Sunday, May 04, 2008

Russian roulette?

By Carol Gee

Russia, actually as part of the former Soviet Union, was once the nemesis of the United States. Do the Russians see us as their nemesis? This RIA Novosti U.S National Security Expo video hints at that idea (9/4/08):

Ultra-modern mobile complexes for U.S. secret services. (Look for the RIA Novosti "most popular" video box). This weekend, Washington hosted the Government Security Expo featuring the newest secret service equipment and technologies. Video by RIA Novosti correspondent Alexei Berezin.

Do we see still Russia as our nemesis? Soon to be ex-president Vladimir Putin, became much more confrontational with the U.S. in recent years. There are several reasons, but one of the main ones was George Bush's seemingly absolute determination to position U.S. missiles next door to Russia.

Is that nemesis view the current case, given that Russia is now in transition to perhaps new leadership? Vladimir Putin will be leaving the office of President on May 7, when Dmitry Medvedev is inaugurated. Putin will become premier and also moving into leading the ruling political party in Russia, United Russia, on May 7. In an excellent Financial Times Report (4/18/08): "Riddle over who steers the tandem," by Neil Buckley, what is likely to happen is very well laid out. After an interview with the Times, in article's concluding material, Medvedev's thoughts on the situation are detailed .

. . . relief among many Russians that the popular Vladimir Putin has found a way of retaining influence as likely next prime minister under President Dmitry Medvedev is tempered by uncertainty.

. . . Mr Medvedev answered a question on who would have the last word by making heavy reference to Russia's 1993 constitution, adopted after Mr Yeltsin's bloody clash with the parliament.

"It's all simple," he said. "Russia is a presidential republic with a strong executive authority." The president sets the main policies, he added, is commander in chief, and makes key decisions on forming the executive.

The government, headed by the prime minister, implements policy. "This is perfectly normal. We're not surprised to see former heads of government in European countries subsequently holding posts of vice premiers or foreign ministers, despite their considerable personal popularity," Mr Medvedev said. "I'm confident that our tandem will prove to be absolutely effective." But even supporters of both men believe one will inevitably call the shots.

. . . Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, believes as soon as Mr Putin decided not to change the constitution, "he started to leave". The internal logic of Russia's political system now means Mr Medvedev will inevitably emerge as number one.

"In more than 1,000 years of Russian history, maybe 50 people have ruled this enormous country," he says. "It's a job which is very, very hard to get. Once you've got it, there's no sense being anybody's puppet."

[see "Thoughts of a new president"] . . .

The breakup of the Soviet Union is still producing fallout. Georgia broke away to independence, and subsequently two pro-Russia parts of Georgia are determined to separate to join Russia. Russia seems prepared to intervene militarily in Georgia, in a response to Kosovo's independence and an implied U.S. allied promise to let Georgia and Ukraine join Nato at some point. Aljazeera concludes its article with this:

Leri Guchua, a 20 year-old internally displaced person from Abkhazia, who lives in the village of Rukhi, near the Georgian-Abkhazian border, says he sees Russia sending more troops to Abkhazia every day.

"I live on the coastline and see how Russians are bringing their troops to Abkhazia," he said. "Instead of withdrawing they are bringing troops in. If Russia starts the war I will serve my duties in the Georgian army."

However, residents of Sukhumi, Abkhazia's capital, welcomed the convoy of Russian armoured personnel carriers as they arrived.

"It gives us hope and confidence in the future when such a strong power as Russia declares it will protect the people of Abkhazia," Lyobov Shersheria, a 72-year-old resident, told the AFP news agency.

Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are seeking either independence or the opportunity to join with Russia. European and Nato officials have urged both Georgia and Russia to back off from their heated words and to seek talks to resolve their disputes.

It is probably a safe bet to say that U.S./Russian relations are still a bit of a game of Russian Roulette. As President-elect George W. Bush's transitioned to the White House in 2000, (now) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came into her role as foreign policy adviser with Soviet Union expertise. In my opinion, her advice has always seemed to come out of that out-dated portfolio. Russia remains a risky mystery to us.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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