Thursday, November 25, 2010

Putin Comes Is Allowed In From the Cold?

Part of NATO's realignment?

Putin calls on EU to determine visa scrapping terms and schedule

Putin Proposes European Trade Zone Stretching `From Lisbon to Vladivostok'

A very interesting analysis: Western views of Russia take a turn to reality
"The West has not had a very good record of seeing Russia as it is; more often it has been a palimpsest on which the visitor has written his notions. I recommend Martin Malia’s Russia Under Western Eyeswhich starts with Voltaire’s imaginary ideally-governed Russia or David Foglesong’s The American Mission and the 'Evil Empire' which details a century of American obsessions about a Russia seen as a disappointingly stubborn and backwards twin brother.

But it is certain that change there has been since August 2008. Here are some indicators.

* The famous “reset” of the Obama Administration. Some of the fruits, apart from a new nuclear weapons treaty have been:
o The US State Department finally put the leader, but not the organisation itself, of the Caucasus Emirate on its terrorist list (the jihadist foundations of the second war in Chechnya has been one of the West’s persistent misunderstandings).
o The abandonment of strategic missile defence in Poland and the Czech Republic. Although the deployment had little support in either Poland or the Czech Republic, it was strongly supported by the political classes in each country. Another example, it seems, of democracy becoming geopolitics.
* The air crash that killed Polish President Kaczynski and the open and sympathetic reaction of Russians has opened possibilities with Poland, previously one of Russia’s most implacable opponents inside NATO.
* The financial crisis has hit many of the former post-USSR success stories quite hard and made them re-think relations with Russia. Latvia is a pertinent example.
* Relations with NATO are changing rapidly. NATO expansion has been dealt a blow: it’s clear that Ukraine will not join and no one wants to share a table with Saakashvili. But more to the point, NATO has, after a dozen years of treating Russia with contemptuous indifference, realised that it needs Russia in Afghanistan. While the General Secretary of NATO says different things to different audiences (for example in Tbilisi saying that Georgia will be a member of NATO one day), he has also been making overtures to Moscow, calling a few weeks ago for a “true strategic partnership.” I suspect that Paris and Berlin (and perhaps now Warsaw too) are pushing him.
* For several years, President Medvedev has been calling for a re-think of the European security system. At first dismissed as “an attempt to split Europe” his idea is receiving better reception.
* Crying wolf – what more ridiculous example can there be than this hyperventilation: “Putin’s shadow Falls over Finland” – is losing its effect. Russia’s neighbours have not been bludgeoned into slavery by the “gas weapon”, Russian troops did not “conquer Georgia” and annex the pipelines. After these and (many) other predictive failures, new doom-filled warnings are that much less believable.

The metaphorical sweater is unravelling rapidly. If Ossetians and Abkhazians regard Russians as their protectors, one cannot believe the story Tbilisi has been telling us for years. If Yanukovych won a fair election, perhaps it was the “Orange Revolution” that was the fraud. If Armenia has had its gas prices go up as much as Ukraine, then it can’t be a “gas weapon” to reward friends and punish enemies. What was stopping Russian troops from seizing large parts of Georgia proper? perhaps Putin neither wants the empire back nor to control the pipelines. If Russia’s principal enemy in the North Caucasus is a “terrorist”, then what’s really going on there? If China and Zimbabwe are members of the WTO, why isn’t Russia?

Paris and Berlin continue to lead: at the three-way summit in Deauville, overtures were made as was clear from the press conference. President Sarkozy said “We are certain that Russia, Germany and France share common positions in many respects” and that “we live in a new world, a world of friendship between Russia and Europe.” Chancellor Merkel said “we need to put relations between Russia and NATO on a rational track. After all, we face some of the same threats in the world today.” Medvedev, for once not the suppliant, was less forthcoming but made it clear he was listening.

These are, to be sure, straws in the wind but there are now quite a few of them and more come every day. Barring some unexpected catastrophe, I expect this development to continue. Paris and Berlin (and perhaps Warsaw) are leading developments but others will join in. The coming NATO summit will move the process a step further.

The end result, for perhaps the first time in history, will be a Western view of Russia more nearly as it actually is; no longer an imagined reflection. As an important player with its own interests Russia will have to be accommodated. Not an enemy, not an opponent, not necessarily an ally, but an important player that, in fact, marches in the same direction most of the time. And when it doesn’t, disagreements can be discussed and reasonable compromises made. In short, a Russia that is seen to be “in the box”."
Yup. The Cold War is well and truly over. All eyes now on the Muslim world.

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