"Dangerous Gulf" Opens between Russia and West

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The West's repeated criticism of Moscow over last month's invasion of Georgia has kindled a fierce Russian resentment so that according to experts the threats posed by Russia against security in Europe have never been so serious.

ISNA News Agency quoting Reuters said  US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice lectured Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov during a United Nations gathering in New York, telling him Russia was now isolated.

Political analysts believe that the West cannot tolerate aggressive and hostile policies of Russia any longer and seriously cooperates with the United States to this end. It can also be said somehow that Europe is now under the command and will of Washington. One of the reasons for Russian threats against Europe being serious is strong Western support for Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili.

Meanwhile, the Western media coverage has overwhelmingly favored Georgia during the conflict, which has enraged Moscow.

"Never in the past quarter century have Russia and the West differed so much over the interpretation of the same event," wrote political commentator Georgy Bovt in an opinion piece entitled "Divorce with the West" on the news site.

"Never before has the behavior of Russia been presented in Western media in such a diametrically opposite way to the way that behavior is perceived in Russian public opinion."

Further stoking resentment is a string of recent Western moves seen as hostile by Moscow. Animosities ascribed in earlier times to ideological schism between communism and capitalism is proving hardier than many might have expected. In Russian eyes, the West snubbed it by recognizing the independence of Kosovo and ignored its objections to a U.S. anti-missile system in Eastern Europe. The West also didn't listen to its criticism of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and broke a promise made to Moscow in the 1990s not to expand NATO to its borders. These are among reasons behind escalation of tension between Russia and the West.

Observers opine that Russia's patience vis-à-vis the West has snapped and Europe should be serious towards impending threats of Russia. Political analyst in the United States, David Ashton, believes Russians are reacting to 18 years of condescension and being ignored by the West. They have had enough. Russia's loss of trust in the West over Georgia could have serious consequences for peace in Europe, with neighboring Ukraine looming as the next potential battleground between a fearful and mistrustful West and an angry, emboldened Russia. Analysts predict Kremlin will show its harsh reaction to the West once again in Ukraine.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Jack Matlock criticized moves to draw Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, a policy that he said could split Ukraine. He said the policy to expand NATO will both turn Europe into a barrel of explosives and can deal serious blows on the security of Ukraine and then opponents of Russia. He said that as long as the West followed this course, true strategic co-operation with Moscow was impossible.

Meanwhile, a senior Moscow diplomat said, "We are in a deep crisis. We have embarked on a confrontation course which is very difficult to pull back from." The West seeks Russian co-operation in a host of security problems from Iran's nuclear program to Islamist militancy from the Caucasus to Afghanistan.

Reuters added this issue is important that non-convergence of Russia with the West in a series of issues such as the nuclear case of Iran and North Korea or the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq will give rise to new challenges.

Opinion polls show overwhelming popular support for President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime MinisterVladimir Putin despite Russia's attack on Georgia. People also support Medvedev’s decision to send troops into Georgia and a dramatic hardening of attitudes toward the West.

A regular survey by the independent Levada Centre published this week showed Russians' views of relations with the United States plummeting by 40 points between July and September to their most negative level since polling began in 1997. There was a 29-point drop in support for relations with Europe.

"It's quite difficult to be pro-Western in the current situation," said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a Moscow-based foreign policy journal. Tension between the West and Russia is leading to a point that an explosion is constantly expected. He said, "The consensus is there in Russia that the West cannot be trusted." At the same time, some Western media, drawing on Cold War stereotypes, have painted a picture of an aggressive and dangerous Russian bear on the prowl.

"I understand the value of investing in this place but my biggest problem is that back home, a lot of people watching CNN think this place is one notch above North Korea," said one frustrated U.S. fund manager visiting Moscow.

Andrew Somers, president of the American-Russian Chamber of Commerce, said a number of large U.S. corporations already active in Russia were putting big future investment projects on hold, partly because of the hostile media coverage. "The image of Russia is very bad and some of the press coverage is way out of context," he said.

Vladimir Putin, renown for his acid comments about the West, took a swipe at Western media coverage of the Georgian war at a meeting with the Western analysts on September 11. "I was surprised by the power of the Western propaganda machine," he said. "I congratulate all who were involved in it. This was a wonderful job. But the result was bad and will always be bad because this was a dishonest and immoral work."

Obama: To Be or Not to Be

On the other hand the Iranian Diplomacy website in a report said analysts consider Kremlin’s unwillingness to prepare another resolution against Iran at the Security Council as the latest sign of the ever-increasing trend of straining of ties between Russia and the US. They expect the situation to become worse. This is while the latest remarks made by Russian officials run to the contrary and the strained atmosphere do not seem to last.

Russian ambassador to the United Nations and former spokesman of foreign ministry, Vitaly Churkin, believes some kind of rationality has always prevailed in the history of relations between the Soviet Union (and now Russia) with the United States and there has never been a serious difference between them. The problem is over recent Russian moves in Georgia. Nevertheless, this is not a problem that has caused irreparable damage.

These statements are made at a time when only about three months are left from the presidential tenure of George Bush. Therefore, it seems that Moscow prefers to postpone any thaw in Russia-US relations to after the US presidential elections because it is likely for the Democratic nominee to replace George Bush and take with another approach in foreign policy and interaction with Russia.

The hope for presence of a new face who would support diplomacy and dialog with opponents is not out of the question. According to a survey conducted by the Public Opinion Survey Center in Russia, 27 percent of Russians are optimistic that Barack Obama of the Democratic Party would find his way to the White House and only six percent support McCain as the US president. Although both the contenders condemned the recent Russian aggression against Georgia but the Republican nominee, contrary to Obama who supports resolving such issues through a multilateral approach, advocates taking harsher stance versus Moscow.

Some statements of McCain such as Russia should be expelled from Group 8 of developed countries have prompted Moscow to follow up the future elections in the United States with concern.
Election to the White House of a Republican president could mean continuation of the current trend of relations between Moscow and Washington and a more strained relationship. This is while coming to power of Obama can herald a new chapter in bilateral ties.

Undoubtedly, in such an atmosphere presence of a president in Washington who supports diplomacy with enemies in place of war can be more effective.

According to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad there is no alternative but filling the new gap created between the US and Russia. In this way, while George Bush made his last speech as the US president at the United Nations, Medvedev and Putin have been reviewing the probabilities of election of a Republican or Democratic president. Russian officials believe Kremlin is hopeful that Obama would come to office so that the way would be paved for introducing some changes in US foreign policy.


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