Sunday, November 13, 2011
More than two sides to this coin: Russia, neither friend nor enemy
This is a response to recent posts on Russia and other countries in the "Eurasian" space. I tend to disagree with the previously posted assertions that 1. Russia is gaining influence in the former Soviet territories and 2. Russia is developing a particularly strong alliance with Iran.
First I believe that, if anything, the political developments in Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine have shown that the countries are being distanced from, not gravitating to, Russia. During the 2010 riots in southern Kyrgyzstan, Russia refused to send any peacekeeping troops to help resolve the issue.1 It remained largely neutral in the clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. Although the Kyrgyz government was criticized for its excessive use of violence during the riots, it doesn't mean that the country's political alliance falls with either "us" (the West) or "them" (Russia). States that use excessive political oppression are not necessarily allies.
In Ukraine, the strength of evidence which led to Yulia Tymoshenko's prison sentence is certainly questionable. Again, the term "political oppression" has been thrown around a lot here. But Vladimir Putin was very outspoken about his displeasure with Victor Yanukovych, the current President of Ukraine, for for going after Tymoshenko in court, stating that a guilty verdict would be "dangerous and counter-productive" to relations between Russia and Ukraine.2 Tymoshenko has also expressed his displeasure with Putin as an unwelcome interference in the country's politics. So again, this by no means signifies that Russia is trying to promote democracy in its neighboring countries (likely, Putin is just angry that the oil deal he signed with Tymoshenko in 2009 was ruled to be exploitative of Ukraine's economic interests). But it does clearly show that the two countries are not on very good terms with each other, despite them both being less than fully democratic states.
Second, there is a large difference between establishing friendly relations with a country and being an ally of a country. Since it is now abundantly clear that Iran has plans to develop nuclear weapons, Russia seems to have decided to reiterate its intention to have friendly relations with Iran. But this is no way means that Moscow and Tehran are plotting against the U.S. Frankly, it would make absolutely no sense for Russia to end its pursuit of better relations with America in order to declare an alliance with Iran.
We tend to group countries together that don't have "Western-style" governments which lack certain freedoms we do have (see G.W. Bush's Axis of Evil). However, as previously argued, these countries do not necessarily come together in alliance (or as an axis) against democratic governments, free market trade, and human rights. The world we live in is more complex than that of the Cold War era. There is longer a East vs. West, or a "us" vs. "them." There are more than two sides to this coin.