The Russian bear and its former territories Leader


The Russian bear is growling as Americans and Europeans bolster their commercial and strategic role in the Baltics, Caucasus and Central Asia.

Given Russia’s stiffened resolve to defend its interests in its neighborhood, U.S. and European policy-makers should think about when and when not to challenge Moscow.

Russia recently announced its rejection of the terms of the Conventional Armed Forces Treaty. The treaty was updated in 1999, aimed to establish parity in the conventional forces that the world’s military powers could deploy in Europe. Under the treaty, Russia is obligated to remove its bases from Georgia and Moldova. Though Russia never ratified the treaty, its repudiation of the treaty is new.

But it appears that Russia is trying to have it both ways. While it has rejected the restraints of the treaty on itself, it wants its tenets to apply to the Baltic states that will be joining NATO next month. Such a move would impose limits on NATO’s movements in and deployments of weapons to these states.

Russia surely wants to strike a deal with NATO on the Baltics and the Caucasus, but there is also that nagging question of what Georgia itself wants. Russia and Georgia have two very different ideas about what the time frame for dismantling Russian bases should be. If Russia and Georgia are unable to reach a deal in a reasonable period, the United States and Europe should lean on Russia to settle the matter.

Still, the Bush administration should continue to refrain from vilifying Russia for pursuing its interests. Sen. John McCain, for example, said recently that Russia “enforced its stranglehold on energy supplies into Latvia to squeeze the democratic government of Riga.” But Russia had clear commercial reasons for cutting its oil shipments to the Latvian port of Ventspils. Once it established an oil outlet in its own country, Primorsk, it could avert the transit and other fees it had to pay to export to Ventspils.

And though countries in Eurasia often complain about Russian dominance, many receive discounted natural gas and the rights to live and work in Russia.

For the most part, the competition between Russia, the United States and the European Union to gain strategic or commercial advantage in Eurasia will benefit the nations of the region. It seems reasonable that the will of sovereign countries should determine where the dominating powers can establish bases or pursue commercial ventures.

But the countries can also negotiate their respective roles among themselves. There is ample potential for quid pro quo. The United States and the European Union can help bolster the rights of Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltics and other regions, help keep Islamic fundamentalism in check in Central Asia, allow Russia to gain the higher export quotas to an enlarged European Union and make it easier for the people of Kaliningrad to reach Russia. In other words, tethering the Russian bear can be largely a question of old-fashioned horse trading, rather than confrontation.