The New York Times has published an article–“U.S. Moves to Soothe Growing Russian Resentment“–that appears to signal a shift in the Bush administration’s hawkish approach toward Russia.
Not a chance.
The report by Thom Shanker and Helene Cooper seems to suggest that after Putin’s speech in Munich, the Bush administration has been “shocked, shocked,” to find Moscow upset with Washington and they are now contrite. Indeed, Bush administration officials have launched a new “initiative” to calm bilateral tensions.
In the wake of criticism from President Vladimir V. Putin and his inner circle of political advisers and generals, there is a growing acknowledgment among officials in Washington that the United States has not responded as rapidly or eloquently as it might have to a widespread sense of grievance in Russia…
Senior administration officials said their initiative called for engaging Russian leaders in private discussions to illustrate that the United States was putting extra effort into nurturing the relationship and that Russia deserved a more thorough dialogue on American foreign policy and national security plans.
A senior administration official involved in developing the strategy said that under the program, “we’ll have more consultation and we’ll do it more extensively and more intensively, so that there is a good understanding of each other’s views.”
It strains credibility to suggest that anyone in Washington thinks the problem here is miscommunication.
But the report goes on to suggest that the substance of US policy toward Russia–all the well-communicated disagreements that constitute the crux of Russian animosity–will not change:
Administration officials have said they will stand their ground in defending the United States against the substance of the Russian critique. In particular, the officials say, Russian threats will not halt Washington’s plans to place elements of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, nor diminish Washington’s support of NATO expansion.
The notion that Putin’s objections can be met with responses that are simply more rapid or eloquent is implicitly insulting to the Kremlin. Can the Bush administration actually believe that this kind of talk–the new “strategy”–will actually appease Moscow?
Rather, the real target of the “eloquence strategy” is Germany.
The stunning directness of Moscow’s recent public complaints is viewed as undermining United States-Russia relations. Equally worrisome to the administration is that the harsh tone of the Kremlin’s comments has greatly troubled European allies caught in between, especially in former Soviet client states in Eastern Europe that later joined NATO.
This is the real news story. The headline is that the Bush administration moves to soothe growing European anxiety.
The charm offensive, insofar as one can see evidence of it, is directed toward Europe, specifically what Rumsfeld called the “old” Europe.
The “problem” with the “old” Europe was supposed to have been solved with the triumph of German Chancellor Angela Merkel over her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder. (I guess that was before the “back rub.”)
Merkel is “going wobbly” on Russia and it is to this development–not Putin’s anger–that has the Bush administration scrambling.
The Financial Times captures the political dynamic in its reporting:
Angela Merkel, German chancellor, added her voice to the heated international debate over the missile defence system by calling for Nato to be given responsibility for defusing concerns over the [US missile defence system planned for eastern Europe]…
“Nato is the best place for discussion of this issue,” she told the Financial Times in an interview, arguing that Washington should step up consultation with its western allies and Russia.
Her statement reflects concerns over increasing east-west tensions since Vladimir Putin, Russian president, delivered a speech in Munich sharply criticising US unilateralism, and the US formally asked Poland and the Czech Republic to host parts of the anti-missile system…
Mrs Merkel said that Nato should be the forum for greater consultation by Washington of both its western allies and Russia on the issue of missile defence. “It is better to have more discussion on this issue rather than less,” she said…
German officials said Berlin was concerned that while the defence system was not targeted at Russia, there was a danger its creation could mark a departure from the international trend since the early 1990s towards disarmament.
At an EU meeting yesterday, Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, was more outspoken, calling the US plans “incomprehensible”.
“We will have no stability in Europe if we push the Russians into a corner,” he said.
Nevertheless, the US charm offensive toward Europe has ceded little or no ground on questions of substance.
In recent remarks to the Atlantic Council, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns–a Russia hawk and an architect of NATO expansion during the Clinton administration–was unrepentant. The speech is worth quoting at some length, for it gets to the heart of some of the key tensions:
[One] intra-European issue that is so much a part of our current agenda is what to do about Russia, how to relate to modern Russia, how to be a partner with Russia, but also how to protect NATO and the European Union and the states of Central Europe from whatever dangers may lurk in the future.
You’ve all seen the extraordinary — you’ve heard about or saw the extraordinary speech that President Putin gave at the Wehrkunde Conference in Munich two weeks ago. You’ve seen this unusually unwise and irresponsible statement by the Russian General Staff about targeting the Czech Republic and Poland because they have the temerity to negotiate with the United States a missile defense agreement.
Our response to that has been that we need to seek a balanced relationship with Russia. We need to take account of what is working in our relationship with Russia but also to be very clear about where we disagree with the Russian leadership — whether it’s on the lack of democracy inside Russia itself, the declining fortunes of the democrats in the Russian political spectrum; whether it’s on Russia’s attempts to, we think, be overbearing at times in their relations with their neighbors; or whether it’s the recent Russian reaction to our attempt to establish a modern missile defense system in Europe, not aimed at the Russians themselves, of course, but aimed at the threats that emanate from Iran and other countries to the south of Russia…
[T]he Russians and our government — perhaps other governments in Western Europe — are operating at cross-purposes.
We believe that Georgia should have a right to define its own future. We believe that Georgia should have the right to seek membership or association with international organizations like NATO in the future if that is what Georgia elects to do, and if Georgia, of course, at some point in its future history meets the requirements of NATO membership.
We believe that Moldova should be allowed to overcome the internal divisions that have held that nation back since the breakup of the Soviet Union in December 1991.
And we certainly believe that the three Baltic countries — Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania, now members of both the European Union but especially of NATO — have a right to live in peace and free of the harassment that is sometimes afflicted upon them by the Russian Federation.
We’re concerned about the lack of democracy inside Russia itself, the declining fortunes of those who stand up for democracy in Russia.
So I know that President Putin put a number of criticisms before the world audience about United States foreign policy. We have been equally clear about where we disagree with the Russian Federation, and that’s our responsibility to do that — to define a modern relationship in those terms, to be frank about what’s working and to thank the Russian Federation when we are able to achieve things together whether it’s on counter-terrorism or counter-proliferation, but to be equally frank that when there are challenges in the relationship we face those challenges, and we disagree with the Russians publicly when they do things that are profoundly not in our
Russia is going to have to understand that NATO will continue to exist. NATO will continue to grow. We will continue to add members to the NATO Alliance. And the strength of NATO will be based on our common will and our ability to project NATO as a force for peace and for stability as it certainly is in its Afghan mission. And Russia has to understand that NATO is not and has not been, for the history, for the many years since 1989, ’90 and ’91, directed at all against Russia, but is the one uniquely unifying force for peace and stability in Europe itself.
NATO enlargement… has brought so many positive benefits to the Europeans, as well as to the North Americans over the last 15 years that we think NATO’s vocation has to be strong in the future.
We have invited Russia into a NATO-Russia partnership five years ago in Italy. It has worked well at points, but it’s been sometime disappointing in a lack of a strategic engagement. That was apparent in the Russian reaction to our plan to establish a very small number of interceptors in Poland and at radar sites in the Czech Republic, to have some capacity to deter the looming missile threat from Iran and other states in the Middle East that all the European countries and the United States face.
To think that in this day and age a member of the Russian General Staff would threaten two NATO countries because they have the temerity to consider negotiating this agreement with us is really quite astounding. Secretary Rice said today when she was asked about this in Berlin, “It was profoundly unwise for that statement to be made, and we hope that the Russians will think twice about such statements in the future.”
Burns has offered up a relatively frank version of US policy toward Russia.
The “strategy” toward Germany, on the other hand, is to try to offer some political cover for a Chancellor who will find it increasingly difficult to defend US policy in the face of Russian pressure.
The question is no longer “who lost Russia?” That was settled long ago. The spark behind the New York Times article about a Bush administration “initiative” toward Russia is an attempt to forestall a more contemporary question: “Who lost Germany?”
There are some disagreements within the German government concerning the missile defense.
The US has not “lost” Germany.
If you are interested, in German-American relations, I would like to recommend our blog The Atlantic Review, a press digest on transatlantic affairs.
I’ll check out the blog. Thanks. I wasn’t suggesting that the US has actually already “lost” Germany. I was saying that the US is trying to make sure it doesn’t lose Germany to Russia (again). My suggestion was that the “initiative” in the news was about Bush administration efforts to forestall the necessity of having to answer that question (“Who Lost Germany”) at some point in the future.
Ah, okay, now I get it.