Don't Be Naive about Russia's Real Aims

Article excerpt

At this week's G-20 summit in London, President Obama met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for the first time. The two men share the burden of improving much-frayed relations between their two nations.

They agreed to launch negotiations for a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and reexamine Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization. The two countries will explore cooperation on Afghanistan and Iran, but agreed to disagree on ballistic missile defense. And Mr. Obama announced he will visit Russia in July. All positive-looking signs.

Many Europeans, especially the Germans, are swooning over Obama- Medvedev pictures that marked the event. The notion of pushing the "reset" button to begin a new era of harmonious relations between the two states is particularly lauded. To many, though, it's deja vu.

In the 1970s, strategic arms talks between Leonid Brezhnev's Soviet Union and a US reeling from the debacle in Vietnam were a part of the era of detente and "peaceful coexistence." It ended ingloriously, when Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan in 1979. And all of Jimmy Carter's pining for peace or shuttle diplomacy couldn't put the broken dream back together again.

Thirty years later, the Nixon Center and the Belfer Center of Harvard University issued a report that tried to set an upbeat tone for US-Russia rapprochement. This may have been guided by the authors' formative experiences of another era. It's important to remember that this is not your father's Russia - neither the geriatric Brezhnev regime of the 1970s, nor the USSR in terminal decline under Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s.

Today's Russian leadership is younger and tougher. It is increasingly anti-American, and continues to aggressively challenge its neighbors' sovereignty. It questions former vassals' sovereignty by opposing ballistic missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic, or preventing Georgia and Ukraine from joining NATO. Moscow also wants to neuter or dismantle the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the post-Bretton Woods economic system.

Moscow's calls for a new pan-European security architecture should give Obama pause. The concept would abolish NATO and weaken the human rights jurisdiction of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Moscow proposes national armed forces to be deployed on a "common perimeter" and a "demilitarized zone" inside the perimeter. The scheme is a transparent effort to restrain America's influence.

Beyond Europe, Russia's rulers are obsessed with "multipolarity." They appear to want a world order in which Russia, China, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela form a counter-weight to the United States. This is a broad global agenda at odds with vital US interests.

Washington and NATO's desire to cooperate with Moscow is understandable in view of the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan and Iran's missile and nuclear programs. After the "Yankee Go Home" announcement by Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev, Moscow offered the US use of its cargo planes and air space to resupply Afghanistan. It was Tony Soprano geopolitics: "Use my dumps and my trucks - otherwise you can't do business in my neighborhood."

The Kremlin continues to call - as it has since the St. Petersburg Economic Summit in 2007 - for revising the global economic system. In the lead-up to the G-20, it proposed creating a supranational reserve currency to replace the dollar as the global standard.

While the two leaders have their hands full with economic and security matters, rule of law should hold a prominent place on the agenda for their next meeting. …