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 was 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, Mr 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, Mr 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, and with whom he discussed how President Obama would make Russia “pay” for her “aggression” against his “democratic” country.
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 élite which governs Europe. All the major players in European politics are viscerally pro-US (and concomitantly 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 Mr 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, Mr 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, 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.
The same goes for the article in The Guardian on Tuesday by the president of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pottering. Herr Pottering also enthused about the prospect of a “transatlantic fresh start” following the American elections, and he invited the new US president to address the European Parliament next year. By contrast, his reaction to the election of Dmitri Medvedev as Russian president in March, and to his inauguration in May, was complete silence on both occasions. Herr Pottering’s only statements concerning Russia in recent months have been to support Georgia and to attack Belarus.
Under these circumstances, it is highly unlikely that President Medvedev’s attempts to direct the attention and affection of the EU élites towards their fellow Europeans East of Ukraine will ever get off the ground. The division of the European continent between East and West, so useful for American geopolitical strategy, is likely to continue.
5 November 2008
British historian and political scientist
Director of Studies at the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in Paris
I agree with Mr Laughland’s scepticism concerning the US. Joseph Biden is violently anti-Russian and anti-Orthodox due to his being mentored by a fanatic Croatian Catholic priest who supported the murder of 600,000 innocent Serbian Orthodox civilians by the Ustashi in World War II. Note well that Jackson-Vanick is still in force, even though the government it was targeted against fell some 17 years ago. I shall not believe that any good can come of an Obama administration (I admit that a McCain administration would have been worse) in foreign policy unless the neocon trash is taken out and Joseph Biden is kept out of high councils. I doubt that such shall happen. Pray that these lunatics do not take us into a war with Russia, for that would be the logical result of their vapourings. God help us all.