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Russia-U.S. and former Soviet republics: from illusions to reality
03.05.07
MOSCOW. (Alexander Karavayev for RIA Novosti) –

To err is human, but there are different kinds of mistakes. It was wrong of Moscow to assume that it would play the first fiddle in what emerged on the ruins of the U.S.S.R.
The Kremlin seemed to have forgotten that defense of U.S. national security interests is the driving force of American policy. The United States has only made tactical changes to this position, tailoring it to the situation. If alarming trends prevailed, the U.S. took action – channeled IMF credits into the Russian economy and earmarked funds to keep Russia’s nuclear arsenal safe and help it get rid of weapons of mass destruction.
We should not think that America is Russia’s cynical foe forever. Its foreign policy rests on a gain-and-risk combination, and this is the line it has been pursuing in its relations with Russia on the territory of former Soviet states.
A dozen new states that emerged after the Soviet Union’s disintegration turned their eyes to the West. The United States adopted a wait-and-see attitude while money-seeking CIS countries offered it one big investment project after another. For Moscow, the territory around Russia was an economically split conglomerate of politically centrifugal states, whereas Washington saw it as a monolith. As a passive onlooker, the United States was slowly projecting its vision of the future CIS configuration.
Washington was reluctant to take part in settlement of separatist conflicts. Credit for ceasefire in Transdnestr, the South Caucasus and Tajikistan primarily goes to the Kremlin. For the first time, the United States got involved in a post-Soviet settlement in March 1992, when it took part in the Minsk conference on Nagorny Karabakh, and later on became a participant in the Minsk OSCE (Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe) group on the region’s status and only because Azerbaijan and Armenia both insisted on this. As in other cases, in 1994 Russian diplomats persuaded the sides to conclude a tacit truce that has been preserved to this day.
The only joint Russian-American project is the Dartmouth conference’s working group on regional conflicts. The group has certain achievements to its credit, for example, the talks that produced an inter-Tajik peace agreement on June 27, 1997 in Moscow. But the Dartmouth Group is not a government project. It is a private initiative of individuals who were working to alleviate U.S.-Russian tensions in the 1980s.
By the late 1990s, the CIS situation became more complicated. Washington offered Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova to unite in the GUUAM Group, a forum without Russia’s participation. But until it came to the velvet revolutions, it was not clear how this group could be used to promote American interests in the CIS. Now GUAM appears to be an advertising economic project of Orange revolutionaries trying to use it for organizing the domestic market and facilitating the comeback of breakaway territories to the unitary states.
A very special situation developed around the Gore-Chernomyrdin commission. It was probably the only achievement in Russian-U.S. relations that was recognized by both sides. The commission’s idea was to let second-in-command statesmen implement presidential agreements that often remain hanging in the air. These people know how to push specific issues to be tackled by the second and third levels of the bureaucratic machine. The commission was also involved in tackling a number of classified issues.
Thus, by the late 1990s the pattern of US-CIS relations became obvious – Washington built contacts with each country individually. The distance between the United States and Eurasia, and certain pro-American idealism of CIS capitals allowed Washington to reach its objectives regardless of contradictions and conflicts within the CIS.
Moscow could not achieve Washington’s level of trust in relations with the CIS. It was limited by involvement in common processes and numerous economic and political commitments to each country that was clearly reflected in interstate and separatist conflicts. The United States was not so much involved in separatist problems as Russia. Without this deadweight, Washington had more freedom of action. Moreover, the U.S. could afford to take part in several games both with the opposition and different elite groups. The Kremlin’s hands were tied by obligations to those who held the reins of power in CIS countries.
Finally, the United States channeled considerable financial allocations into a number of socio-economic programs, allocated interest-free credits, and helped CIS countries get big IMF loans. Russia depended on the United States as much as other countries and could not take part in any serious independent games on the former Soviet territory. Finally, the U.S. image enhanced in the CIS the general trend of globalism emanating from the West – market relations, dollarization of the economies, advent of foreign companies to local markets, a sharp increase in the range of consumer goods and a broad choice of industrial technologies. All these factors promoted the advance of the United States in post-Soviet territory.
Importance of partnership with Russia dropped from the first place to the tenth on the U.S. list of priorities even before the Islamic threat became obvious. During this time, the Kremlin lost its grip on many purely Russian subjects in the CIS, and left much to chance. On the bright side of this experience was the realization of the need for symmetrical balance in relations with the U.S. – the time of limitless trust was gone never to return.
The current defense missile crisis has clearly shown the split that will continue to deepen. By the end of 2008, the presence of the old team in the Kremlin (Putin will leave, but his team will remain) and the emergence of Democrats in power in Washington will generate multiple conflicts of interest. Fewer attempts will be made to cover up the split and growing contradictions by a diplomatic veil.
Aggravation of bilateral relations is bound to affect CIS countries. Efforts against international terrorism (by itself a vague notion), trade interests, space exploration and nuclear non-proliferation cannot prevail over confrontation. Further cooperation will be eclipsed by political discord.

Alexander Karavayev is an expert at the Center for Post-Soviet Studies.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti. -0-