Saturday, July 14, 2007

When Russia is a neighbor

By Carol Gee

(Image: My Space)

Things can get tense -- Russian relationships with its neighbors are often difficult, requiring a great deal of effort among all the neighbors just to co-exist. The United States and Russia have been forced to work hard at easing tensions as well, given Russia's cold war history and the current administration's stance that can appear to others to be all about war. Our current president (OCP) recently invited Russian President Putin to a family get-together at the beach in Maine to put relations on a more even footing. Most of the change now appears to have been cosmetic, however. Neither the U.S, nor Russia has become more peaceful. And the European Union is the ground upon which the current sabre-rattling drama is playing out.

Tensions in the neighborhood -- One of the thorniest issues between Russia and the U.S this past year has been the U.S. proposal for deployment of a so-called "missile shield" in Europe. And U.S. plans to put additional conventional arms near the Russian border are complicating things even further, as the following story indicates. NATO is omnipresent and members of the former Soviet Union are joining the organization to which Russia has not been invited. Russia's RIA Novosti (7/14/07) headlines,"Russian president decrees to suspend CFE treaty in Russia." To quote from the story:

The fact that NATO's new members have been refraining from ratifying an agreement on adaptation to the CFE Treaty is seen as the above exceptional circumstances. Moreover, some group limits under the CFE have been exceeded since the alliance's expansion.

The document also reads that U.S. plans to deploy conventional arms in Bulgaria and Romania have "a negative impact" on compliance with CFE group limits.

Three ex-Soviet Baltic republics and seven former Communist-bloc states in Eastern Europe have joined NATO since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Former Soviet allies Ukraine and Georgia have also declared plans to join the 26-member alliance.

(Image: U. of Michigan)

The Russian Bear still threatens. He is an absolutely magnificent creature with very big teeth and a big appetite. And he has been loose in the neighborhood. How to be tough with "The Bear" is the current question for the United Kingdom's judicial system, in its efforts to further justice in the Litvinenko case. The Financial Times (of 7/11/07) headline: "UK seeks tough response to Russia." To quote:

Britain is considering serious measures against Russia – which analysts suggested could include expelling diplomats – in response to its refusal to extradite the chief suspect in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB officer.

. . . Analysts said a return to the Cold War tactic of diplomatic expulsions was one option likely to be being considered, alongside visa bans on certain law and order officials, or withdrawing cooperation in areas such as education, social affairs or counter-terrorism information.

But the UK needs to calibrate its response carefully, given the importance of cooperation with Russia on issues such as Iran’s nuclear programme and the future of the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo. Any UK actions can also be expected to trigger retaliatory responses from Russia.

When tension includes the element of dependence -- Russia is very energy rich, and the rest of the EU is less so. When a neighbor has something upon which the others are very dependent, the power ratios change. And, when only two in the neighborhood (Russia and Germany) act independently to make a deal, it inevitably affects the others living nearby. Deutsche Welle (7/13/07), "New Twists and Turns in German-Russian Gas Pipeline Saga":

The German-Russian gas pipeline saga continues with a new disputed region causing a rethink over its route. The Nord Stream consortium is again forced into finding an alternative direction for its maligned project. . . after it was revealed a section had been earmarked for a stretch of water that both Poland and Denmark claim as an exclusive economic zone.

. . . The fact that the project was negotiated by Russia and Germany without consulting the countries between them has also created great ill-will in former Soviet satellites such as Poland and the Baltics.

. . . If completed, it would create separate routes for Russia to supply gas to eastern and western Europe. As a result, the EU's eastern European member states have complained that it would allow Russia to cut off their gas supplies -- as it did to Ukraine in January 2006 -- without affecting supplies to its richer Western clients

Triangulation -- In psychological terms, the "triangulation" dynamic looks like this: One party is the "aggressor," one party is the "victim," and the third party is the "rescuer." These roles have varying levels of relative power. And the dangerous thing in this crazy dynamic is that the roles can switch with blinding speed. Role changes also happen between countries, though more slowly that with individuals.

Two or three players -- In the above articles, for example, the tension between the U.K. and Russia is unilateral; it is about serving justice. It is one thing to have unilateral tension such as between the U.S. and Russia over military arms, such as those addressed in our disarmament treaties. Add in the nations proposed to host the U.S. missile shields and you have a triangle. The deal between Russia and Germany over the pipeline was unilateral. The strain between Russia and various EU countries, over scarce energy resources, is triangulated. And finally, when triangulated relations between the U.S., Russia and the European Union are strained it gets even more complicated.

This is a test; are you tense now? Here is your question. Does anyone wish to venture a guess as to the triangle-roles played by various countries in the above examples? And what about the power ratios?

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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