By John Laughland Special to the Moscow news


According to a widely-held view, the election of Barack Obama is good news for Russia. The new US president - runs the argument- will abandon the confrontational style of George W. Bush and adopt a more conciliatory line in foreign affairs, including in relations with Moscow. There is little doubt that the Bush presidency has been disastrous for both America and the world. Any end to Republican control of the White House can therefore only seem welcome. Unfortunately, however, there are in fact many grounds for pessimism about the future of East-West relations under President Obama.

The first is of course the likely foreign policy of President Obama himself. Vice-President elect Joe Biden is notorious for his anti-Russian views. In his speech accepting the Democratic nomination in August, Biden specifically attacked the Bush administration for failing to face down Russia, i.e. for directing its attacks against the wrong enemy. At a speech on foreign policy in Cincinnati on 25 September, Biden said that Russia was as much of a threat as Iran, and he spoke warmly of his visit to "Misha" Saakashvili, the president of Georgia with whom he is evidently on first-name terms.

But the main ground for pessimism lies in relations with Europe. President Medvedev's principal foreign policy initiative since his election has been to woo European leaders, especially at Evian last month. His proposals for a new European security pact are an attempt to give Russia a foothold in military structures which currently exclude her, and thereby to reduce American dominance over them. As such, his proposals should be seen as the continuation of a long-standing geopolitical project for Moscow, which goes back at least to the signature of the Helsinki accords by the USSR in 1975.

However, the election of a Democrat as US president means that it is the US-EU relationship which will now be reinvigorated, not the relationship between Europe and Russia. The Bush years have been exceptionally difficult for the pro-American elite which governs Europe. All the major players in European politics are viscerally pro-US (and anti-Russian) but their basic desire to like America - and to be like America, for instance by creating a United States of Europe -has been thwarted by the contempt in which George Bush is held around the world (and indeed in his own country) and by the evident stupidity of his foreign policy.

In contrast to a Bush who revels in his reputation as a redneck, Barack Obama embodies all the values with which European leaders are themselves infatuated - left-liberalism, youth, dynamism, change, even ethnic diversity. In the run-up to the poll, they have hardly been able to contain their excitement at the prospect of his election. Why, Obama even writes books. Years of pent-up pro-Americanism will therefore now flood out as soon as the mood music of multilateralism starts to be played once more in the White House. EU leaders will again be able to identify "America" with "progress," just as they did when they were young, and they will swoon with delight whenever President Obama proposes some new international (i.e. trans-Atlantic) plan to spread Western political values around the world (and to augment the power of the West over it). By contrast, they see Russia as politically reactionary and as a threat to the most cherished ideals.

This much has been evident from recent statements by two leading EU politicians. Last week, in his annual speech to the European Union's Institute for Security Studies in Paris, the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, spoke with obvious warmth and enthusiasm of the trans-Atlantic alliance. He said, "I have been and remain and firm believer in the power of the US and Europe to act as a force for good in the world," and uttered not a single word of criticism of US foreign policy over the last dreadful eight years.

When he came to speak of Russia, however, his tone of voice hardened and grew cold. He spoke as if Russia were a country with which he was obliged but reluctant to do business. He dropped a heavy hint that Russia was using energy exports as a strategic weapon which is a severe accusation to make against a neighbouring country with which the EU is trying to negotiate a partnership agreement - and he dismissed President Medvedev's proposal for a new European security pact (inasmuch as he mentioned it at all) as too "vague" to merit any consideration now. He even said condescendingly that Russians have a special political mindset which Europeans had a duty to try to fathom, as if Russia were suffering from some strange collective psychosis. Solana's pro-US credentials, of course, have never been in doubt: he was Secretary-General of NATO during the Alliance's three-month attack on Yugoslavia in 1999.


(from The Moscow News, #44/7, 13 November 2008)

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