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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

America's 'Near Abroad'

It would seem that the approach to guaranteeing world security is undergoing a fundamental change. Just a year or two ago, the strategic disarmament initiatives that the presidents of Russia and the United States prepared for their summit in Washington this week would have caused a worldwide sensation. Just think for a moment about President Boris Yeltsin's UN speech in which he proposed a sweeping reduction of strategic weapons that would include not just the two superpowers, but Britain, France and China as well. The same also applies to Washington's willingness to abandon its Cold War doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction and work out a policy of "Mutual Assured Safety."


I suspect, however, that despite the importance of these initiatives, they are destined to be of interest primarily to specialists. This is partly because they are directed against yesterday's concerns, inasmuch as no one seriously envisions a return to nuclear standoff. Even though it recently became known that the Pentagon is storing its warheads rather than destroying them, Russia and the United States have demonstrated considerable mutual confidence in the area of strategic policy.


Such mutual confidence, however, has been notably absent from another extremely sensitive area of relations between the two countries. I am talking about Russia's peacekeeping operations in the Caucasus, Moldova and Tajikistan. Some influential American analysts urged President Clinton to express to his Russian colleague America's concern over Russia's actions in the newly independent states. These people see Moscow's policies as a sign of Russia's "neo-imperialist" ambitions and attempts to restore the Soviet Union. Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently demanded in no uncertain terms the withdrawal of "foreign" (read, Russian) troops from the countries of the CIS.


Naturally, this attitude has made Moscow anxious. Russian intelligence experts have been pointing out that many Western governments have refused to acknowledge any connection between stability in the countries of the CIS and the vital interests of Russia.


One would have expected that the mutual misunderstanding between Russia and the United States would only have been increased by Yeltsin's UN speech, in which he unambiguously stated the importance of Russia's interests in the newly independent states and declared his intention to continue such peacekeeping operations. However, supporters of the new firm line on relations with Moscow note that the Clinton administration has, apparently, silently accepted this political reality.


Clinton's critics see in this a sort of payoff for Russia's willingness to go along with U.S. actions in Haiti. It seems to me entirely possible that U.S. policy in that country is connected with the obvious change in its attitude toward Russian peacekeeping. But it is not just a matter of quid pro quo.


The similarities in the situations facing the two countries are simply too obvious to be ignored. Consider, for example, the goals of these military operations. Leaving aside various loud and dubious declarations concerning the defense of democracy, there is one obvious national interest motivating the U.S. operation in Haiti: keeping a flood of refugees from swamping the country. But isn't this one of the most important interests behind Russia's peacekeeping operations? What is more, America is concerned about a few tens of thousands of refugees, while Russia is worried about millions.


The preparations for these operations also demonstrate some surprising similarities. While no one objected in principle to the U.S. landing in Haiti, no one was found who would be willing to support Washington in any way that was not purely symbolic. But isn't this the same thing that we see in Russia's attempts to involve other CIS countries in its operations in Tajikistan and Nagorno-Karabakh?


Finally, the problems that arise during the conduct of such operations are also quite similar. Russian and American troops have found themselves caught in the middle of various armed factions that would like to exploit the foreign military presence for their own, far from noble, purposes. They are constantly being provoked by those who see them as an obstacle. Consider Haitian General Raoul Cedras' demonstrative anger when American marines recently opened fire on Haitian police. Regardless of whether the action was justified, they have already found themselves drawn into a bloody whirlpool. And, just as in Tajikistan, no one can tell where it might end.


What is more, during the course of this kind of operation, "good guys" can occasionally turn into "bad guys." Exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has already spoken out openly about his dissatisfaction with what he considers the lenient manner in which the Americans have treated the Haitian generals. America's soldiers will find themselves in a very complex situation if Aristide's supporters try to settle some scores with their enemies. Such things happened more than once when Aristide was in power.


Russia constantly faces all of these complications in its peacekeeping operations in the "near abroad." Now, however, the United States has discovered its own "near abroad" in Haiti. It appears that in the new world order, the great powers will be compelled to undertake such operations more and more often without any guarantee of success. Now that Washington is facing these problems itself, it seems to have changed its attitude toward Russian "neo-imperialism." Until quite recently I viewed joint Russian-American training exercises in peacekeeping as a necessary but largely symbolic undertaking. But now -- who knows? -- they may take on important practical significance.





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