Skip to content

Russia as a Real Partner?

Putin and Obama have a fundamental choice to make in their new terms: Continue "their transactional approach to relations" or "put relations in a broader, longer-term strategic framework, which could foster more enduring constructive relations." Thomas E. Graham of Kissinger Associates and Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center, write in the New York Times "Why the Reset Should Be Reset"

While I would not hold my breath that it will happen in 2013, the authors make some good arguments about common long term interests:

Continue reading "Russia as a Real Partner?"

Celebrating Freedom

Today is a great day for Freedom.

Today thousands of Russian protesters have demonstrated in Moscow against Vladimir Putin and demanded fresh elections and a new president. That's a bold demand, but I wish they will succeed.

25 years ago today, President Reagan made a bold demand as well, which became reality two years later. He stood in front of the Berlin Wall, the Cold War's frontline, and said: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" A big moment in transatlantic relations that deserves more appreciation. The plea sounds simple today, but was controversial back then. Former US Diplomat John Kornblum wrote a great background article. I include Reagan in the Top Five: Americans who rocked Berlin

The Russians deserve the same kind of freedom that East Germans got, when the wall fell.

Continue reading "Celebrating Freedom"

NATO has a New Strategic Concept

The Strategic Concept for the Defence and Security of The Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation adopted by Heads of State and Government in Lisbon today is very concise. Just eleven pages. Let's see how substantial it is. And how it will be implemented.

At the Open Think Tank, my day job, we have created some policy recommendations for the New Strategic Concept over the summer and are currently running a Policy Workshop on Russian-Western Relations, another big issue at the Lisbon summit.

NATO features a summary of my survey of Russian experts in a special Lisbon summit edition of NATO Review, which is layouted in Portugal's national colors. Lovely!

Transatlantic Time of the Year

Get ready for two busy days: The NATO summit starts tomorrow, followed by the NATO-Russia summit, followed by the EU-US summit.

President Obama started the charm offensive by naming Chancellor Merkel one of fifteen recipients of the 2010 Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor." Moreover, he published an Op-Ed in the NY Times: Europe and America, Aligned for the Future

And Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, argues in Politico: Critics write obits, but NATO focuses on new threats

Do you think NATO will succeed in revitalizing itself?

Is Lisbon going to open a new chapter in NATO-Russian relations?

Are you optimistic regarding improved EU-US cooperation? Or do you expect nothing more than photo-ops?

Let us know.

Please post links to the best analyses and opinion pieces in the comments section. If you don't have an account yet, you can register here.

Yanukovych: Ukraine Will Be a Bridge Between East and West

Ukraine's President-elect Viktor Yanukovych writes in the Wall Street Journal that “Ukraine Will Be a Bridge Between East and West”:

Let me say here, a Yanukovych presidency is committed to the integration of European values in Ukraine. Ukraine should make use of its geopolitical advantages and become a bridge between Russia and the West. Developing a good relationship with the West and bridging the gap to Russia will help Ukraine. We should not be forced to make the false choice between the benefits of the East and those of the West. As president I will endeavor to build a bridge between both, not a one-way street in either direction. We are a nation with a European identity, but we have historic cultural and economic ties to Russia as well. The re-establishment of relations with the Russian Federation is consistent with our European ambitions. We will rebuild relations with Moscow as a strategic economic partner. There is no reason that good relations with all of our neighbors cannot be achieved.

Can Yanukovych bridge the gap between East and West? Will he even try, or is this article simply political posturing to console those concerned about his pro-Russia stance?

Yanukovych was the most pro-Russia candidate, and has quickly sought to improve ties with Russia; he already suggested the Russian Black Sea Fleet may stay in Ukrainian waters and made clear Ukraine will not seek NATO membership. Ukraine will however continue moving toward EU membership (Businessweek).

His rival in the campaign and a leader of the 2004 western-supported Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko refuses to concede, and has requested the high court in Ukraine overturn the election results – an outcome seen as highly unlikely.

President Obama, the EU and NATO have already sent congratulations to Yanukovych.

With Yanukovych ditching NATO and seeking to improve ties to Russia and EU membership, the United States is the biggest loser from Yanukovych’s election. This outcome should not come as a surprise however: popular support in Ukraine for NATO membership has been consistently at or below 30 percent over the past few years, making NATO membership never really likely anyhow (AR forecasted this here).

With NATO membership for Ukraine never likely anyhow, perhaps the US has not lost much. In fact, Ukraine relations with the West under Yanukovych may not be much different than it has been under the Orange Revolution leadership for a few reasons:

* Ukraine will likely continue to develop a partnership with NATO, though not membership;
* Ukraine will want pragmatic and productive relations with the United States, and still seeks EU membership;
The acceptance by international observers of Yanukovych's election and his intent to pursue EU membership both support the fact that while the Orange Revolution leadership has been voted out, the western values it respresented - a democratic and free society - are now embedded into Ukraine. 

Whether or not Yanukovich can balance between the West and Russia is tough to predict.  However, Yanukovich's intent to pursue this balance is likely a genuine aspiration.

Senate Report: NATO Countries Should Resume Arms Sales to Georgia

A report released by the staff of Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) has sparked controversy from Russia and Georgia.  Titled “Striking the Balance: U.S. Policy and Stability in Georgia,” (PDF) the report argues NATO Allies need a coordinated policy toward Georgia, and suggests it should include a resumption of arms sales that halted following the 2008 Georgia-Russia war:

The United States and NATO allies must reconcile a policy that leaves a dedicated NATO partner unable to provide for its basic defense requirements. These efforts will be most effective if they are undertaken on a multilateral basis. The Alliance must come to grips with the reality that Georgia will require coordinated security support from America and European nations for some years to come.

Particularly in the realm of security assistance, such coordination is critical. While Georgia finds itself under a de facto arms embargo, other NATO allies are pursuing record military deals with the Russian Federation. Georgia has become an exceptional contributor to international security through its contributions to missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. A strategy to enable Georgia to similarly provide for its own territorial defense will require close cooperation with NATO allies to preserve stability in the region. 

Following the war between Georgia and Russia, both Europe and the United States have largely stopped selling lethal military equipment to Georgia.  The United States has nonetheless continued training Georgian forces for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq under a program titled the “International Military Education and Training Program” (IMET), and funding appears to have increased for this training.  Relatively speaking, military equipment sales to Georgia were much higher than training funding up to 2008, but have dropped to zero in 2009 (see charts based on data from the Lugar report).

Georgia has embraced the report while Russia and the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia argue arms sales to Georgia could lead to another outbreak of violence in the region. 

Continue reading "Senate Report: NATO Countries Should Resume Arms Sales to Georgia"

The Annual "Will Europe Freeze?" Month

Ah yes, it is that wonderful time of year. Fresh snow, college football bowl games in the US, a new year...and uncertainty surrounding European energy security. Some things never seem to change.

This year adds a few new wrinkles to the annual, "Will Europe Freeze?" month however. For the first time in years, the center of energy disruption does not appear to be the Ukrainian border. Ukraine has paid in full and on time for its use of Russian gas during 2009, and both Russia and Ukraine appear determined to avoid a gas war during an election year. So this year, the energy disputes have shifted north.

First, Belarus and Russia remained locked in heated (excuse the pun) negotiations about oil supply prices between the two countries. Russia has already cut oil supplies to Belarus once this week and many analysts expect further restrictions in the weeks to come. The clash feels all too familiar: Russia, frustrated with its neighbor's overtures to the West decides to throw its weight around in the energy sector to bring it to heel. Of course, the blame also resides with Belarus which has for years subsidized its economy through cheap energy from Russia. If the country truly wants to play on the international arena, it must now be prepared to pay market prices for its resources.

Second, Lithuania has been compelled to shut down its aging nuclear power plant on New Year's Eve, leaving it completely dependent on Russia for its energy supply. The closure was required by the European Union, but leaves Lithuanians feeling very nervous. Russia has already played its energy card in the Baltic, shutting down its oil pipeline to Lithuania in 2007. Energy supply form other EU countries remains extremely weak, and a dramatic increase in energy prices is very likely for this Baltic country already struggling through an extremely difficult recession.

Finally, the UK is approaching capacity limits as it struggles with an extremely cold winter. The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that Britain only has gas storage capacity equivalent to 4% of annual consumption, compared with over 100% storage in the US and 19% in Germany. And National Grid warned this week that supply will be tight in coming weeks.

None of the preceding events really come as a surprise. Despite that, Europe has again been caught off guard. The Spanish Presidency is trying to salvage a July Commission proposal regarding gas security and supply but countries continue to insist the Commission is overstepping its authority. And efforts to encourage greater infrastructure developments within Europe remain merely efforts. So what will it take to really see the development of a true European energy policy? In the US, it took two oil embargoes before the country started developing strategic reserves. And the price of oil reached $160 a barrel before consumer's behavior started to change.

Readers Pat and Pamela both suggested that the Atlantic Review analyze Russian and European energy policy in the upcoming year. This will certainly be an important topic, particularly in the first few months. But at first glance, little has changed. The Russian energy policy of 2010 seems identical to that of preceding years: throw its weight around in the natural resource arena to extract concessions in the political realm. And there still is no real European energy policy to discuss. Europe continues to shiver and simply hope the heat stays on.

Georgia Started the South Ossetia War

Map of GeorgiaOver a year after the fact, that is the central conclusion of a report commissioned by the Council of the European Union, which was released today. To a fair amount of international attention. The BBC has a write-up, including a pdf of the report. And even the Wall Street Journal, which has published a fair amount of columns by the Georgian President Saakashvili, had a headline that reads 'Report: Georgia Triggered War With Russia' (via Jerome).

The report itself is readable, and contains a useful timeline of the events. It is also critical of Russia, which is found to have reacted disproportionally to the attacks. In fact, no one comes away well from the report. It even ventures into some muted criticism of the support for the buildup of the Georgian army by the United States, which it calls a 'sensitive issue', while calling for such military support to 'stay within the boundaries set by common sense and due diligence'.

But, wait a second, no one? Well, there is one French President...
After five days of fighting, a ceasefire agreement was negotiated on 12 August 2008 between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the latter acting on behalf of the European Union. An implementation agreement followed on 8 September 2008, again largely due to the persistent efforts of the French President. This successful political action stood in contrast to the failure of the international community, including the UN Security Council, to act swiftly and resolutely enough in order to control the ever-mounting tensions prior the outbreak of armed conflict.
That is actually clear language. Continue reading "Georgia Started the South Ossetia War"