Day: April 9, 2008

Sphere of Influence

From today’s RFE/RL Newsline:

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Ekho Moskvy radio on April 8 that Moscow wants a permanent military presence at planned U.S. missile-defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. Lavrov argued that “in all the many proposals [on missile defense], we are interested only in two things: the permanent presence of our officers and reliable technological means of monitoring” the sites. During his recent summit with U.S. President George W. Bush in Sochi, President Vladimir Putin referred to a possible permanent presence at those sites if “a global missile-defense [system] with equal democratic-style access to managing such a system” does not come to pass. Russia does not appear to have publicly stressed the issue of a permanent presence before, but Lavrov said on April 8 that it is a sticking point in negotiations over Washington’s plans to station a radar base in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland. He argued that it is important for Moscow to see “second-by-second” where the radar is directed and what is happening at the interceptor base. In an apparent effort to split Washington from Prague just days after a U.S.-Czech agreement on the radar site was announced, Lavrov warned that Czech or Polish resistance to the Russian demand would “devalue” recent assurances given to Russia by the United States on missile defense. He complained that officials of the two countries, which were occupied by Soviet forces for decades, “don’t even want to hear” about a permanent Russian presence at the sites (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” February 27, March 7 and 20, and April 4, 2008). Lavrov mocked the U.S. offer of “reciprocity” in arranging occasional inspections of the sites by Russian officials based in Warsaw and Prague, saying that Russia has no intention of establishing its own bases in those countries or near the United States. Asked if Russia might set up military sites of its own in Cuba or Venezuela in response to the U.S. plans, Lavrov replied that Russia would rely on unspecified “military-technical measures” instead. PM

Foreign Minister Lavrov’s demand on April 8 for a permanent Russian presence at planned U.S. missile-defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic came after the latest round of Russian-Polish consultations in Moscow failed to bridge differences, news agencies reported. Witold Waszczykowski, who heads the Polish negotiating team, told Poland’s PAP news agency that Lavrov’s demands are “too far-fetched.” Referring to a possible permanent Russian military presence in Poland, Waszczykowski said that “we had that here already [in tsarist and Soviet times]. Such a solution will not be repeated.” He added that the proposed missile-defense “installation could be accessible to visitors or inspectors, but we don’t think there is any need for a permanent presence of Russian monitors there…. In addition to that, we have to establish a sort of mutual regime, with Polish inspectors having the right to inspect some Russian installations.” Czech officials have repeatedly rejected the idea of any permanent Russian presence at the radar site, although they, too, would be willing to consider occasional visits by Russian officials. Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra told the daily “Hospodarske noviny” recently that “we are willing to negotiate about Russian inspections, but definitely not in the form of a permanent presence of Russian soldiers in the Czech Republic.” Some European observers suggested that Russia is keen to keep up its political momentum after the April 2-4 Bucharest NATO summit. Russia was widely seen to have used energy and political leverage over Germany, France, and some other Western European states to ensure their opposition to U.S. and Eastern European support for granting Membership Action Plans (MAP), an important step on the road to full NATO membership, to Georgia and Ukraine (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” April 3, 4, 7, and 8, 2008). PM

Foreign Minister Lavrov told Ekho Moskvy radio on April 8 that Moscow will do all it can to prevent NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia in order “to avoid an inevitable serious exacerbation of our relations with both the alliance and our neighbors.” He repeated Moscow’s long-standing arguments that NATO enlargement is rooted in “Cold War logic,” that much of the Ukrainian public is opposed to NATO membership, and that the pro-Moscow leaderships of Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions oppose Georgian membership. Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin wrote in the April 7 issue of the government daily “Rossiiskaya gazeta” that “all countries seeking to join NATO have to hold a referendum first. The decision has to be made by all Ukrainian citizens. Would they be prepared to send their boys to certain death in Iraq or Afghanistan for the sake of Atlantic solidarity?” “The Moscow Times” commented on April 9, however, that “Russia’s main argument against NATO enlargement is that it would threaten its security. That is nonsense, and Russia knows it.” The paper added that “the Kremlin has found that behaving like a spoiled child gets results: the right to influence developments in former Soviet countries. In other words, Russia is being allowed to reassert its sphere of influence — a concept that should have been superceded by that of ‘Europe Whole and Free,’ which the entire European Union appeared to have embraced when communism collapsed.” The daily stressed that “the crux of the matter is Europe’s lack of political will to forge a unified stand toward Russia. This has led the Kremlin to pursue a classic ‘divide-and-rule’ strategy by tempting some big European countries into bilateral agreements — particularly on energy issues — that preclude a common EU position” (see End Note, “RFE/RL Newsline,” March 17, 2008). Alluding to the Western European objections to MAPs for Georgia and Ukraine, Polish President Lech Kaczynski commented on the eve of the NATO summit that West Germany was allowed to join NATO in 1955 even though it claimed to represent, but did not control, all of Germany. The Polish daily “Rzeczpospolita” pointed out recently that Germany did not hold a referendum in 1990 on NATO membership for the former East Germany, where strong pacifist and anti-American sentiments might have led to a rejection of NATO accession. PM

Colonel General Viktor Zavarzin, the head of the State Duma’s Defense Committee, said in Beijing on April 8 that military cooperation plays an important role in Russian-Chinese relations, Interfax reported. He noted that “the total number of events at which key subjects in Russian-Chinese military cooperation are discussed is 30 to 35 a year. Chinese specialists are trained at Russian Defense Ministry academies. Direct ties between the respective military services [and] military academies…are improving.” Zavarzin added that joint exercises and inspections take place along and near the two countries’ common border. His remarks follow recent reports that Russian arms sales to China dropped by 62 percent in 2007 because China’s industrial capabilities are beginning to approach those of its neighbor, and because it seeks more sophisticated technology than Russia is willing or able to offer (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” March 31, 2008, and End Note, “RFE/RL Newsline,” September 12, 2007, and March 12, 2008). PM