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.


The Mad Greek said...

I think the Shanghai Cooperation Organization shows a strong relationship between the aforementioned and Russia. Through this organization there is military cooperation, security collaboration and economic partnerships. Some even view it as a counter to NATO. (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.) Russia may have decided not to send peacekeeping forces in a way of saying it was a Kyrgyz affair, thus when Uzbeks were harrassed, their Uzbekistan ally would not state that Russia was somehow involved. Taskent had recently asked the United States to leave its bases within the country and this was welcomed by Russia obviously. Peacekeeping can be misinterpretted as intervention or co-oppression by many. Thus, I do not necessarily see any benevolence on the part of Russia.

I then agree with you that Putin probably would have preferred Tymoshenko. However, political oppression is the word to be used on botched up charges. Would you prefer "strategic imprisonment"? Putin may have preferred her, but that does not change the other dynamics. In fact, this may validate my statement if she is able to grab power again in the upcoming elections if her release is granted.

It seems to me that the U.S. can have friendly relations with oppressors, but not be bona fide alliances. Whereas, Russia does not have an issue of bypassing the friendly relationship due to value judgements and establishing meaningful partnerships with clear totalitarians. (The U.S. can be connected to Egypt or any other authoritarian, but I think they served a U.S. interest, where as the caucasus have more cultural and historical links to Russia).

And I do not argue that Russia is trying to promote democracy, I argue to some extent that these structures of government, combined with close proximity to Russia, seem to have more cultural and political similarities than with the West. And Thus... may lean towards Russia, as the U.S. continues to be tied up on terrorism and the Middle East.

lesdamnesdelaterre said...

But again, leaning toward Russia and leaning away from the US are not necessarily the same thing in the post-cold war era.