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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Without Illusions

Russian-American relations are literally rife with paradoxes. Now, at a moment when there is an obvious chilling in the diplomatic sphere, contacts in the most sensitive area -- the military -- should naturally be the first to suffer. As if to confirm this fear, U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry recently refused to exclude the future possibility of an autocratic, militaristic, imperialistic Russian state hostile to the West.


But this did not ruin the Pentagon chief's visit to Moscow, or his meetings with his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev. In fact, their conversations were so successful that Grachev announced at their conclusion that Russia would soon join NATO's Partnership for Peace initiative.


The fact that military contacts have turned out to be the most stable during this period of mutual tension enables us to understand what is actually going on. Naturally, Washington and Moscow have been least inclined to trust one another and to rely on each other's good intentions precisely in the area of military security. Military experts have always preferred to ignore political declarations and instead to base their decisions on the actual military potential of their adversaries.


That is why defense organizations, carefully anticipating any violation, try to work out agreements that actually reduce the level of mutual danger and significantly increase the level of mutual security. Recently the START-2 treaty was supplemented by an agreement not to aim nuclear missiles at one another's countries. Both sides also reached agreement concerning the mutual inspection of facilities at which the nuclear warheads that have been removed under earlier agreements are stored.


These agreements are so clearly advantageous to both sides that no one is speaking out against them even at this moment of discord. Moreover, anyone seeking to dismantle these agreements would have to reckon with the fact that they are extremely tightly intertwined. When, in the heat of the Aldrich Ames spy scandal, it was suggested in Congress that all aid to Russia be cut off, it was noted that a significant portion of this aid is directed toward the destruction of Russia's nuclear and chemical weapons. That is, this money is being spent directly to heighten American security. Therefore, the defense chiefs could not even begin to discuss the aims of any of these programs, but could only concentrate on their more effective implementation.


It would seem that the stability of contacts between the Pentagon and the Russian Defense Ministry stems from the fact that military experts on both sides have never harbored any illusions about the good will of their partner. This stands in contrast to the significant role that illusion has played on the political side both in Russia and in the United States.


For too long Moscow has calculated that the end of its military threat to the West and the proclamation of democratic principles would automatically lead to immediate foreign investment that would rescue our economy. Many also hoped that our Western partners would cooperate in regulating conflict situations in the post-Soviet world out of purely humanitarian considerations.


However, it is now clear that the countries of the West, many of which are undergoing their own economic crises, have no intention of sacrificing themselves by destroying the marketplace that formed during the Cold War, even in the name of democracy in Russia. They have no intention of permitting Russia to join this market. Nor do they intend to participate in regulating conflicts. Moreover, the United States has reacted with open suspicion to Moscow's attempts to regulate these conflicts, seeing in these attempts nothing more than the wish to create a new empire.


As a result, Moscow has had to abandon the illusion, characteristic of obedient children, that if they "behave themselves," they will be rewarded. That's not the way things work in the grown-up world. Knowing how to behave and how not to frighten one's neighbors is, of course, a necessary precondition of well-being, but it is far from a guarantee of it.


As soon as the Kremlin came to see that it would have to solve its own problems, it was forced to critically reconsider its foreign policy as well and to see the connection between it and the internal situation in the country. It turns out that Russia's participation in the solution of global problems is capable of influencing Russia's self-image. Of course, even if Russians see that their country is a serious, independent power contributing to the normalization of crises such as those in Bosnia or in the Middle East, it doesn't do them any real, physical good. However, it rids them of the inferiority complex that is keeping them from overcoming the chaos in their own country.


However, Washington must also give up its own illusions that, after its victory in the Cold War, the United States will remain the world's only power center, and Russia will always follow in the wake of American policy. Russia's new course has turned out to be rather unpredictable. That is why Russia's independent steps in the former Yugoslavia and in the Middle East have been so difficult for the United States.


To the credit of leaders in both countries, they have relatively quickly recognized the danger of continuing the spiral of mutual recriminations. It seems that the tense meeting between the U.S. Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister in Vladivostok succeeded in clearly and constructively defining the problems that lead to conflicts between the two countries. On the other hand, the Secretary of Defense and the Defense Minister defined the sphere in which relations must never be interrupted: the sphere of mutual security.





Alexander Golz is a political observer for Krasnaya Zvezda. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.