The Folly of Needlessly Antagonizing Russia
Doug Bandow makes a simple but important observation about U.S.-Russian relations:
Moreover, treating Moscow like a foe will make Russia more suspicious of America’s relationships with former members of the Warsaw Pact and republics of the Soviet Union—and especially Washington’s determination to continue expanding NATO. After all, if another country ostentatiously called the U.S. its chief geopolitical threat, ringed America with bases, and established military relationships with areas that had broken away from the U.S., Washington would not react well. It might react, well, a lot like Moscow has been reacting.
This is all correct, but I would add to this that the Russian government perceives “Washington’s determination to continue expanding NATO” as a major part of how the U.S. continues to treat Russia as an enemy for no discernible reason. Because Russia perceives NATO expansion as an aggressive move in its direction and as part of an effort to contain and even reduce Russian influence in post-Soviet space, there is virtually no way that NATO expansion could be viewed in Moscow with anything other than suspicion. The only way that the U.S. and NATO might allay Russian suspicions is to invite Russia into the alliance along with its neighbors, but that would simply underscore how obsolete the alliance already is.
Bandow is absolutely right that Russia will view good U.S. relations with its neighbors as a possible threat if the U.S. is needlessly antagonistic towards Russia, and that will make things worse for those neighbors. To take the most obvious example, Russian-Georgian relations were much better before the U.S. began encouraging Saakashvili’s push for Georgian membership in NATO. The U.S. encouraged and supported anti-Russian nationalists in neighboring countries whenever possible during the Bush years, and those countries’ relations with Russia suffered significantly as a result.
Seth Mandel responds to Bandow with the non sequitur of the year:
Really? If President Obama saw Russia establishing allies in the West, he would … enable the slaughter of thousands by shielding murderous dictators like Bashar al-Assad at the UN Security Council? Bandow thinks he would aid, abet, protect, and hide the illicit nuclear weapons program of the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism? He would steal elections? He would jail bloggers? Assassinate whistleblowers on foreign soil and at least tolerate the assassination of journalists at home? Cut off energy supplies in the dead of winter from those who refused to do his bidding? Which one of these things does Bandow think is the appropriate reaction to the enlargement of NATO, and which of these things does Bandow think Washington would do?
Obviously, Russia did none of these things in response to NATO expansion. I assume Bandow wouldn’t claim that they did. The Russian government would have presumably engaged in domestic repression and support for client states for its own reasons. I’m reasonably sure that Bandow is referring to Russian opposition to NATO expansion, missile defense in eastern Europe, and the possibility of a long-term U.S. military presence in Central Asia, since those are the sorts of things he mentioned. It takes just a little imagination to understand how all of these policies appear provocative and inimical to Russian interests as Moscow understands them. The U.S. would react with alarm and suspicion if positions were reversed. That’s obvious.