Vienna, September 13 – Moscow’s demand that others treat Russia now as if it had the power and influence the Soviet Union once enjoyed, a demand that flows from “a syndrome of lost status,” is increasingly leaving Russia without friends and partners abroad and blinding the country’s leaders to the possibilities and benefits of cooperating with others.
In a speech to the Heinrich Boll Stiftung in Berlin last week, Masha Lipman, editor of the Moscow Carnegie Center’s “Pro et Contra” journal, argued that Moscow’s failures in foreign affairs reflect its demand that the United States treat it as an equal even though it is not and that other countries defer to Russia as well (www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,4661896,00.html).
“As long as we are talking with the United States about the reduction of nuclear weapons, we speak as if we were equals” since such talks focus on a past not completely over. But this “longing for a lost status [not only] deprives Russia of the chance to look ahead” but also “converts Russia into a problem for the United States,” one Washington will try to “minimize.”
This failure to acknowledge and act on the basis of Russia’s much reduced power position has also led Moscow to take actions toward its neighbors, the republics of the former Soviet Union, that have left Russia more alone than ever before, Lipman said, “without allies and without partners.”
Georgy Satarov, the president of the INDEM Foundation who spoke alongside Lipman, called this “a gigantic foreign political defeat” for Russia. “To lose practically all over the course of ten years would be quite difficult even if one set oneself precisely that task. But [Moscow’s current leaders] have figured out how to do that.”
Additional support for these conclusions is provided by an analysis that appeared in “Yezhednevny zhurnal” yesterday analyzing the major defeat Moscow suffered in the UN General Assembly on a resolution Georgia offered concerning the return of refugees in the wake of the August 2008 war (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=9446).
According to Leonid Radzikhovsky, the results of the voting were “very indicative” of who Russia’s friends are and who are its enemies. The resolution was a test, he suggests, but not of attitudes toward Abkhazia and South Ossetia but rather toward Russia, the US, and “attitudes toward separatism.”
Forty-eight countries voted for the resolution, 19 voted against, and 78 abstained, with another 47 not participating and thus “abstaining de facto.” According to the Moscow analyst, “Georgia considers this and with justice its victory” because it will now be able to cite a UN resolution in support of its position.
For the US, he continues, the situation was somewhat less a win because Washington attracted its traditional supporters – the countries of the European Union, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Azerbaijan, Chili, Ukraine and Japan. What one would have expected without a particular effort, with the implicit suggestion that one does not appear to have been made.
But for Russia, the situation was very different. It was a question of principle, and while the resolution had no legal weight, the voting on it provides a remarkably accurate measure of “the influence of the Russian Federation in the world today,” one that Moscow must have found disturbing given the list of countries it could line up behind its position.
Russia in this case, Radzikhovsky suggests, was able to “create a front” consisting of Algeria, Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Ecuador, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Laos, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Syria, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe, a not especially impressive collection of countries.
“The jewel in [this] crown,” of course was India, whose vote for the Russian position appears to be part of a game directed against the United States. “Of the major countries, Iran supported Russia.” But the rest were “the eternal camp followers, a kind of parody if not of the Comintern then of the Soviet bloc of the 1970s.”
But if it is a parody, it is a pale one because Moscow failed to attract to its side many countries which had been on the Soviet side a generation ago and, what is especially striking, the Russian Federation received only two votes from the 11 other former Soviet republics, that of Lukashenka’s Belarus and Armenia.
Two CIS countries, Ukraine and Azerbaijan, voted against Moscow’s position. But “the main thing,” Radzikhovsky says, is that “ALL the countries of Central Asia” abstained, an indication of their effort desire to “show [their] INDEPENDENCE from Russia” and of the fact that “there is no more CIS.”
Having said “adieu to the CIS,” these countries were also saying goodbye to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Organization of the Treaty on Security Cooperation, two organizations Moscow created to promote its interest but now finds may be dominated by others, including China.
And thus the UNGA vote has the unexpected consequence of showing that the world really has become “multi-polar,” something Moscow has long said it wants. But for the US, multi-polarity exists at the global level, while for the Russian Federation, it is now to be found “within the limits of the Commonwealth of Independent States.”