Monday, October 27, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Tells Washington to ‘Forget’ Georgia and Resume Cooperation

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 27 – The chief of the Russian General Staff told the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States military during a meeting between the two in Helsinki last week that Washington should “forget” about Georgia and resume military-to-military cooperation, a suggestion that Admiral Michael McMullen rejected out of hand.
Moscow had requested this closed meeting, “Novaya gazeta” military observer Pavel Felgengauer told Georgia’s InterpressNews, so that General Nikolai Makarov could deliver that suggestion and thus see whether there is in fact any give in the public position of the United States (
But it is difficult to understand why Moscow approached the matter in this way. First of all, neither the Russian general nor the American admiral is in a position to revise their government’s policies, all the more so because both Moscow and Washington have made their views on Georgia crystal clear.
Second, McMullen reiterated Washington’s concern about Russian intervention in Georgia, a statement which means, according to the Moscow analysis that “in the existing circumstances, Washington will establish contacts with Russia in the military sphere only in the case of necessity” and that it is “premature” to talk about cooperation either with the US or NATO.
And third, General Makarov demonstrated his own inexperience as a diplomat by failing to understand that reality and by using language after the “semi-secret” meeting that highlighted the failure of the two sides to find any common ground and thus showed that Moscow had failed in its attempt to get the United States to modify its position.
Moscow clearly “hoped,” Felgengauer continued, that discussions about military cooperation could present an opening for possible recognition by Washington of Moscow’s “prerogative” to restore order in Georgia “according to the Russian scenario” that the Americans have rejected.
According to the Moscow commentator, “Russia is ready to conduct talks with the United States on military cooperation but is not ready to meet on the same questions with representatives of the U.S. in Geneva and make public the details of its readiness for [such] cooperation.”
And the reason for that, Felgengauer continued, is that “the authority and rating of [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin and [President Dmitry] Medvedev to a large extent are dependent upon their anti-American statements.” Were news of Makarov’s offer to be widely disseminated in Russia, that alone would prompt many Russians to ask just what their leaders are doing.
Felgengauer told the Georgian news agency that “George Bush was the most pro-Russian president. He admitted that he loved Putin. And however the upcoming U.S. elections turn out, the future president [be he Barak Obama or John McCain] will conduct a sharply expressed anti-Russian policy.”
Moscow understands this and consequently wanted the Helsinki meeting. But that session did not work as Moscow hoped: “The representatives of the [two] sides met, talked and went away without reaching in practice any agreement.” And so now the Russian government not only will have to try a different tact but to wait until after the American election.
But despite Felgengauer’s skepticism, the Helsinki meeting may be reflect a broader Russian calculation. On the one hand, it is now obvious that Medvedev and Putin hope and even expect to see Barak Obama in the White House next year and thus are interested in setting up a final Bush “failure” that the new president might choose to reverse.
And on the other, given the attention that Democratic Vice President Joe Biden’s suggestion that a President Obama would be “tested” internationally in his first months in office, Moscow may be hoping to send a signal that it could either be the source of such a challenge if Washington does not agree or one place Obama might not have to worry about if he did.

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