And now, it is registering significant advances in the Baltic region, a region that was until recently very hostile to Moscow. Although it's still a bit premature to speak, there will most probably be a regime change in Tbilisi - sooner than later. Finally, Washington's favorite tie-eating dictator's days are numbered. The only question that remains is how will he go out. Will it be in a flight to Washington or in a coffin? Below are several recent news reports that have appeared in the controlled press that are worth reading between the lines.
According to a United Russia press release, the Kyrgyzstan agreement includes not only political cooperation, but also calls for the development of "equal and mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and Kyrgyzstan in the economic sphere, the creation of beneficial conditions for the development of entrepreneurial, investment, and scientific activity." Further blurring the lines between party activity and national policy, the cooperation agreement was signed on United Russia's behalf by the head of the party's Supreme Council, Boris Gryzlov, who is also speaker of the Russian State Duma.
The Ar-Namys agreement is just the latest in a series of such pacts United Russia has signed with parties throughout the former Soviet space. Earlier this month, United Russia signed a similar pact with Moldova's Democratic Party, headed by former Communist Marian Lupu. Lupu told a press conference after returning from Russia that the agreement with United Russia is part of his party's "pragmatic" view of relations with Russia. "We need relations of cooperation, not confrontation with Russia. This is the message of the political agreement we signed. Second, Moldova cannot ignore and will not ignore the Russian Federation. Third, we have to be pragmatic and constructive if we want the best for the citizens of Moldova," Lupu said.
Moldova is expected to hold parliamentary elections in November, and analysts say Moscow hopes to split Lupu away from the pro-Western, four-party ruling coalition. United Russia also has a cooperation agreement with the Renewal party in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region. In Georgia, United Russia works with the opposition For A Just Georgia movement of former Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, which describes itself as "having a classic right opposition orientation." Sergei Markov, a Russian Duma deputy and United Russia official, told RFE/RL's Georgian Service that the key issue is improving relations between the two countries. "United Russia's main goal is to support those political forces that are in favor of better relations between Georgia and Russia. Noghaideli is among them," Markov said.
"But he is not the only one coming out for such a position. Some lawmakers even from [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili's party in private conversations acknowledge the insanity of his policies."
United Russia also has cooperation agreements and provides direct financial assistance to the ruling parties in the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In 2005, United Russia signed a cooperation agreement with the Party of Regions in Ukraine. Earlier this year, Party of Regions head Viktor Yanukovych became president of Ukraine, embarking on a noticeably more pro-Russia course than his predecessor. Konstanin Kosachyov, who is chairman of the Russian State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee and heads United Russia's Commission on Interparty and International Ties, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that working with Yanukovych is "simple."
"For us any president of Ukraine is absolutely fine who is realistically oriented toward the interests of Ukraine. [Former President Viktor] Yushchenko interpreted those interests in a false way. Yushchenko thought they consisted of getting as far from Russia as possible and quickly moving toward the West," Kosachyov said. "That is precisely why we had such a hard time with him. But with Viktor Yanukovych, it is simple for us. He has a significantly more precise and adequate understanding of Ukraine's interests."
United Russia's overriding concern in all of these alliances is advancing Russia's political and economic interests in the region. That is why the party, which proclaims itself in Russia as right-of-center, is comfortable working with left-leaning parties in Moldova and Ukraine, a right-leaning ally in Georgia, and parties of indeterminate ideology in Kyrgyzstan, South Ossetia, and Transdniester.
The key factor in United Russia's alliances is the willingness of partner parties to adopt what it calls a "pragmatic" line in relations with Moscow. Petre Mamradze, a spokesman for Noghaideli's For A Just Georgia party, lays out a position typical of United Russia's partners. "We are doing everything we can to improve relations with Russia. Being realists, we see this is the ruling party of Russia. According to all opinion polls, the overwhelming majority of this enormous country supports Vladimir Putin and the party that he heads. For Georgia, this is a fact; it is reality. And if we ignore it, we will disappear," Mamradze said.
United Russia's aggressive alliance-making seems to fit into the larger pattern of Moscow's evolving foreign policy. A Foreign Ministry working paper that was leaked to the Russian version of "Newsweek" magazine earlier this month emphasizes that Russia no longer views the world in terms of "friends" and "enemies," but exclusively in the framework of "interests." It urges Moscow to create a range of formal and informal tools for advancing Russia's modernization agenda through foreign ties. In the area of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the concept paper emphasizes "supporting the activity of Russian economic operators in the CIS space." It sets the goal of "actively attracting Ukraine into the orbit of economic cooperation with Russia" and "facilitating the expansion of the activity of Russian business in Kyrgyzstan."
The paper does not list promoting stable democratic development in the CIS as a national interest for Russia, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told a conference in Yaroslavl this month that parliamentary democracy has been "a disaster" for Kyrgyzstan. United Russia's position at the nexus of politics and business in Russia means that parties allying themselves with United Russia can expect significant material support in their election campaigns. Noghiedeli's For A Just Georgia and Lupu's Democratic Party both have slick, multimedia websites, for example.
Alexander Rondeli of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS) says Moscow is "acting now often not through state channels, but through the party United Russia, which can also hardly be considered a political party." "But if you take this as an attempt to influence the political situation inside Georgia and set up some sort of pro-Russian opposition against the current authorities, you can also assume that definitely without financial contributions this won't work," Rondeli said.
Sarkozy to Propose New Bond With Russia
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France plans to propose a new security and economic relationship between Europe and Russia when he meets with President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany this month in Deauville, senior French officials said Friday. The idea is to have a single zone of security and economic cooperation, the officials said, that will pull Russia closer to Europe but apart from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The alliance itself is holding a key meeting in November intended to approve a new strategic doctrine, and American officials are unhappy with the idea of France and Germany talking to Russia — without the United States present — about security in advance of the talks.
“Since when, I wonder, is European security no longer an issue of American concern, but something for Europe and Russia to resolve?” asked a senior American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “After being at the center of European security for 70 years, it’s strange to hear that it is no longer a matter of U.S. concern.”
Still, NATO’s relevance is in question as it struggles to hold together in the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Russia seems to many to be a natural part of Europe and an important, if difficult, ally on issues like Iran and global terrorism. France is taking over the presidency of the Group of 20 in November, which will also be a topic at the meetings in Deauville Oct. 18-19. Mr. Sarkozy is planning a series of initiatives to turn the group from a body concerned primarily with crisis management to one focused more on long-term coordination among major economic powers. To that end, he has been consulting with Chinese officials for more than a year about the thorny issue of exchange rates and his ambitious idea for a new global monetary system, including a new institution to better coordinate movements in major currencies.
The idea of a new European “security architecture” has been raised by Mr. Medvedev as something more appropriate for the post-cold-war world than the Atlantic alliance and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. American officials have been skeptical, saying that they will agree to nothing that would dilute the alliance or the organization, but instead seek to pull Russia into closer cooperation with NATO. But Mr. Sarkozy has argued in the past that Russia is now a partner of the West, not a threat to it, and must be treated as such. For those reasons he has defended the sale to Russia of French Mistral ships, which can carry tanks and helicopters, despite concerns from Georgia and the Baltic nations that Russia could use them to expand its zone of influence. The Mistral is only one part of a much broader charm offensive with Russia by France, intended to win more business from its oil- and gas-rich neighbor to the east.
The two countries are currently engaged in a “France-Russia year,” a giant mutual marketing exercise comprising 400 cultural events and a flurry of high-level political visits. Mr. Sarkozy is known for raising large ideas that do not always come to fruition, with a recent example being the Union for the Mediterranean, a project for cooperation among countries rimming the Mediterranean. He is facing severe political problems at home, with low approval ratings, lingering scandals and a series of protests over his plans to raise the minimum retirement age. He is looking to the presidency of the Group of 20 and that of the smaller Group of 8 beginning in January to raise his international profile and improve his standing at home as a world leader ahead of the 2012 presidential election.
As the head of the Group of 20, Mr. Sarkozy intends to ask individual heads of state to run a series of working seminars on critical issues, leading to a summit meeting at the end of his one-year term. Two of these issues are how to provide more stability both to exchange rates and to commodity prices. The seminars would be held in different countries. Mr. Sarkozy has often spoken of the need for a new Bretton Woods, the 1944 conference that set up a system of fixed exchange rates. He speaks now of coordination, not fixed rates, and of bringing China more fully into the international system, with responsibilities to match its new stature.
That, coupled with growing disillusionment with the governing authorities and a desire to try just about anything to escape the current morass, seems to be reshaping the political dynamic here. “We’ve had a self-interested, navel-gazing political system that has taken one stupid decision after another,” said Karlis Streips, a journalist, who hosts political talk shows on radio and television here. “The decision is whether we want four more years of that or whether we want to try something else.” That something else could just be Harmony Center, a party calling for improved relations with Russia and whose base comes mostly from Latvia’s large Russian-speaking minority. If recent polling is correct, the party could win the most seats in Latvia’s 100-seat Parliament on Saturday. Though it is unlikely that Harmony Center will win enough votes to form a majority, members hope that with a solid showing it can attract the support of other parties to form a governing coalition, making it the first mostly Russian party to enter the government since Latvia’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
That would spell a remarkable change of fortune, not to speak of public attitudes. Almost 30 percent of Latvia’s 2.2 million people are Russian speakers, the largest Russian-speaking minority in the Baltics. The region — which also includes Estonia and Lithuania — was annexed by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II and ruled from Moscow for half a century. Despite Soviet and many modern Russian claims to the contrary, it is a period that the local populations consider an occupation. Thousands were deported to labor camps in Siberia and elsewhere, replaced mostly with Russian speakers from other parts of the Soviet Union. When they gained independence, the new Baltic governments enacted policies that alienated and oppressed the Russian-speaking population. In Latvia, Russian speakers were denied citizenship, and made to take Latvian language exams to obtain it. Even today, children born to Russian speakers do not get automatic citizenship unless the family can trace its residency in Latvia to before World War II, said Aleksei Dimitrov, a lawyer specializing in the rights of Russian speakers here.
In government, Mr. Dimitrov said, “Those parties that were oriented toward the Russian-speaking population were left in the opposition. The mainstream parties did not want to cooperate because there was this idea that they would work more in Russia’s interest than in Latvia’s.” This had been Harmony Center’s fate for years. But as the crisis hit, the party’s fortunes began to look up. In 2008, the party’s candidate, Nils Usakovs, became the mayor of Riga, Latvia’s capital, in municipal elections in which the main Latvian nationalist parties were ousted from the city legislature. In the current Parliament, the party is tied with another party for the most seats, but remains outside the governing coalition.
Janis Urbanovics, the head of Harmony Center’s faction in Parliament, explained his party’s growing success in part because of its attempt to transcend ethnicity, and warned of future strife should others not follow its lead. “We symbolize the ideology of transition from a divided society to an integrated one,” Mr. Urbanovics said. “If we are left to the side, it will be a signal to society that we will not have this, and this means that in addition to social and economic problems, inter-ethnic problems will increase.”
Should his party enter the government, he said Latvia would remain committed to its NATO and European Union obligations, even while reaching out to Russia. He accused his opponents of still “fighting to get as far away from the Soviet Union as possible,” and of ignoring the potential economic benefits of cooperation with Russia. Many here are wary of such talk and remain suspicious of Harmony Center’s intentions. It does not help that the party maintains close ties with United Russia, the near-monopoly political party in Russia led by Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin. Even after 20 years of independence, some still think of Latvia and its people as being on precarious ground. “There is a feeling that we are like the Indians, that we are losing our people and language,” said Dace Aster, 40, who was selling amber jewelry at a street-side stand. “Perhaps this is not so significant, what with globalization and all, but for Latvians this is important.”
For many, however, the ethnic divisions of the past, while still present, have faded in the face of the economic challenges that the country must still overcome. Much of the debate before these elections has centered not on identity politics but on a $10.5 billion bailout administered by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union in an effort to keep Latvia’s economy afloat. Mr. Urbanovics said that should he win, Harmony Center would look into renegotiating the terms of the bailout, something the party’s main opponents have said could destabilize the country further and offset the modest economic gains made in recent months. Under the current deal, the government of Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis has imposed punishing austerity measures, including reducing public sector wages by 50 percent, in an effort to cut the nation’s budget deficit. Mr. Dombrovskis, who is running in Saturday’s elections with his Unity Bloc, Harmony Center’s main opponent, has said he will keep the agreement in place.
Latvia’s president, Valdis Zatlers, who has the power to appoint the prime minister, has vowed to ignore the candidacy of any politician who does not plan to continue Latvia’s Western course. Mr. Dombrovskis remains relatively popular and could win enough seats to form a coalition that could block Harmony Center from entering the government. But given the strains of the past few years, many are looking for change at all costs — even if it means working with Russia. “They are neighbors, and they are a big country,” said Edgars Garkalns, 34, who was protesting the government’s austerity measures outside Latvia’s Parliament on Thursday. “We need to work with them in economy and culture. They have everything; they have gas and they have oil.”
Some 14 months ago on this page, I warned against a "grand bargain" between the United States and Russia as part of the Obama administration's reset efforts with Moscow ["No grand bargain," op-ed, March 6]. One concern then was that the administration would pursue a "Russia first" policy at the expense of Russia's neighbors. The problem, it appears, is actually worse: The administration seems to have moved toward a "Russia only" approach, neglecting and even abandoning other countries in the region. The most glaring example of this trend came this week. In a message accompanying the White House's resubmission to Congress of a nuclear cooperation pact with Russia, President Obama declared that the situation in Georgia "need no longer be considered an obstacle to proceeding" with congressional review of the agreement.
The Bush administration signed this "123" agreement in May 2008 but withdrew it from congressional consideration four months later, knowing it would be rejected in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Georgia that August. Russian forces continue to occupy separatist parts of Georgia in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in blatant violation of the cease-fire agreement between the two countries and are constructing bases in both regions, which Moscow has recognized as independent states. The situation remains tense and could easily explode again.
It would be one thing to resubmit the 123 treaty noting that the United States still has serious disagreements with Russia over Georgia. Instead, by stating so baldly that the situation in Georgia is no longer an obstacle to advancing Russian-American relations, the administration is essentially abandoning the Georgians and giving Russia a green light to continue to engage in provocative behavior along its borders.
The Obama administration's interest in reviving the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty from which Russia suspended its compliance at the end of 2007 raises similar concerns. Despite efforts that the Bush administration led among NATO allies and other signatories of the treaty to accommodate Russian concerns, Moscow refused to comply with Istanbul Commitments, signed in 1999, in which Russia pledged to withdraw its forces from Georgia and Moldova. Neither of those governments has given Russia consent to occupy parts of its territory, but the problem was made even worse after Russia's invasion of Georgia. Whereas before Russia had only one base left, Gudauta, from which to withdraw, it now has many more troops and munitions on the ground in Georgia (and there has been no movement on Russian troops from Moldova, either).
In the interest of removing irritating issues from its agenda with Moscow, will the Obama administration sell out Georgia and Moldova by dropping insistence on Russian withdrawal from those two countries? Or will it do the right thing, treat "host-country consent" as a sacrosanct principle and use efforts to revive the CFE Treaty as a mechanism to facilitate eventual Russian withdrawal from Georgia and Moldova?
Obama and other senior U.S. officials have repeatedly said they do not recognize a Russian "sphere of influence," but actions, or non-actions, speak louder than those words. Through its neglect of countries in the region except for Russia, the administration is ceding to Moscow exactly such a sphere. By some counts, Obama has spoken and met with his "friend and partner," President Dmitry Medvedev, more times than with any other leader, including on Thursday. He should use those occasions to lay down clear markers that Russian aggression toward and occupation of its neighbors are unacceptable. He also should start making "friends and partners" elsewhere in the region. Some of these leaders aren't the easiest to get along with, nor are they poster children for democracy and human rights -- but then again, neither are Medvedev and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
The writer is a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and a former deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs in the George W. Bush administration.Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/14/AR2010051404496_pf.html