Russian Bear Growling A Little Bit Louder As Security Talks Near
Next week in Lisbon, world leaders will meet a Russia whose honeymoon with the West is over.Skip to next paragraph
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The tone of Russia's voice in world affairs has hardened noticeably since the last summit meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) two years ago. Russian policymakers and analysts are speaking once again of the importance of military force and nuclear capacity to their national security.
The Lisbon summit, convening Monday and Tuesday, is important to Russia - perhaps more important to Russia than to any other nation attending - because Russia is looking for new approaches to defend its interests.
Making nice, Russians across the political spectrum agree, has not worked. NATO is set to expand eastward in spite of all Russia's objections. The next new NATO members will be announced no later than July, and however the eastward expansion unfolds, Russians feel they will be left in a weaker and more isolated strategic position.
So the Russians are seeking to elevate the OSCE into the dominant forum for negotiating European security. The OSCE - unlike NATO - is a European security organization to which Russia belongs.
With the support of some Western European governments, Russia would like the OSCE to become a chartered legal entity like the United Nations or NATO to give it more decision-making clout.
Further, Russia envisions the OSCE as the overarching security organization that governs the roles of other international organizations and alliances. The United States opposes such a step.
But Russia would like the Lisbon summit to commit to this model of the OSCE's future, as well as a timetable for the next two years, as the next practical steps to achieving it.
Russian officials outline other proposals they would like OSCE leaders to sign onto at Lisbon, including:
*A NATO guarantee not to place any military force in Europe in a position to threaten Russia. This would mean adjusting the current Conventional Forces in Europe treaty in specific ways that Russia prefers.
*NATO establishment of a practical relationship with Russia that has mutual obligations and mechanisms for consultation and decisionmaking between the two sides. "Empty declarations," one official states, will not be enough.
*Evolution of NATO's role from military deterrence to partnership and peacekeeping.
First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov outlined these goals in an article earlier this month in Krasnaya Zvyezda, or Red Star, a military-oriented newspaper. Throughout the article he stressed the importance of military strength to protect Russia's role as a great power in the emerging multi-polar world.
Russia can only ensure stability with a credible strategic nuclear arsenal, a powerful and mobile conventional force for protecting its region, and a tighter military alliance among the former Soviet members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Mr. Ivanov argued.
From a senior Russian diplomat, this marks not a sudden shift, but a striking change in tone from the post-Soviet euphoria of even two years ago. Then, Yegor Gaidar, who was Russian prime minister until mid-1994, argued that the Russian military was mainly a burden that needed cutting. The way for Russia to reduce its foreign threats, he said, was to form a "deep partnership with the West, especially in security." That policy is widely seen as a failure here.
"NATO expansion proved that partnership didn't work," says Irina Kobrinskaya, a policy analyst at the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow office.
Now Russians are talking a little tougher again, especially, Dr. Kobrinskaya notes, about nuclear weapons. Many recent discussions in Russia sound like the early 1980s, she says, with their talk of containment and deterrence.
"The only explanation is that it is the cheapest way for Russia to achieve defense capabilities," she adds.
In one article, prominent Russian analysts Dmitri Yevstaviev and Vladimir Krivokhizha advocate that Russia maintain not only a global nuclear deterrent capacity but also local or regional nuclear capacity to deter aggressors. Further, they say, Russia should be ready to use these to eradicate regional threats.
Russia does not have the economic power it would need to compete seriously with the West in military power, Yuri Baturin secretary of the Defense Council of the Yeltsin Administration said recently. But Russia can still offer the West a localized military threat when it needs to, Mr. Baturin explained, because the greater prosperity of the West makes Westerners even more vulnerable to the discomfort of military conflict.
At Lisbon, Russia is unlikely to come away with much. But an American official says Russia's bottom line is that it doesn't want a summit declaration that embarrasses it by asserting the dominant security role of NATO - one club it will not soon be joining.