|December 14, 2010|
David J. Smith*
It was a big turnaround from the frown he wore just 24 hours earlier as he stormed off from the Astana Summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Russia was badly beaten up on the summit’s opening day and Medvedev was not going to endure it another day. Medvedev’s summer smiles, it seems, have mostly given way to approaching winter frowns.
Believing America’s reset and NATO’s fresh start to be in high gear, Russia planned at Astana to turn the 56 member body from democratization toward hard security issues, at least the ones Moscow likes—fighting terrorism, human trafficking and drugs. With an emasculated mandate, the OSCE would have received greater executive authority.
No western leader would reject the Russian agenda, but none was prepared to dump the remainder of the OSCE’s mandate to have it. The west—bits of it, at least—is experiencing reset dilemma—too many hollow words about Russia; too many gooey smiles; too many invitations. Now the Russians are standing in the western foyer and no one knows how to handle the unruly guests.
Hillary Clinton delivered some stark messages in Astana. “It is regrettable,” she said, “that a participating state proposed to host a mission, and the OSCE has not been been allowed to respond. We here at this table must let this organization do its job and restore a meaningful OSCE presence in Georgia.”
Some back in the USA criticized Clinton for aggravating the Russians, but she said what had to be said. “Good fences make good neighbors,” wrote the American poet Robert Frost. The problem is not that Clinton pronounced brusque words, but that the west allowed Russia to get so close that brusque words were unexpected.
And Clinton was not isolated at Astana. For example, although not as brusque, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "Conflicts in this region must be successfully solved now...Human rights guarantees, such as democracy and freedom of expression and media, must be fully implemented in all member states.’’
It is unlikely that Astana was a turning point in western relations with Russia. In the words of Alexander Pope, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Besides, Moscow can always find a friend with something to gain—Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi pranced around the summit trying to salvage it before jetting off to Sochi to rendezvous with Medvedev and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and sign seven new business contracts.
And it may be premature even to mark Astana as a waypoint toward more level-headed western relations with Russia. However, there are some indications of this. As Medvedev flew home from Astana, he might have thought of happier times—last summer, when he took his broad smile to California’s Silicon Valley in search of high technology; October, when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hailed him as a “great visionary;’’ and a week later, in the French beach town of Deauville, when he appeared to circumvent Washington and the rest of NATO by hob-knobbing exclusively with Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
This likely happened because Medvedev was the honored guest, not despite it.
Some westerners are taking a more sober look at Russia. Others will say, “I told you so.’’ And others will continue to plan tea parties and state dinners. FIFA will say that all is well. But all is not well. And it is not going to be well until the west abandons grandeloquent but hollow declarations of friendship and deals with Russia not as friend or foe, but as a troublesome neighbor with which we have some in common and much in disagreement—in other words, when Medvedev’s visage is no longer the barometer of western policy.
*David J. Smith is Director, Georgian Security Analysis Center, Tbilisi, and Senior Fellow, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Washington.
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