I admit it: I’m weak. I looked around a little for something to write about, went to The Power Vertical – hey! Robert Coalson appears no longer to be part of that cooperation. Yeah, I’m sure I could have found plenty of Russophobic material at RFE/RL or Open Democracy, but I didn’t look. You know where I went. Yes, that’s right; La Russophobe. Hey, it’s Wednesday, that must mean there’s something crazy cookin’ up at La Russophobe. Sure enough, there is. An embarrassment of riches, in fact.
The latest exercise in wishful thinking is entitled, “The Collapse of Russian Foreign Policy”. The factors that allegedly caused Russia’s foreign policy to collapse are (1) a new low in relations with Georgia, (2) the spat with Japan over the Kurils, (3) Iran’s threat to sue Russia over the cancellation of Iran’s missile buy, and (4) the Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives. This series of body blows, we’re told, has Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy “lying in smoldering ruins”.
Jesus, what a nut. Somebody get a straitjacket. Is anything like that happening? No, of course not. Let’s take a look.
First, the “Clan of Russian spies discovered by security forces in Tbilisi”. If you follow the link, you’ll note thirteen people were arrested on espionage charges. Four are Russian. What’s not mentioned there is that the remainder are Georgians, including six serving Army pilots. If four Russians are “a clan”, what does nine Georgians make up? A society? Of the Russians arrested, only one is in any way associated with the military. The remainder are businessmen. Sound familiar? The “elite spy ring” discovered in the United States earlier this year was portrayed by the New York Times as having more in common with lobbyists than spies.
How did Georgia discover this spy ring? Why, by making use of a Georgian double agent. Apparently, it’s all right for Georgia to have spies – it’s only reprehensible when other nations do it. According to this example, traitorous pilots transmitted a message whenever Georgian helicopters took off…but it still took 4 years to catch them, during which a war with Russia ensued. In this, too, we see a similarity with the breakup of the Russian “spy ring” in the United States – the FBI claimed to have known of the spies’ presence for several years. Some might speculate the arrrest was delayed until a politically expedient moment. Some might say this about the Georgian arrests, too.
Speaking of the war with Russia, I’ve had a change of heart about that. Previously I said I was tired of suggestions that Russia had invaded Georgia, and set off the whole incident. Well, never mind that. The more you mention it, the more opportunities I have to refute it, so bring it. For instance, I refer you to this statement; “Not a single significant country stepped forward to side with Russia during [the 2008] conflict while Germany’s Chancellor immediately flew to Georgia to stand at the side of the tiny country’s beseiged leader”. Well, yes, Chancellor Merkel did do that, if by “immediately” you meant “right after meeting with President Medvedev first“. Yes, that’s right. Before rushing to the side of Georgia’s “beseiged leader”, Chancellor Merkel met with President Medvedev in Sochi – after the peace treaty had already been signed, following an agreement brokered by French President Sarkozy – to discuss the Georgia/Russia conflict, as well as participating in an exchange of ideas on Mr. Medvedev’s proposal for a common security treaty. And speaking of Germany, just a year later the Jamestown Foundation released a report that announced Medvedev and Merkel’s “far-reaching plans” for expansion of Russo-German economic relations. Get it? The Jamestown Foundation, whose word is holy writ at La Russophobe, is worried about Russia’s impact on Germany’s foreign policy, not the other way around. That marked Merkel’s third meeting with Medvedev in 2009: how many did she have with Saakashvili, again?
Anyway, enough about Georgia. Suffice it to say that “worsening relations” with a country whose leader is not even recognized by Russia hardly argues a collapse of Russia’s foreign policy. Let’s have a look at what’s going on between Russia and Japan.
No such discussion would be complete without reference to Anatoly Karlin’s excellent and timely piece on the subject, at Sublime Oblivion. This article and documents it references clearly explain that (1) Japan already renounced all legal claim to the Kuril Islands – in the Diet, no less – and it is a matter of public record. This latest effort sounds like a feeble “but we had our fingers crossed” argument, and is most unlikely to garner much international support. Except American, which I’ll touch on again in a moment. (2) Russia has already offered – twice – to return the two smaller islands, and Japan has blown them off. Obviously, it’s all or nothing.
Is this likely to turn into a major, foreign-policy-collapsing incident? Ha, ha. Sorry. Well, if that’s what you were thinking, it’s odd that Japan would argue that it’s no big deal. In fact, the Japanese Foreign Minister announced, “…our basic policy of conducting a peace treaty with Russia and strengthening economic relations once that problem is settled remains unchanged.” Gee, that’s likely to make Russia jump around in its haste to return the islands, isn’t it? Maybe it’s why Japan’s Economic Minister is “concerned that the Russia-Japan row could affect economic ties”, suggesting “Japan and Russia have deep ties when it comes to energy and natural resources development”. Care to hazard a guess which country in that arrangement has most of the energy and natural resources?
Japan’s trade with Russia is considerably lower in volume than Japan’s trade with China. But – whoops! – Japan is involved in a dispute with China over land, too. A dispute it doesn’t look like winning, which is why – according to political sources – Japan’s leader has to talk tough with Russia. He’s only been in the job a few months and already is getting rolled by China, so he has little choice. Russia, for its part, has absolutely no incentive to agree, since Russia holds all the aces.
Why would anyone outside Japan back such a loser play? Well, I can offer a possibility. The USA is under pressure to remove its Japanese military bases. It can’t afford to lose such a priceless foothold in the region. Okinawa, particularly, wants the U.S. out (and doesn’t much care for the Japanese, either, which Okinawans are not). Aside from considerable air assets, Japan is home to significant naval assets at Yokusuka and White Beach, Okinawa, including the USN’s forward-based Aircraft Carrier in the Pacific as well as her Task Group frigates and destroyers.
Hey: where would be a good place to base naval forces where there’s a very small indigenous population, and where those forces could interdict the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet access to the open ocean from the Sea of Okhotsk?
How about Kunashir? A population of less than 8000 on an island that’s nearly 1,500 square kilometers. Iturup or Shikotan might serve as well. It’d be expensive, but it would have strategic and demographic advantages that might make it worthwhile. Just a thought. But it’s certainly impossible under the current circumstances, because Japan doesn’t own them.
Now, where were we? Oh, yes; Iran. Let me make sure I have this straight – Russia cancels a deal with Iran that would see Iran supplied with an Air-Defense missile system with a range of 150 km, that would potentially be used to shoot down attacking American or Israeli aircraft (both have threatened to attack Iran if it does not abandon its nuclear program, which neither has offered proof is being used to make a weapon)…and this somehow reflects badly on Russia?? Both the USA and Israel had pressured Russia to cancel the deal, but now at least one American seems to feel the deal should have gone ahead, at risk of Russia’s foreign policy collapsing. Oh, and it was “that patsy” Obama who rammed the deal through that caused Russia to cancel the sale.
In fact, UN Security Council Resolution 1929 prohibits weapons sales to Iran that are not of a defensive nature. Russia is simply being a good world citizen in abiding by the resolution, and to successfully sue, Iran would need to argue persuasively that it needs a 150-km-range missile for self defense. Good luck with that, Iran.
The taking of the U.S. House of Representatives by the Republican party means government gridlock due to Republican obstruction will bar the passage of any meaningful legislation or initiatives between now and 2012. I’m afraid I don’t see how legislative paralysis in the USA spells doom for Russia’s foreign policy.
However, it might make you want to take a serious look at your own.