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7 July 2015

Has the West forsaken Russia’s love? Part 1

War and Peace: Does NATO threaten Russia?

Many Russian politicians and political scientists refer to the justified grievances regarding the policy of Western countries in the nineties and two-thousands among the causes that brought about confrontations between Russia and developed countries. Reference is also made to the woeful assistance Russia received when carrying out reforms in the 1990s as well as the West’s refusal to integrate Russia into the system of collective decision-making, ‘double standards’ as regards problems in Chechnya or the former Yugoslavia, the a priori support for Putin’s opposition and other narratives. In accordance with this account, Russia as such was ready to ‘consort with’ the West, but it was jilted. Is it so? What did the Russian authorities want to obtain from the West and what were they denied?

Naturally, what is being referred to here as ‘the West’ is not the point of the compass, but rather civilized, developed and democratic states in the broad meaning of the word. For us, the West stretches from the USA and Europe to Australia along with New Zealand, to Japan and Israel. To a large extent, these are the states that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Let us try to logically grasp these issues. Not in the least because the collective West has stumbled a good many times in its history. The policies of democratic states in the 30s of the 20th century serve as the most vivid reminder of the multiple mistakes of this kind, and we have no reason to positively assess the policies of the Western countries in 1980-2000 a priori.

It should be noted without hesitation that, under the influence of totalitarian propaganda by TV channels and other official media, even those well-educated have numerous preposterous delusions based on facts fabricated by Putin’s propagandists today. And top officials in Russia do not eschew lying either. Recently, in his interview for the ‘Kommersant’ newspaper, the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia and former director of the FSB Nikolai Patrushev referred to a statement of the former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: ‘Neither Siberia nor the Far East belongs to Russia’ – a statement she never made. Last year, Vladimir Putin spoke about the non-existent obligations of NATO supposedly adopted after the reunification of Germany; not to expand eastwards, notably referring to an alleged statement by the then Secretary General of NATO. It will suffice to open the text of ‘The Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany’ in order to merely see the obligations not to deploy foreign military contingents and nuclear weapons on the territory of the former GDR. A much later text of ‘The Founding Act on Mutual Relations (…) between NATO and the Russian Federation’ as of 1997, signed before new members were admitted into the Alliance, contains commitments not to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of NATO’s new members as well as to refrain from the ‘additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces’.

In 2007, Vladimir Putin, incidentally, unilaterally signed a decree ‘On Suspension of the Russian Federation’s Participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (…)’ numerous references to which are contained in the Act between Russia and NATO, while, in 2015, the Russian authorities declared that they considered the CFE Treaty to be invalid. Humorously, Putin’s propagandists, men who are even more ordinary than their superiors, enthusiastically recount the erroneously attributed ‘Allen Dulles’ plan’, which, in actual fact was a quote of the villain - not even Dulles himself - but some Arnold Lakhnovsky, a character in the novel The Eternal Call by the Soviet writer Anatoly Ivanov.

Propagandists incessantly bellow during telecasts that the USA supposedly supports the terrorist organization ‘the Islamic State’ (ISIS) despite the fact that, since August 2014, the USA has carried out air strikes on terrorist strongholds as part of an international coalition. Conversely, Russia has not taken any military action against ISIS. If we were to blame the USA in the context of ISIS at all, it could only be for the fact that the withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2011 turned out to be premature. As evidenced by Afghanistan, where a contingent of merely one thousand troops now prevents any terrorists from rising, the continued presence of troops in Iraq would have been more prudent.

But back to the facts: Let us start with the most favored thesis of Vladimir Putin and his confederates about the ‘threat of NATO’. The withdrawal from occupation of Soviet troops from the countries of Eastern Europe, aimed at improving relations between the USSR and the civilized world, entailed a massive reduction in the number of stationed NATO troops, too. Prior to perestroika, 400 thousand American military personnel were stationed in Europe, while less than 70 thousand remained by 2014. The number of nuclear warheads, aircrafts and tanks diminished many-fold. Russian officials love to refer to the huge increase in NATO troops due to the countries of Eastern Europe. And this is despite the fact that armies of the Baltic states – those closest to the Russian borders – are armed with old Soviet tanks and aircrafts, the number of which can be counted using the digits of only one hand, and have only about 25 thousand troops in total. It goes without saying, that no sane person would perceive these armies as a threat to Russia.

In his recent interview for the Financial Times, the head of Putin’s administration Sergei Ivanov, displaying his usual sense of humor by mimicking the classical Russian satirist Ivan Krylov, compared Russia to a pug and NATO - to an elephant, in terms of the extents of their military budgets. It is noteworthy that Russia’s share of global GDP is modest – Russia’s economy with roughly 3% of global GDP is not only smaller than the USA (22%) but also compared to the economies of Japan, Germany, Great Britain, France or Italy, respectively. Whereas Russia’s military budget doubled over the course of just a couple of years between 2012 and 2015. And it is important that this increase was planned. Russia’s military budget currently stands at 3.3 trillion rubles ($66 billion), i.e. in absolute terms, Russia ranks third in the world after the USA and China.

A significant portion of de facto military spending is allocated to ‘national security and law enforcement’ (another 2 trillion rubles). And in terms of percentage of GDP, Russia is even ahead of the USA (4.2% versus 3.9%). At the same time, Russia does not have to pay high salaries to professional military personnel (its army remains only semi-professional) and it does not fight terrorism in other parts of the globe. As regards the American military budget, on the contrary, it is being reduced: it was close to $700 billion in 2011-2012 whereas it dropped to as little as $577 billion in 2015 and further cuts are planned. In 2015, the Obama administration announced the closure of 15 military bases in Europe, which can hardly be regarded as apt given the current situation. 

Today, Putin’s propagandists love to accentuate that, currently, heated discussions are under way as regards the deployment of NATO military contingents in Eastern Europe in general and the Baltic states, in particular, while they tend to forget that this was out of question before the attack on Ukraine. Indisputably, this measure currently seems plausible, since people with Russian arms, tanks and multiple rocket launchers, referred to as ‘miners and tractor operators’ by Vladimir Putin, could, technically speaking, easily surface in the Baltic states or else attempt to subjugate all of Ukraine. Some conservatively-minded readers will say that this is an exaggeration. Let them ask themselves a question: did the possibility of a Russian-Ukrainian war ever cross their mind two years ago?

To conclude the conversation about NATO, it is noteworthy that it was the pressure of the countries of the West, in fear of the bugbear of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, that led to the agreement under which Ukraine and Belarus surrendered their nuclear weapons and transferred them to Russia. Here we are talking about hundreds, if not thousands of delivery vehicles. Quite a strange fact if we are to stick to the official narrative of the Russian authorities regarding the inclinations of the West to weaken Russia.

There was a real conflict that took place between Russia and the West that is worth mentioning: the events that took place in the former Yugoslavia. The Russian authorities and Russian society have been historically affable towards Serbia, despite the fact that the tragedy of the First World War is associated with this country, or rather with the support of Serbian adventurists and terrorists in 1914. The war which, for Russia, brought about seven decades of Bolshevist dictatorship. A funny parallel – back then, Russia also waged war on the countries which were its main trading partners (Germany and Austria-Hungary received 34% of the Russian exports and were responsible for 40% of the Russian imports, ahead of Britain and France). Although it was the regime of Slobodan Milosevic which was undoubtedly responsible for the outbreak of hostilities against other republics of the former Yugoslavia in 1991, still, the position of the West could hardly be considered unbiased. Especially as regards the conflict around Kosovo in 1999, during which Western countries supported the Kosovo regime, decidedly dubious in terms of criminality. The biographies of its leaders bear as many gaping holes as those of the leaders of the ‘people’s republics’ in the east of Ukraine. The conduct of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia which did not condemn a single leader of the sides which opposed the Serbs (Croats, Bosnians or Kosovans) which were also responsible for violations of human rights, discredited the European Court. However, Russia is obviously still foremost in terms of applications made to the ECHR.

Conflict between the right of a nation to self-determination and the territorial integrity of the state, long known in world politics, has allowed many Russians, including those loyal to the West, to speak of double standards. Yet despite the woes of the Serbian population of Kosovo, in the case of Serbia as such, this conflict brought about the swift liberation from the authoritarian regime of Milosevic, the lifting of sanctions and marked the onset of EU integration. Thus, it’s not all that simple here, either. But Russia should have at least one genuine reason for its resentment towards the West. And clearly Serbia fits the bill after all.


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