Russia Again Under the Radar Screen
“Summertime, and the livin is easy.” Contrary to the famous words by the Gershwins in the musical Porgy and Bess, this summer has not been easy. Racial violence in the United States, coup attempt in Turkey, terrorist attacks in France and Germany, doping scandal involving Russian athletes and Brexit have all dominated the headlines, not to mention the American presidential campaign, continued migration chaos and the civil war in Syria.
What do the above have in common? They are all national events. Racial violence is a particular American problem that dramatically flairs up from time to time. The attempted coup in Turkey is a domestic affair with little hint of outside interference. While inspired by ISIS, the terrorist attacks in Nice and Germany were carried out by individuals with no direct contact with outside sources. Brexit is a British drama. And the doping scandal involving Russian athletes has no connection to international affairs, except for possible repercussions for the upcoming Olympics.
With media attention focused on these intra-state events, little mention or analysis has been made of the NATO Summit that took place in Warsaw from July 7-8, the first NATO Summit since the one held in Wales in 2014. In the final communiqué, among numerous threats, it was stated that:
“Russia’s aggressive actions, including provocative military activities in the periphery of NATO territory and its demonstrated willingness to attain political goals by the threat and use of force, are a source of regional instability, fundamentally challenge the Alliance, have damaged Euro-Atlantic security, and threaten our long-standing goal of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.”
In his farewell press conference, after speaking about the assassinations of police officers in Dallas, President Obama said:
“The United States will be the lead nation here in Poland, deploying a battalion of American soldiers. The United Kingdom will take the lead in Estonia, Germany in Lithuania, and Canada in Latvia. This will mean some 4,000 additional NATO troops, on a rotational basis, in this region. Moreover, the additional U.S. Armored Brigade will rotate through Europe, including an additional 4,000 U.S. troops. Meanwhile, to the south, we agreed on new deterrence measures in Romania and Bulgaria. So NATO is sending a clear message that we will defend every ally.”
Defend every ally against whom? Along with focusing on transnational threats such as cybersecurity and radical Islam, Obama, and the NATO allies have made it clear that defending NATO members from Russia is a high priority. References to Ukraine and Crimea were frequent during the meeting. In addition, Operation Anaconda 2016 took place one month before the Summit. It was NATO’s largest military exercise since the end of the Cold War. 31,000 soldiers from 24 countries took part in the war game together with 3,000 vehicles, 105 planes and 12 ships.
Besides how one could interpret the implications of 31,000 troops during a war exercise on the border of the Russian Federation, what is impressive about NATO’s situation is that it is trying to deal with inter-state security issues such as Russia at the same time that each of the 28 member states is confronting migration, terrorism and other problems not necessarily related to Russia. In effect, Russian cooperation in Syria or terrorism is needed, while at the same time NATO continues to criticize Russia’s policies within and outside its borders.
It is clear that there is no coherent Western policy towards Russia. It is also clear that the NATO alliance will be further challenged by the situation in Turkey. Recent votes in Britain and the upcoming election in the United States only add to a rapidly changing global environment.
The question remains, as it has the since end of the Soviet Union: What is the Western policy towards Russia? The failure of the NATO-Russian dialogue, as well as tensions within multinational institutions such as the OSCE, have not been seriously dealt with. Most countries remain pre-occupied with internal considerations.
And Russia continues to remain under the radar screen. There seems no realization that without Russian cooperation, through a meaningful dialogue, transnational problems such as terrorism, migration, cybersecurity and the Syrian conflict will not be solved.