Monday, December 15, 2008

From Russia With Hope

As a relatively young and inexperienced American President (47 years), Barack Obama can expect to face many challenges on the foreign policy front.

One of the premier challenges Obama will face may not necessarily be rounding up additional support for the war in Afghanistan, but in dealing with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

As Ray McGovern, a retired CIA analyst, tells the Real News Network, Obama would be well served by embracing a Glastnost regarding relations between the United States and Russia.

As McGovern notes, one thing that is certain to appear on the agenda between the two are American radar and missile sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. McGovern insists that these sites are unnecessary, and that they are part of the "old thinking" vis a vis the United States and Russia.

McGovern suggests that those missile sites, as well as the prospects of Georgian and Ukranian membership in NATO, should be traded for concessions from Putin.

McGovern may well be right about missile sites in Eastern Europe (although not necessarily about the radar sites). With nuclear disarmament clearly returning to the global agenda, the dismantling of those sites would go a long way toward convincing Russia to dismantle more of its own considerable remaining nuclear stocks.

Ukraine and Georgia's proposed membership in NATO is a little less negotiable. While both the United States and Russia clearly have an interest in having each country within their particular geopolitical camps, Georgia and the Ukraine are both sovereign states, and have the right to make such decisions on their own.

Considering that each country is seeking NATO membership, there are clearly limits to the extent to which each country wishes to associate with Russia. Attempting to force them to associate more closely with Russia does no one any favours.

One thing that Obama absolutely cannot compromise on is the internal state of Russian democracy. Russian authorities have responded to the emergence of Gary Kasparov's Solidarnost movement by clamping down on their demonstrations, arresting up to 150 of their members, including some of its leaders.

Obama will face an increasingly complicated situation in Europe, as the New Europe, exemplified by Russia, will seek to build influence in what McGovern describes as the Old Europe -- France, Germany and Italy. With Vladimir Putin increasingly equating Russia as a European, rather than Asian, state it may also be a matter of time before Russia seeks to attain membership in the European Union.

Of course, Russia will only join the European Union under what it deems favourable positions, which for Russia entails a position of dominance.

Either way, many people will be looking to Barack Obama to provide new leadership on the Russian front.

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