Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Return of NATO-Russia Council Part of New ‘Post-Ukraine’ International System, Russian Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 19 – Writing on the Rubaltic portal directed at Russian speakers in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Aleksandr Nosovich argues that the resumption of the work of the NATO-Russia Council is emblematic of the emergence of “a new, post-Ukrainian reality in world politics,” one that he says the Baltic countries have failed to pay attention to.

            The Russian commentator concedes that “a year or two ago, it appeared that the entire course of world politics was leading to the transformation of Russia into an outcast state: the end of Russia-EU dialogue, the European Parliament’s rejection partnership with Russia, the suspension of the Russia-NATO Council, and the exclusion of Russia from the G-8.”

            But now, he says, things are moving in reverse: “bilateral contacts between Russia and leading Russian countries are no less active and much more productive than was the case before the Ukrainian crisis, the Russia-NATO Council is renewing its work; and the next stop is the renewal of EU-level contacts” (rubaltic.ru/article/politika-i-obshchestvo/190416-postukraina/).

            And thus, analysts and politicians are justified in speaking about the rise of “a new, post-Ukraine reality,” even though that is a reality that many in Baltic capitals neither recognize nor accept, preferring instead to believe that there is a “black and white” choice between containment of Russia and betrayal of other countries to Moscow.

            “The primitive consciousness of the professional Russophobe from ‘the new Europe’ is incapable,” Nosovich says, “of conceiving the complex and contradictory reality in which Russia, the US, and leading European countries, while not being allies and in fact between opponents and competitors nonetheless engage in dialogue and seek results on the most important international questions.”

            This shouldn’t surprise anyone because it is nothing new, the Russian commentator says. During World War II, he suggests, “the anti-Hitler coalition also consisted of countries whom it was impossible to say were in agreement” on many things. They cooperated against Hitler, and they continued their competition on almost everything else.

            “Similar processes are taking place in the relations of Russia and the West today,” he insists.  The two sides can agree on some things even as they continue to compete on others.  There is no need, as the Baltic leaders seem to think, that everyone must choose between total confrontation and total accord.

            Evidence of this, he says, is that the US and Russia despite their conflicts on many issues have been able to work together on Syria and the EU and Russia, despite disagreements on Ukraine, are not interested in the renewal of military action there or elsewhere on the post-Soviet space.

            Moreover, Nosovich says, “it has become obvious for Western Europe that it has much more important concerns than ‘containing the imperial ambitions of Russia.’ [Given] the migration crisis … the crisis of statehood in Syria, Iraq, and North Africa, and terrorist attacks in the main cities of Europe, Ukraine inevitably will become a secondary issue.”

            Some may be tempted to dismiss Nosovich’s words as nothing more than Russian wishful thinking and yet another effort by Moscow analysts to denounce Baltic leaders, but there are three reasons why that would be a mistake:

·         First, his words about the NATO-Russia Council show how much Moscow will pocket anything moving in its direction and then use it to push even further, in this case on the EU.

·         Second, Nosovich’s recollection of the anti-Hitler coalition shows how central World War II remains in Russian geopolitical thinking as a model for international relationships of all types.

·         And third, his argument, directed in first instance against the Baltic countries, shows how much Moscow has invested in continuing to divide Europe between the “old” and the “new,” believing that it can win points in the old by denouncing the new.

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