Russia's New Europe

Russia's New Europe

Mini Teaser: A closet imperialist bent on reviving Moscow's dominion.

by Author(s): Janusz Bugajski

Peacekeeping has also proved a useful tool for Russia in its former
dominions. In its peace-enforcing operations in the "near abroad",
Moscow has not concerned itself with questions of legitimacy or been
constrained by internationally acceptable rules of engagement or
public scrutiny. In several unstable CIS states, Moscow has combined
peacekeeping with counterinsurgency, or has sought to defend one of
the sides in the conflict, such as the Transnistrian separatists in
Moldova. The conflict itself became a means for exercising influence
over political developments in Moldova in Russia's favor. Following
the Communist election triumph, Moldova declared Russia its
"strategic partner" despite the country's formal neutrality, and the
debate on the feasibility of Moldova joining the Russia-Belarus union
was rekindled. As a result of a more accommodating stance in
Chisinau, Moscow now supports a federalization plan between Moldova
and Transnistria, calculating that the entire state can be drawn into
the Russian sphere with a permanent military presence.

America's Interests

Having invested enormous political, financial and military capital in
securing post-communist eastern Europe, it is in America's national
interest to complete this process. Surrendering any of these
countries to endemic instability, authoritarianism or foreign
domination invites the meddling of forces hostile to Washington and
threatening to America's closest allies in the region. If the Russian
Federation were a mirror image of the United States or other Western
powers, then the expansion of Moscow's political and economic
influence would be benign or beneficial. If Russia had a thriving
liberal democracy, a vibrant civil society and a transparent market
economy, then its influences could be welcomed, regardless of
historical experiences. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and
Russian influences need to be closely monitored and actively
countered if they are destabilizing, whether as a result of energy
dominance, economic leverage, political influence, criminal
penetration or intelligence operations. Links between government,
business and crime must be of special concern to Washington, as
eastern Europe has become a major international hub for Russia's
criminal "Atlanticism."

Some U.S. policymakers argue that Putin has rejected the doctrine of
"multipolarity" in his dealings with the United States. However, such
premature hopes were dashed when Moscow sided with France and Germany
during the Iraq crisis in early-2003. Putin once again elevated
"multipolarity" as a strategic objective, which for him means the
pursuit of multiple power centers in order to diminish American
"dominance." Before he was elected president, Putin himself chaired
the meeting of the Russian Security Council that revised the
country's national security concept and its military doctrine to
include "unipolarity" as a threat to Russian security. In this
context, to be accepted as a major "pole", Moscow believes it has a
strategic imperative to integrate the key CIS states and steadily project Russia's influence farther afield.

U.S. policymakers should so
berly reflect on the premature conclusion that Putin's Russia has
been transformed into a reliable ally and trusted partner. Long-range
Russian policy simply cannot be understood in terms of its response
to a particular event (such as September 11) or a particular campaign
(such as the global anti-terrorism struggle). A comprehensive
assessment of Moscow's fundamental political and strategic objectives
in various parts of the globe is urgently needed. In this context,
Russian policy toward its immediate eastern European neighbors is a
valuable test of Moscow's commitment to forging cooperative bilateral
and regional relations and its claim of having discarded any imperial
impulses.

In a strategic version of jujitsu, Putin the black belt seeks
economic and political benefits from cooperation with the United
States in combating international terrorism while simultaneously
recreating a broad space of dominance aimed at undercutting American
"unipolarity." Behind Russia's economic priorities lurks the specter
of competitive politics aiming at the global redistribution of power
to Russia's advantage. Putin displays a non-aggressive foreign policy
in which collaboration with the United States and integration into
international economic institutions is pursued in order to generate
resources and markets to help rebuild and modernize the Russian
economy and strengthen the Russian state.

Putin's strategy lulls Washington into a false sense of security and
an illusion of permanent partnership, even as Moscow methodically
seeks to rebuild the Russian state into a global challenger. In the
interim, Putin has concluded that he now possesses a free hand to
restore a string of vassal states along his western border and
beyond, either because the West supports him in bringing "stability"
to the region or because Washington is preoccupied with more pressing
crises elsewhere. Ultimately, acquiescing to Moscow's objectives is
certain to generate conflicts in the years ahead. Such a policy will
redivide the continent and reinforce Russia's expansionist ambitions
in a region still prone to weakness and torn between Eurasia and
Euramerica. Ultimately, it is not just Russia's former satellites
that will lose out in this scenario; the United States will as well.

Essay Types: Essay