wade tillett on Fri, 5 May 2000 18:53:17 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Putin's Game of Chess

Russia/United States
The Opening Moves in Putin?s Game of Chess
24 April 2000

Russia?s new president, Vladimir Putin, launched his foreign policy last
week. At first blush it appears conciliatory toward the West in general
and the United States in particular. But the new president is in fact
pursuing a more complex, dual-track foreign policy. As his government
moves nuclear arms control measures forward, it also signals the
development of next generation nuclear weapons and helps set the
diplomatic stage for deploying large Russian forces near Poland. Putin is
playing a complex game of chess:  making conciliatory gestures while
setting the stage for confrontation if conciliation should fail.  /
ANALYSIS / Last week, Vladimir Putin launched Russia?s post-election
foreign policy. Now president in his own right, Putin set in motion a
series of policies, signals and gestures that were simultaneously blatant,
subtle, contradictory and, above all, centralized.  / Amidst the complex,
mixed signals sent out last week, one fact was clear: the new president is
moving to have his government speak with one coordinated voice on foreign
policy, with that voice controlled by Putin himself. Inconsistencies in
former president Boris Yeltsin?s foreign policy could best be ascribed to
lack of coordination and a multiplicity of forces competing to shape
policy. Putin?s policy is, we think, coherent, if deliberately subtle and
ambiguous.  / Dominating the news out of Moscow last week was the Duma?s
vote on two arms control treaties. By wide margins, the Duma approved the
START II arms reduction agreement as well as the Comprehensive Test Ban
Treaty (CTBT). Together, these events were generally seen as a comforting
sign that Putin intended to follow a conciliatory policy toward the West
in general and the United States in particular. Putin certainly intended
that it be seen this way. From his point of view, nothing would be better
than to have the United States reciprocate a more accommodating line from
Russia.  / The need for reciprocation is the kicker that Putin buried
within arms control ratification. The United States wants to deploy an
anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system. An expanded ABM system is banned
under a U.S.-Soviet treaty signed in 1972.  The American justification for
the new system is that it is not directed against the Russian arsenal,
which is too large to stop. Rather, it is directed against ?rogue? 
states, like North Korea or Libya, which might acquire a few missiles with
nuclear warheads and launch them against the United States.  / In no
position financially or technically to deploy an equivalent system, Russia
has consistently opposed an American national missile defense. Moreover,
the Russian leadership fears that deployment would tilt an already
lopsided balance of power even further in the American direction. Such a
system would likely close off the possibility of limited nuclear
exchanges; the United States, if it chose, could strike a few targets in
Russia and leave Moscow with the choice of doing nothing or initiating
total nuclear war.  / But the most important reason for Russian opposition
is rooted in symbolism. Moscow needs Washington to acknowledge some degree
of equality. The only area in which any sort of equality exists is in the
arena of nuclear weapons. In this sphere the two nations can continue to
negotiate as equals. But if that equality slips away, if the United States
simply ignores its treaties with the Soviet successor state, then Russia
will have lost all equality across the board.  / Putin can?t afford to let
that happen. He has therefore made it consistently clear that he will not
renegotiate the ABM treaty. More important, he has made it clear that if
the United States deploys its system in violation of that treaty, all arms
control agreements will be in jeopardy. The United Nations will begin
debate over the extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty next
week, and a high-level Russian delegation will be in the United States for
that discussion.  / This series of ratifications on longstanding arms
control measures now puts Russia in a perfect position to confront the
United States - both on the ABM treaty and on the test ban treaty, which
the U.S. Senate rejected last October. Thus, the ratifications are
simultaneously conciliatory moves and traps for the United States. If the
United States proceeds with a missile defense in the face of the Duma
vote, Putin will have created precisely the record he wants: he reaches
out to the United States and is rebuffed.  / Putin?s shrewd ratification
of the two arms control treaties coincides with the formalization of a new
Russian defense policy. Already widely discussed in Russia, the new policy
was made official last Friday, the same day Russia ratified the test ban
treaty.  While the president?s security council has not yet released the
document to the public, Putin on various occasions has made clear the
premise and the consequence of the policy.  The premise lies in NATO?s
willingness last year to take military action without prior approval by
the U.N. Security Council, where Russia wields a veto. For Russia, this
creates a dangerous new situation in which NATO?s unpredictable behavior
cannot be controlled by international organizations. Therefore the
consequence - and this is the critical point - that Russia is prepared for
the first use of nuclear weapons in defending fundamental national
interests.  / Russia is also signaling that it is pressing forward with a
new generation of nuclear and conventionally-tipped munitions. The Russian
media has reported that the air force began testing a new missile,
designated X-55. The X-55 was originally designed to be launched from
Russian bombers and to be armed with a nuclear warhead. In new tests,
however, the X-55 will be used as a precision guided munitions using
conventional warheads. The point, however, is not lost. Russia is
carefully letting everyone know that it continues its weapons development
program and is capable of fielding new generations of nuclear and
non-nuclear munitions.  / The approval of arms control treaties coincides,
therefore, with the implementation of a new nuclear policy that explicitly
permits a Russian first strike. This duality was repeated elsewhere. For
example, Russia made very public overtures toward Chechnya last week,
while other reports said that the Russians were sending in more troops.
Putin, meanwhile, said last week that Russia has fundamental interests in
the Caspian region and that Western interests seemed ready to pounce on
the area.  / Putin?s views seemed coordinated with the Communist speaker
of the Duma, Gennady Seleznyov. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
visited several Central Asian countries last week and Seleznyov blasted
the visit, saying, ?As soon as links weaken, they (the Americans) show up.
Their principle is to divide and rule. And that's how it will be in the
21st century.'' In Moscow, as well, interior ministers of the Shanghai
Five - Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan - met on
Friday.  ITAR-TASS reported that the meeting focused on suppressing
terrorists and separatists. Both Russia and China have an interest in
suppressing militant Islamic movements in the region and the Friday
meetings were intended to set the stage for a summit of the Shanghai Five
in May. Thus, at the same time that Moscow made a gesture toward Chechnya,
it is gearing up to assert itself in Central Asia.  / Similarly ambivalent
behavior could be seen to the west, in Russia?s relationship with Belarus.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka announced last week that an
agreement had been struck to create a joint military organization between
Belarus and Russia.  Lukashenka said he expected the agreement to be
signed by early June and that it would rate a joint force of about 300,000
troops. The agreement would place Russian troops directly on the Polish
border in large numbers. The Russians did not deny that the agreement had
been reached, though they tried to downplay the size of the force or its
strategic significance.  / The Western media has chosen to focus on
Moscow?s conciliatory gestures and is missing the wild crosscurrents in
Russian foreign policy. Those crosscurrents are far from random. To the
contrary, they make a great deal of sense. Putin would certainly like to
achieve some sort of solid reconciliation with the United States. He
understands two things. First, he understands that he will get nothing
from the United States unless he positions himself to bargain. Yeltsin
could not deal effectively with the United States because he neither
controlled his negotiating apparatus nor created levers for effective
negotiation.  Yeltsin?s successor does not plan to repeat that error.  /
Second, Putin understands that no reconciliation may be possible with the
United States;  American interests and Russian ones might simply be too
far apart. The United States does not want to have its military operations
limited by the U.N. Security Council. Russia does not want to be frozen
out of decisions. The United States has major financial stakes in the
Caspian region and wants a degree of political influence to guarantee
those interests.  Russia does not want to see U.S. client states created
within what it regards as its sphere of influence. Russia does not want an
American national missile defense deployed.  / Therefore, if Putin?s first
priority is to create a firm relationship with the United States, his
second goal - if his first fails - is to position Russia effectively in
the event of a collapse of relations. Putin does not want to recreate the
situation from 1946-49 in which the United States was able to portray the
Soviet Union as the prime culprit for the Cold War and use that perception
of Soviet aggression and duplicity to create a hostile alliance. If
U.S.-Russian relations collapse, Putin wants to create a clear record of
American responsibility.  / Putin is trying to reach three audiences.
First, domestically, he will be in a position to further undercut liberal,
pro-American elements. Second, and more important, he will position
himself for the inevitable attempt to drive a wedge between Europe and the
United States, by showing that Washington, in pursuing its narrow
strategic interest, jeopardizes Europe?s interest in good relations with
Russia. Finally, Putin is addressing an American audience, which to the
extent that it is cognizant of foreign policy at all, does not want to see
a return to the Cold War.  / >From the Russian point of view, the same
policy must be pursued whether the goal is reconciliation with the
Americans or preparation for a breach. The best hope of reconciliation -
on terms acceptable to the Russians - is to convince the United States
that Russia is capable of threatening American interests. Therefore, it is
necessary to make conciliatory gestures while simultaneously undertaking
diplomatic initiatives that lay the groundwork for challenging the
Americans. This may persuade the United States to be conciliatory. Should
that fail, it positions the Russians to pursue their national interest.  /
The ultimate audience is in Europe and, to a lesser extent, Japan. 
Leaders there do not want to see a return to even a mini-Cold War. The
Germans in particular, with their heavy financial exposure in Russia, do
not want to see this happen. More than anyone, Putin understands the
Germans. He is now carefully laying out, very publicly, both his
willingness to work with the United States, and the consequences should
that fail. Putin wants to have a neutral Europe or, at the very least, a
neutral Germany.  The new president?s conciliatory moves are quite real.
They are also crafting the structure of the world, if conciliation fails. 

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