Following the division between Mainland China and Taiwan, a debate raged in the West about “Who lost China?”. It is becoming more and more evident today that we should be asking the question “Who lost Russia?”.
What is the current situation between Russia and the West? Several observations point to the obvious fact that the famous reset button hailed by Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva in March 2009 has become stuck if not discarded. It is impressive how quickly relationships can degenerate.
Some relevant recent events to ponder: 1) U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has been roundly criticized in the Russian press for receiving opposition leaders soon after his arrival as well as his May comments that Russia had bribed the Kyrgyz leader to remove U.S. bases from Kyrgyzstan. 2) President Putin did not attend the G8 meeting saying that he had more pressing business at home organizing his new government. 3) President Putin traveled to Beijing to attend a meeting of the Council of Heads of Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as well as holding bilateral meetings with the Chinese President further solidifying closer cooperation between traditional rivals China and Russia. 4) Having abstained from voting in the Security Council on intervention in Libya, Russia and China continue to refuse to back intervention in Syria in spite of gross human rights violations. 5) Russia’s top military officer warned that Moscow would strike NATO missile defense sites in Eastern Europe pre-emptively as bilateral talks are stalemated over the deployment of a system the U.S. claims is designed to stop Iranian attacks. 6) The U.S. Congress is discussing imposing visa and banking restrictions on Russian officials accused of human rights abuses.
Given this tense situation, an interesting exercise would be to imagine what political scientists call a counterfactual. What would have happened in the 1990s if NATO had reached out to Russia beyond merely offering the Partnership for Peace (PfP) and the special NATO-Russia dialogue? What would have happened in 1990 if Russia had been invited to join NATO? Or, what would have happened if NATO had been disbanded after the disbanding of the Warsaw Pact in 1991? If there was no Warsaw Pact, why did NATO, a collective defense organization created to defend the West against the Soviet Union, continue to exist when the Soviet Union no longer existed?
The Western world is turning its attention to the East and Middle East. Recent shootings between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno Kharabak should remind us that Europe’s eastern neighbors cannot be ignored. President Putin’s non-attendance at the G8 is not just an arrogant snub; it weakens the entire global governance system. The people of Syria’s continuing suffering is the most obvious manifestation of this weakness.