Obama: Paradigm Change for Russia needed
The greatest threat to world peace and the main challenge for U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 no longer comes from nuclear weapons nor even a few fanatical terrorists like we have seen now in Mumbai, but from a creeping escalation of regional conflicts that could bring the superpowers USA, Russia and China, and especially middle powers now like India and Pakistan - after the tragic terror attacks from Pakistan-based terrorists in Mumbai - against each other, and that could lead to an out-of-control spiral of threats and violence.
The West, the U.S., Europe, and NATO are no safer than Russia or the new powers.
President-elect Barack Obama, his new secretary of state Hillary Clinton and his new national security advisor general James Jones must work hard in 2009 to prevent such an escalation. If they do not, we may see a repeat of Sarajevo of 1914 in 2009, because so many regional conflicts are stewing unabated and no politician is willing yet to defuse the ticking time bomb.
This is especially true in the tense relations between Washington and Moscow.
I fear that in the U.S., too few understand the political and psychological problems of the Russians after the collapse of the USSR, the phantom pains of millions including Vladimir Putin, and the problems of a massive country whose capital is nearly as close to Washington as to Vladivostok and which includes large numbers of ethnic minorities, including millions of Muslims, as well as a shrinking population and rotten infrastructure.
I fear that Russia may run out of control as Germany did between 1918 and 1939, with millions of frustrated ordinary citizens in the end supporting the communists and fascists and leaving no room in the centre for democracy. It is well known where this led in Germany – to the destruction of the world order with more than 50 million dead.
I have missed a visionary and thought-out Russia strategy in the Bush years, which have instead been dominated by cartoon-like representations of the good cowboy versus the bad Russian, leaving simplistic and misleading images in the heads of too many for too long.
Therefore one of the top priorities of the Obama administration must be a paradigm change in its relations towards Russia.
The Obama cabinet needs 'inner musicality' (to borrow a term from Fritz Kraemer) for a fresh start in American-Russian relations.
We need an end of the two-way blame-game.
No longer should Washington see Moscow as its main counter-power but as a new partner for peace.
No longer should the re-vitalized cold warriors in the Russian Nomenklatura analyze the U.S. as the main threat but rather they should find in the U.S. a partner for building a stronger Russia.
It is in the national interest of Russia and the U.S. to improve their relations and avoid the stupidity of the past.
A détente for the Caucasus is needed
This realization is also true for the Caucasus and the Republic of Georgia.
How can the Caucasian time bomb be defused?
Acknowledge and integrate Russia's justifiable security interests
Whether the Czar, Gorbachov, Medvedev or Putin is ruling in Moscow: Russia has justifiable security interests in the Caucasus and has tight, centuries-old connections to Georgia that cannot simply be ignored. Because Georgia was long a part of the USSR, many Russian citizens live there, and Moscow naturally feels obligated to their security.
The same held, by the way, for the security interests of U.S. citizens in Central America and the Caribbean (Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989) and Washington's aversion to the stationing of Russian military and strategic alliances in the US' back yard (Cuba, Nicaragua).
South Ossetia and Abkhazia are no natural part of Georgia
Neither of the secessionist provinces of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, are historically and culturally natural parts of Georgia, but rather united with the Georgian state by compulsion. Here, the principle of Kosovo applies: things that historically do not fit together are divided.
After the attack by Georgian troops on South Ossetia, Tbilisi and its main mentors George Bush and Dick Cheney unfortunately gambled away the last chance for peaceful integration and reconciliation. These regions have been lost through wrong-headed policies in Tbilisi and the old White House.
The military operation by the Russians was warranted
The shelling of South Ossetian villages and the Russian observers stationed there by the outgunned troops of Georgian President Saakashvili was not only an historical stupidity but also a warranted causus belli for Moscow. Washington would never have acted differently in Central America if its military observers had been attacked and killed.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is just a reckless nationalist
The principle responsibility for the war in Georgia and the death and expulsion of thousands belongs not to Putin or Medvedev but to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
His deployment of military force against a superior opponent was unwise, out of proportion and irresponsible. This man is a danger to his people, not their savoir, and to the stability in Europe.
He lied many times about how the conflict started as the OSCE has proven now.
He is just a reckless nationalist and not a beacon of freedom.
Georgians should replace him as soon as possible with a more responsible politician. The West should no longer support him but reliable and reasonable new leaders in Georgia.
Integration into NATO is a mortal peril
Should NATO give itself into the hands of hot-blooded nationalists in Georgia, who bombard their fellow countrymen and pull the Western alliance into a misadventure á la Sarajevo 1914? This Bush-sponsored desire is irresponsible as long as a consensual peace concept in the Caucasus is not yet firmly in place.
The EU has failed through neutrality of responsibility
The European Union proved its caliber after the eruption of violence through the intervention of Council President Sarkozy and the mediation toward a ceasefire.
But it also forgot about Georgia and the Caucasus for many years, creating a dangerous vacuum where only the Americans and Russia held sway.
The Eastern enlargement of Europe was stopped half-finished and no convincing concept for the Caucasus, Ukraine, or the other neighbour countries of Russia was created.
A new agreement
Therefore we need a new détente on the Caucasus, a fresh reconciliation approach and a Kosovo-style agreement between the EU, the U.S. and Russia.
In the end the two regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia should be recognized as independent by the West (as should Kosovo by Russia) and Russia should guarantee the independence of Georgia and its potential entry into NATO in 2020, including a reconciliation plan between the provinces and Georgia. NATO membership can only be risked after a ten-year reconciliation period.
Moscow has also – as always when Russian tanks roll – exaggerated, and with this step, rather than the operation itself, it has broken a lot of credibility porcelain.
It had transferred a good cause of containment into an overreaction, harming the global credibility of Russia and its image as a reasonable and reliable partner for stability.
The Kremlin urgently needs a new policy which treats small ethnicities and neighbour states like Estonia and Ukraine as partners and friends, not like vassals to be antagonized and humiliated.
The Russian President and Vladimir Putin must analyze the Russian national interest with more depth and a better strategy than that advised by out-dated ex-cold-warriors. The Russian leadership must impeach these groups and not make them into a stronger and louder voice.
The threat of military force because by a few American defence missiles and radar stations in Poland and Czech, which represent no real threat to the effectiveness of the many thousands of Russian atomic missiles, despite far-reaching and fair offers for cooperation by Washington is a show of anachronistic arrogance.
To reproach Estonia for the decision to move a Stalinist monument – which glorifies the illegal occupation of this small, utterly unthreatening mini-country after the illegal Hitler-Stalin Pact – from the centre of Tallinn to the edge of town, belongs in this category of power obsession. An official apology by Russia for the crimes of Stalin in the Baltic States would have been more fitting.
Russia must openly discuss and realise that the people of Russia had been the first victims of the brutal dictator Joseph Stalin and that the collapse of the USSR has freed them from the burden of a rotten empire.
Medvedev and Putin must lead the Russian people to a revival of Old Tradition Russia and bridge it into the futures of the 21st century – not revitalize the corpse of Stalin's imperialism. Otherwise they will only create an empty shell which will implode soon or later.
The aid to Iran for the building of atomic reactors is, furthermore, irreconcilable with Russia's own national security interests. It is only explainable through the discredited formulas that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and that there is money to be earned in the arms trade.
Russia is currently overestimating its own power, and acting like a hormone-driven rollicking teenager. It is standing on the clay feet of the global economic crisis, weak economy, gigantic infrastructure costs (even Gazprom is losing a great deal of gas through its ramshackle pipelines), an aging population, rising domestic unrest in the multi-ethnic state with a growing Muslim population, excessively high mortality and a giant spider's web of incapable, corrupt, and poorly paid bureaucrats.
The main and dominating dangers for Moscow do not lie on the border to Georgia nor Estonia nor the Ukraine nor NATO, but within Russia, itself.
Russia does not need a crisis, a war, or a confrontation with the West, but calm on its borders and a new reformer in the style of Peter the Great, who can finally clear out the Russian stall from within. It is no wonder that the bureaucrats and power mongers – who would be reined in by this cleanup – love and actively promote these distracting confrontations and, in the final reckoning, actually damage their beloved Mother Russia.
As President and now as Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin failed outright to become Peter the Great or Vladimir the Great. He could have done this, by focussing on reforms in Russia, leading the country away from the shadows of a dark past into a brighter future.
Yet he is even scared to crack corruption in Russia, as he told a small group of politicians in the Duma some months ago.
Why? This is a mystery.
The enemies of Russia live within.
They threaten the monopoly of state power and form a shadow power network which can strangle Russia from the inside.
Whoever loves Mother Russia should hope that President Medvedev emerges as an enlightened leader now.
Whoever wants to avoid a new 1914 and to network a safer world should promote a new Russia policy for President-elect Barack Obama and the West, and neutralize the phantom schemas of the old cold warriors now.