Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Russia After Putin

An online debate sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and featuring yours truly and Sarah Mendelson. It will be an ongoing event all this week--the first round is now up.

Who selected this woman for the debate? Is she a celebrity of some kind?

What Ms. Mendelson says in the opening exchange is a standard selection of cliches. Perhaps she reads the Wall Street Journal accurately. But reading American press is something that everybody can do on his own.

If she goes on this way, I am afraid the potentially interesting debate will be dull.
She is someone interested in securing a position in a future Democratic administration. Don't be surprised if it is being sent off to Senator Clinton's people.
Nick, will be interested to see how the debate turns out further. I understand your point about Russia having interests whether it is dictatorial or democratic--but don't you think the prospects for clashes with Russia's neighbors, with EUrope and the US would be lessened if Russia was more democratic; that other countries would be less paranoid about Russia and in turn wouldn't go for containment?
Anonymous 8:21:

Neighbors don't care whether Russia is democratic or not just whether Russia is weak. Poles don't want a strong Russian democracy on their border. It is because so many associate Russian democracy with Russian weakness that you will find the rhetorical support for it in the neibhorhood.
Nik, congrats on being the only person CFR could probably find willing to do this debate and not argue that Putin is the devil. I salute your integrity but feel honor bound to tell you when this debate is done you won't have a snowball's chance in hell of joining any 2008 campaign as an expert on Russia.
“The principal business of American foreign policy must be the foreign policy, not the domestic policy, of others.”

Ms. Mendelson seems to believe that foreign policy should not be the business of foreign policy at all (because she simply refuses to discuss it).

Actually, this is not strange.
Why so many americans want russia in its position of 1990s makes no sense. whenever russia is weak consequences for rest of world are dire. putin has enhanced security of america.
Speaking about things more interesting than Ms. Mendelson, I think that Mr. Gvosdev tends to overpersonify Russia's political regime when he compares it with Mexico and Singapore's past. It is not as much about Putin personally as Americans often think. In fact, it represents a fairly broad consensus, this is why it is so popular with the public. Thus, the interesting question is not whether Putin's personal grip on power survives the end of his second term (in contrast to Mr. Gvosdev, I would say that it won't, or not by far, though who knows).

To me, the real questions should be the nature of this consensus (especially regarding foreign policy) and also the ability of the future president to maintain the current tight control of the political process. That's what probably will form Russia' face for the next few years.
The debate was interesting if a bit one-sided since Gvosdev seems to be arguing, cogently for the rational notion that American policy: a) should only be concerned about the external manifestations of a post-Putin regime; b) that such a regime will most likely last quite awhile and be stable, and, most importantly be willing on a quid pro quo basis, to dealing with the USA on friendly terms.

Miss Mendelson on the other hand, as one of the other commentators noted above, spoke mostly in cliques of not
very interesting content. And, indeed it would appear to be very much the case, that she is angling for some type of post in a future Democratic party administration. Perhaps NSC Director for Russia-CIS affairs. The
real weakness of her 'analysis', is that she assumes that both Russia and the world for that matter, are still were they were back in circa 1994-1995
(when Miss Mendelson was based in Moskva working for some American NGO).
That world, the world of uber-American
power, and, uber-self-confident American foreign policy, and, a weak and isolated Russia, is gone, finished, never to reappear again. The Russia of Yeltsin and Kozyrev is gone.
Forever more. If the United States wants something from Russia, either in terms of Energy Assistance, assistance over North Korea, Persia, Kosovo, than
it will have to pay for it. Pur et simple. Unfortunately, this is something which American policy-makers have always had difficulty swallowing.
They have engrained in their psyche that by virtue of essential American
'goodness' and the rightness of the American cause, that everyone else should simply agree and follow Uncle Same (or as they used to say in 1920's Paris 'Uncle Shylock').

Witness the treatment of the Poles over their assistance to the USA over
Iraq, or a better case: Prime Minister Blair's enormous assistance and help to Bush et. al., has netted him pretty much...nothing, rien, nada, zero. All for les beaux yeux of Oncle Sam. If given half the chance, no doubt the USA would have treated Moskva the same exact way.

Only if the Americans get it into their heads that co-operation with Moskva or anyone else cannot be totally on their terms but by definition must be that of a modus vivendi, will something be possible with either Putin's or a post-Putin Russia.
So, the discussion is concluded. Pity, but the question placed in the heading, i.e. what Russia would resemble after Putin was not really approached.

Ms. Mendelson finally introduced herself: she works or worked with professional "human rights defenders" in Russia. Not surprisingly, she accurately reproduced a set of semi-religious beliefs and the way of arguing typical for this circle, including a characteristically paranoid attitude to the state, reliance on hand-picked evidence, and extreme liberty in interpretation of facts.

The reason of this nonsense's popularity with American establishment is obvious: it helps to delegitimize Russian interests and concerns. It may become dangerous though: refusing to recognize a foreign government's legitimacy logically means that you reserve the right for aggression when it becomes practical and you must not be surprised when you are viewed and treated this way.

As somebody who does not really hate Americans, I would say that is has long been time to start talking with Russians whom you do not like, as long as they have standing with their own people rather than with Western journalists. After speaking for so long time with the friends of Ms. Mendelson you are not going to like them almost certainly, but have a chance of learning something useful.
If Peltka can be influential with no depth, pathos, or understanding - then so can M.
No one answers the question that Nik posed: what would any Russian government do differently? We always get the list of complaints about Putin but never whether or not anyone in his place would follow the same course of action.
She's just amazing.

"In fact, Europe is divided on Russia. In private sessions, senior European officials worry and complain that the British, the French, and the Germans do so little with respect to Russia."

I wonder what capabilities she thinks the West has to do something with respect to Russia. The lesson for Russia of the last 15 years is that the Russians have learned that there is no one they can rely on but themselves, no matter how conciliatory their policy. This lesson learned, Putin has ruthlessly eliminated the leverage the West has on Russia.

"Several times over the last year, various parties have approached the Germans, now the presidents of the G8 [Group of Eight] and the European Union, to address a variety of issues related to Russia with little positive response."

Sure they did. Remember that energy summit in Finland a few months back? The EU countries met beforehand to come to a common position to dictate to Putin. And he defied them all, because the fact of the matter is that the West now needs Russia far more than Russia needs the West.

One wonders when Ms. Mendelson will come to understand this. She'll have to get away from that "human rights" crowd she's been working with first though.
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