Vienna, September 18 –Russian officials and mainstream media outlets are celebrating the decision of US President Barak Obama not to place missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic for now as a victory for Russia, but some Moscow commentators are expressing concerns about the limited nature of the decision and about what Russia may have traded away.
Indeed, even mainstream writers are pointedly suggesting that Moscow should not feel bound to respond unless Washington provides more formal guarantees that it won’t reverse its decision sometime in the future, all the more so because what the US has done, in the view of these Russian analysts, simply corresponds to “good sense.”
And while these skeptical comments do not necessarily define what the Russian government thinks or will do, their appearance suggests that at least some in the Moscow hierarchy will demand even more concessions from Washington now that Obama has show his willingness to take a step many East Europeans view as a betrayal.
Perhaps the clearest expression of such Russian thinking is provided by Aleksandr Khramchikhin, a senior official at the Moscow Institute of Political and Military Analysis, who argues that Moscow must consider Obama’s decision not only on Eastern Europe but also on the Dalai Lama in order to understand where Washington is heading.
If the Russian government does, he suggests, it will be forced to conclude that Obama’s decision “to become the ‘anti-Bush,’” even if it benefits Moscow in the short term, will work against Russia in the longer term because of the American president’s extraordinary deference to China as the new hegemonic power in the world (www.chaskor.ru/p.php?id=10419).
Unlike President George W. Bush who preferred to rely on force to resolve international problems, Khramchikhin says, the current US president is choosing “pacifism of the European model” as the basis for his approach to the world and “openly handing over [American] hegemony to China.”
While most Russian and Western analysts have focused on Obama’s decision not to put anti-ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe, he continues, they have failed to pay attention “to the much more important news” that the US President, because of his upcoming visit to China, has refused to meet with the Dalai Lama.
These events “have a great deal in common,” Khramchikhin insists, “although there are [some] big differences as well.”
In his view, Washington’s decision not to place missiles in Eastern Europe can “be called the triumph of good sense, at least from the American point of view” because the US has other ways to achieve the same goals the placing of missile there were intended to meet that do not have the same negative impact on its relations with Russia.
But that prompts another question, he suggests. Is Washington’s action “a pure concession” or has there been or will there be a deal in exchange? Although one might not expect it given past American policy, “it cannot be excluded that Obama’s decision represents “a pure concession” to Moscow as part of his promised “reset” of Russian-American relations.
If that is the case, the Moscow analyst continues, then it will be “interesting to see how Moscow interprets this: In the European style, that is as an effort to reduce tensions in relations which presuppose steps in response? Or in the Asiatic, that is, as a manifestation of weakness and an invitation to pressure ‘the damn Yankees’ even harder?”
If there has been or will be a deal, that raises some even more interesting questions about what Moscow might be expected to concede, Khramchikhin suggests. The “worst” of these would be a demand by Washington for concessions on strategic nuclear weapons. A “mid-range” concession might involve Iran, with Moscow promising “not to block” UN sanctions.
But Khramchikhin continues, “it is [also] not excluded that the deal has already been consummated.” Washington’s decision not to put missiles in Eastern Europe may be its response to Moscow’s having given the US permission to use Russian airspace to supply its forces in Afghanistan.
If that is the case, the Moscow analyst says, it presents what he calls “a unique example of political surrealism: The Americans have refused to do what they don’t need to in exchange for which we are permitting them to defend us” – or more precisely, “we have permitted them to fight in place of us in exchange for rejecting a system which did not threaten us in any way.”
“All this would be funny,” Khramchikhin adds, “if it were not so sad.” But he continues, if there is a great deal about the missile decision about invites speculation, Obama’s decision about the Dalai Lama leaves nothing to the imagination. It represents, the Moscow analyst says, “a unilateral concession to Beijing, if not a capitulation before [the Chinese].”
And that means, he says, that China will entirely appropriately from its own point of view interpret what Obama has done in “the Asiatic manner” -- as a concession of weakness that Beijing can exploit because none of the current president’s predecessors refused to meet with the Tibetan leader even though China has always objected. For China, “Obama has set a precedent.”
In the past, “Beijing always dictated to Moscow” regarding any meetings with the Dalai Lama. But now, thanks to Obama’s concerns about China’s growing economic power, Beijing is “dictating them to Washington. And that means,” Khramchikhin says, that “China will go further. It has received an unambiguous message – ‘this works!’”
In taking these steps, President Obama is “leading the United States toward European pacifism in both its psychological and military-technical aspects.” He has not gone the entire distance because of resistance at home and the risk that these moves could ultimately undermine his chances for re-election.
According to Khramchikhin, “the moment of truth” for Obama and his policies will come in Afghanistan, where both the size of the US military contingent “and its losses” are growing. “If the US pulls out without achieving even a partial victory,” then, Khramchikhin says, it will be possible to say that Obama’s course is completely set.
Obviously, “the collapse of the US into pacifism would be something very favorable [for Russia] especially under the conditions of the complete degradation of the Russian armed forces. But in fact there is nothing to be happy about, because Washington has not simply ended its hegemony but rather has handed it over to Beijing.”