Want to Play a (Great) Game?

Posted by Cutler on April 16, 2007

Somebody in Washington wants toSomebody in Washington wants to play hardball with Russia.

If the Russian Duma is to be believed, the US is fanning the flames of internal dissent.  The Moscow Times reports:

Duma deputies unanimously approved a resolution expressing concern over “growing and unprecedented attempts” by the United States to interfere in internal issues.

“Under the guise of helping to conduct free and fair elections for the State Duma in December 2007 and of the president of the Russian Federation in March 2008, U.S. taxpayers’ money is being used to fund numerous training courses, surveys, seminars and other events that propagandize … and distort the situation,” the resolution said…

The Duma resolution, which mentions the U.S. report, also accuses U.S. officials of participating in events organized by “openly extremist forces” — an apparent reference to the attendance of several U.S. officials at a Moscow conference held by The Other Russia last year. Among The Other Russia’s organizers is the unregistered National Bolshevik Party, which prosecutors call extremist.

The Duma also called on the president, the Cabinet and the Prosecutor General’s Office to boost enforcement of the 2006 law that bans NGOs from participating in political activities and establishes strong bureaucratic control over their finances, particularly over foreign grants.

So, who is spoiling for a fight with Russia?

In a March 22, 2007 Los Angeles Times Op-Ed, Dimitri K. Simes points a finger:

[There is an] influential group of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists inside and outside the Bush administration [for whom] compromise is unacceptable. For them, foreign policy is a morality play; the Russians are the bad guys and should be taught a lesson…

In terms of “liberal interventionists,” Simes doesn’t name names.  Maybe he has in mind Katrina vanden Heuvel–publisher of The Nation–and her husband, NYU Professor Stephen F. Cohen who might identify themselves as decidedly anti-Putin.

Regarding the “neoconservatives,” I am even less sure if the label fits.

As I noted in a recent post, some strident supporters of Israel–including House International Relations Committee Chairman Tom Lantos–have recently “gone wobbly” on Russia.

If Lantos is prepared to ease the way for the lifting of Jackson-Vanik trade sanctions and help shepherd Russia into the WTO, others in Washington are not yet on board.

Mosnews has noted signs of a split in Washington:

U.S. Trade Representatives Susan Schwab said that Moscow was making only “slow progress” for entry into the 150-member world trade body.

“We would like to see Russia a full fledged member of the World Trade Organization and hope that Russia will undertake the commitments and responsibilities, the obligations that come with being a WTO member,” she said, quoted by the AFP…

Schwab also said the US Congress was not prepared to revoke Cold War-era legislation intended to pressure Soviet authorities over emigration restrictions…

As MosNews has reported, several U.S. officials including Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez and Congressman Tom Lantos, have spoken in favor of lifting the amendment as soon as possible.

Schwab, however, seems to have a different idea. “The question that I get asked when it comes to Jackson-Vanik and permanent normal trade relations with Russia is, is the WTO ready to let Russia in and the answer is, ’not yet,’” she said.

What is Schwab’s beef with Russia?  It may be more narrowly “commercial” than geo-strategic.

Nevertheless, there are Russia hawks in Washington and Cheney is arguably the ringleader.  But it is not obvious that Right Zionists constitute the core of his anti-Putin coalition precisely because Right Zionists might be tempted to “go wobbly” on Russia in exchange for cooperation in containing Iran.

But, as Dimitri K. Simes points out, there are Russia hawks in this administration.  Simes identifies one key figure: Dan Fried, assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs.

Consider, for example, his recent Congressional testimony on US relations with Turkey:

On energy security, the United States has offered strong support to help realize the Baku-Tbilisi- Ceyhan oil pipeline, working with Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan and with companies to establish a public-private partnership that has resulted in one the most complex and successful pipeline projects of all time. A companion natural gas pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum, a pipeline, is about to begin delivering Azerbaijani natural gas to Georgia and Turkey.

Over the next decade, we hope a trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Kazakhstan and even Turkmenistan will connect with this BTE pipeline. We have also just launched trilateral discussions with Ankara and Baghdad on developing gas production in northern Iraq.

This so-called Southern Corridor can change Eurasia’s strategic map by offering Europe its best hope for large volumes of natural gas supplies that will allow diversification away from a deepening European reliance on Gazprom.

Daniel Fried makes one thing clear: the Great Game is alive and well.

Perhaps it is no accident, then, that one of the leading figures in the recent Russian Dissent is a champion of the “Great Game,” chess master, Garry Kasparov.

2 Comments to Want to Play a (Great) Game?

  • You might want to read Stephen Cohen’s articles–in the Nation and elsewhere–about the dangers of a new cold war with Russia and the need to strengthen our democracy at home before we go off hectoring and lecturing others…before you make such a simple-minded statement or guess about who “liberal interventionists” are. (Full disclosure: Stephen Cohen is my husband –and we have spent nearly thirty years traveling together to Moscow.) I think if left to their own devices Kasparov, Kasyanov and Limonov would end up in sectarian disputes, tearing each other and coalition apart…And now Berezovsky seems ready to undermine them with his statements out of London..he makes them seem like proxies of the West. I think there is a dangerous game underway in DC –with hawks you mention and Cheney–and bringing Julia Tymoshenko here (and then arranging for her big publication in current issue of foreign affairs magazine ) to fan new cold war–and these anti missile systems in Czech republic and Poland are true insanity…Maybe you could read The Nation, read Steve Cohen’s work and writings, read some of my own before calling us what we are not.
    Katrina vH

  • My post included a link to an article in which Katrina vH celebrated–for good ‘liberal interventionist’ reasons–anti-Putin protests by pensioners, all the while hoping that the “Babushkas” would be joined by “unpaid schoolteachers, miners, soldiers, doctors and university students.”

    Katrina vanden Heuvel’s rallying cry, “Babushkas of Russia–Unite!,” was the strongest sign that those who care most about workers might have good reason to be torn, for example, between support for some kind of popular, workers’ insurgency in Russia and fear that such an insurgency was being used as a fifth column (as it was in Poland during the Cold War) by hawks who play “a dangerous game underway in DC.”

    My post also included reference to an article by Stephen Cohen in which Cohen has little nice to say about the incumbent regime in Russia:

    a kind of praetorian political system devoted to and corrupted by their wealth, at best a “managed” democracy. (Hence their choice of Vladimir Putin, a vigorous man from the security services, to replace the enfeebled President Yeltsin in 1999.).

    My assumption, allegedly wrong, was that Cohen was distressed by such a political system. This was assumption was fed by some of the language in Cohen’s article on “The New American Cold War,”

    Contrary to established opinion, the gravest threats to America’s national security are still in Russia…. catastrophic possibilities exist in that nation, so do the unprecedented threats to US and international security. Experts differ as to which danger is the gravest… But no one should doubt that together they constitute a much greater constant threat than any the United States faced during the Soviet era… Petrodollars may bring Russia long-term stability, but on the basis of growing authoritarianism and xenophobic nationalism… this outcome probably would not be truly fascist, but it would be a Russia possessing weapons of mass destruction and large proportions of the world’s oil and natural gas, even more hostile to the West than was its Soviet predecessor.

    In his “New Cold War” essay, however, Cohen goes out of his way to suggest that the US has provoked all the current “threats” in Russia because the US drew first blood: “The cold war ended in Moscow, but not in Washington.”

    In the essay to which I linked in the post, Cohen argues that Washington hawks saw Red in the early 1990s:

    Where Russia was concerned, their reaction was, as usual, based mainly on anti-Communist ideology… a Moscow philosopher later remarked bitterly, “They were aiming at Communism but hitting Russia.”

    It may be time to recognize that some hawks in Washington have always been more fearful of Russian Empire (in the classic tradition of Great Power rivalry) than they were of the ideology of Communism. If so, then the Cold War was but a single moment in the much longer history of attempts by American imperialists to challenge Russian imperialists.

    Cohen sometimes appears to argue that there are no Russian imperialists. Sometimes he seems to propose an implicit cooperative imperialist compact in which American imperialists and Russian imperialists agree to respect each other’s proper sphere of interest. The US has its Monroe Doctrine; so should Russia. Or, at least, the US should acknowledge and respect the legitimacy of the traditional Russian imperial appetite in its “near abroad.” It is actually unclear whether Cohen would demand from Russia (or China) reciprocal recognition of US imperial “interests” in Latin America.

    I appear to have erred in thinking that Cohen–critical as he is of the current regime and fearful as he is of the grave threats in contemporary Russia–would want to do something to undermine this regime and and meet these threats.

    Cohen notes that Washington’s “interventionary impulse has now grown even into suggestions that Putin be overthrown by the kind of US-backed ‘color revolutions'” but he does not in any way endorse such an impulse in response to the “gravest threats” presented by contemporary Russia.

    Indeed, having identified these threats, Cohen suggests, “the first principle of policy toward post-Communist Russia must follow the Hippocratic injunction: Do no harm! Do nothing to undermine its fragile stability…”

    I regret having jumped to the conclusion that Cohen might at least be torn between support for “stability” and the desire to somehow counteract authoritarianism and xenophobic nationalism.

    My mistake.

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