at Manas, which, of course, will make it much more difficult for NATO to operate in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Russia said it would be willing to consider supporting other U.S. counterterrorism operations.

Indeed, this creates a sense of a schizophrenic diplomacy. "Moscow plays the good cop on strategic links with Washington and bad cop on issues involving the Kremlin's sphere of influence in the Commonwealth of Independent States," my Washington friend tells me. He believes that Russia pressured Kyrgyzstan on Manas because without the air base, the Americans would be that much more dependent on Russia for land transit of NATO shipments to Afghanistan. More likely, Moscow pressured Bishkek to cancel the Manas contract and offered the Americans land transit as a sweetener to NATO. It was a coincidence, the meaning of which has probably escaped the planners in Moscow.

But my U.S. friend has a point. It creates an uneasy sense that Russia's diplomacy has multiple rudders and more than one pilot pulling at all of them at the same time. "They don't know how to accomplish what they want. This is a dangerous way of dealing with an adversary -- or even a friend," my colleague said.

Whatever the case, it is a diplomatic recipe for disaster.

Vladimir Frolov is president of LEFF Group, a government relations and PR company.