Time to Dance With the Bear? - a new phase in NATO - post-Soviet relations

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    Oct 28, 2010 3:54 PM GMT
    Editorial:
    The Ottawa Citizen October 28, 2010 7:39 AM

    Russia has used much of its energy wealth in recent years to rebuild a military decimated by the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that has scared a lot of countries, including Canada.

    The anxieties are understandable. Russia can't seem to resist engaging in the kind of belligerence -- probing Western defences in the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific; cutting gas supplies to Ukraine; threatening to target European cities with nuclear missiles -- that characterized the Soviet era.

    But it's also important to note that Russia itself seems conflicted about whether to position itself as friend or foe.

    Last week, in what might someday be regarded as a historical turning point, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russians need to adjust their attitude toward NATO. "In Russia, there is a feeling that NATO is a kind of aggressive factor in relation to Russia," he said during a meeting with French and German leaders. "Perhaps it is misguided thinking in many ways." Medvedev went on to say he would be attending a NATO security summit in Lisbon in November with a view to finding common cause between the former Cold War adversaries.

    It's not every day you hear a Russian leader admit to misguided thoughts about anything. Three years ago, Medvedev's predecessor, Vladimir Putin, reacted with furious indignation when Europeans objected to his country's invasion of Georgia in 2008. Yet now we have Medvedev making nice.

    Russia's apparent willingness to be more co-operative reflects its own geo-political nervousness. For all its wealth and power, Russia is feeling increasingly exposed.

    In the east, China's military power continues to grow. To the south, Iran will likely soon become a nuclear power (thanks to Russia's short-sighted willingness to provide the ayatollahs with bomb-making material). Turkey is acting more and more unstable. If the West fails in Afghanistan, instability elsewhere in Central Asia is likely. The Islamist threat festers in Chechnya.

    All of which is to say, Medvedev's conciliatory tone may well reflect Russia's need for friends on its western flank.

    It would be naïve to think Russia has lost interest in asserting greater influence on Europe. During the Cold War, the Soviets tried their damnedest to detach Europeans from the Americans. Today, Europe is in a vulnerable situation that makes it more amenable to the Russian lure. Faced with budget-crushing deficits that require massive cuts in defence spending, the rise of Islamist terrorism and the threat of a nuclear Iran, Europe is jittery and no doubt realizes that it, too, need friends in a multipolar world.

    If Russia is allowed to attach itself to NATO in some sort of security arrangement, then Russia gains access to western military technology and NATO defence systems. At the same time, however, NATO would gain influence on Russia. There is, in other words, both risks and benefits for the West.

    For the moment, there does seem to be a surprising alignment of interests between Russia and NATO. Wise minds will use this opportunity to lay the groundwork for an alliance, informal or otherwise, that would help promote western cultural and political traditions.

    Such an alliance would be a stabilizing influence in an increasingly unstable and fragmented world. NATO members, including Canada, should dance with the bear, but be careful about hugging.

    © Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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    Oct 28, 2010 4:00 PM GMT
    To quote Dorothy, "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!"

    I'd be inclined to worry more about the Wicked Witch of the West (Anne Coulter) . icon_wink.gif
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    Oct 28, 2010 4:41 PM GMT
    I suggest not getting too enthralled over Medvedev's words. While he comes across as a reasonable guy, whether he is sincere or has the power to achieve what he states is very much open to question. For example, he has long proposed legal reforms and getting away from the bullying tactics employed against political opposition in Russia. It has not happened. The state controlled media does not cover opposition in any positive way, based on my direct experience watching Channel One / Novosti News along with other reports I read. There is also much speculation that Putin will return to the top job, and there is no reason to believe Putin will become more moderate.

    Certainly Russia is now less bellicose than when their economy was riding high from the petrodollars, but there is no reason to believe fundamental attitudes have changed.