Thursday, January 20, 2011

Russian president’s visit boosts Palestinian relations

Palestinians received a badly needed morale boost on Tuesday from the leader of a superpower, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

At a time when Palestinian morale was very low with the stalemate in the peace process and a feeling of abandonment from the Obama administration, Medvedev came to the rescue.

First, Medvedev made a special visit to the Palestinian territories, coming this time from Jordan, not Israel. Previously, visitors coming to Israel spend two or three days in the county meeting all kinds of officials and visiting all kinds of places. And while they are in Israel, visiting officials usually pay a complimentary and very short visit to the Palestinian areas meeting only with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his office for two or three hours.

Medvedev was going to do the same thing, but a strike by Israeli foreign ministry employees who refused to facilitate his visit forced the Russian president to cancel his trip to Israel. But he insisted at the same time to keep his part of the visit to the Palestinian areas and decided to make his trip coming from Jordan therefore bypassing Israeli foreign ministry protocols.

Medvedev realized the importance of this step to Palestinian morale. Addressing reporters at a news conference with his Palestinian counterpart Abbas in the ancient West Bank city of Jericho, where Medvedev spent the day, he said that “this is the first visit for a Russian president to the region and Palestinian territories that is not tied to a visit to a neighboring country.”

While the Russian president did not name the neighboring country, it was clearly understood to be Israel, and a big applause by the audience in the hall was a witness to that.

Second, the Palestinians needed all the help they could muster from a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and the Middle East peace quartet as they prepare to ask the Security Council to vote in favor of a resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policy in the occupied territories.

The U.S. has already informed Palestinians that it will not support that resolution, and therefore the Palestinians are hoping for support from Russia and other permanent Security Council member states to offset a possible U.S. veto.

Medvedev did not say if his country will vote in favor of the Palestinian resolution or not, but he did blame the political stalemate on Israel’s settlement construction.

“Without a decision to stop settlements,” he said, “there will not be movement forward.”

He said, “We all are not happy with the situation of the peace process. Today, there is a stalemate, a crisis. There is no movement and this negatively affects the situation in the Middle East.”

Abbas said he discussed with Medvedev “possibilities to get the peace process out of its jam and what role Russia can play toward that.”

Medvedev’s third boost was his affirmation that Russia’s late 1980s recognition of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders has not changed.

“Russia’s position from the Palestinian issue has not changed and remains the same,” he said. “Russia made its choice in the late '80s, and it supports the right of the Palestinian people to have their viable and contiguous state with East Jerusalem as its capital. A Palestinian state is a win to everyone: the Palestinians, Israel and the entire Middle East. This should be our goal,” he said.

Russia has the West in it's fingers on control of dominance and leadership with its superpower status

Despite losing the cold war some 20 years ago, Russia has regain superpower status without concessions to a new world order. The policy issue for Canada and others is this: how far to tolerate Russia’s aggression in the name of good relations? And: will it change, if criminal behavior is accommodated?

The state, under President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, controls virtually all aspects of domestic affairs:

Business shenanigans are legion, best exemplified by the lengthy incarceration of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s former energy czar. Most of Russia’s wealth is controlled by oligarchs favoring the state. Those who do not, like Boris Berezovsky, must flee.

Liberties at home are declining and aggression towards neighbours is rising as Russia, once again, pursues its 19th century imperialist doctrine of Czar Nicholas I “autocracy, orthodoxy and nationalism”.

Following the West’s Cold War victory which liberated some 500 million people and 15 states plus the satellites, from the concentration camp that was the Soviet Union, Russia was in no better position to negotiate terms than post-war Germany. Yet, some--Stalin’s moniker for Western apologists of the USSR had been “useful idiots” -- lobbied hard to stop the “humiliation” of Russia and blessing its unilateral claim to a new “near abroad” empire. To this end, Ukraine and Kazakhstan were threatened with aid withdrawal if exclusive control of the Soviet nuclear arsenal were denied Russia. And when NATO membership support was nearing 70 percent in Ukraine, Western democracies sided with Russia’s nyet rather than admit the largest European country-- a fledgling democracy aiming to embrace the West--into its fold. The pattern persists: there was tepid consternation rather than outrage as Putin threatened Ukraine and Georgia with nuclear annihilation were NATO membership to be granted.

Russia appeasement is alive and well as short-term interests get in the way of principles and strategic goals. This gets France technology transfer contracts for Russia’s naval fleet enlargement. Germany’s Angela Merkel--with roots in East Germany where Mr. Putin served as a KGB operative, speaks Russian at official bilateral meetings and works hard to be on the right side of Russia’s energy policies. The United States may have a new START agreement, open bases in Kyrgystan and cooperation in dealing with Iran’s nuclear threat but at what price? Russia leads the world in nuclear arsenals in defence and they will develop what is the best interest for their country.

Meanwhile, Russia’s strategic goals are gaining ground. It is expanding its hegemony in the neighborhood; participating in Europe’s security deliberations; increasing control of global waters; seeking trade access via WTO membership; and demanding respect while expanding its criminal empire. Cold War victors applaud-- da, da kharasho--and throw in the Winter Olympics and the World Cup into the bargain.

Historian Eerik-Niiles Kross reminds how George Smiley (John le Carre’s fictional character in his Cold War novels) was fond of saying that “bargaining with the Russians tends to result in giving away the crown jewels in return for chicken feed.”

Ukraine is a particularly fine gem. The largest country in Europe, with outstanding assets--agriculture, metallurgy, aerospace, with considerable Europe reach via river networks and into the Mediterranean and the Atlantic through the Black Sea, it is key to yedynyj ruskyj mir, the one Russian world, as its current rhetoric has it.

Pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych leads the charge in Ukraine, while the West, in deference to Russia, throws the proverbial pearl to the pigs. From an impressive near 90 percent support for independence from Russia- dominated USSR in 1991, Ukraine reverted to a narrow pro-Russia presidential victory in 2010. Unquestionably Russia was guiding developments there; buying Western hearts and minds, by besmirching its state politics, claiming “Ukraine fatigue” and “political instability” to ensure the results it wanted. Instead of mounting robust fights, the West caved and Ukraine is, for the time being, sliding back into Russia’s sphere of influence.

The West’s Russo-centric optic is historic and due, in part, to ignorance of the Slavic world. Canada’s historian Margaret MacDonald underscores this in her “1919: The Versailles Treaty” as Woodrow Wilson and Lloyd George split Ukraine between Poland and Russia.

And, nearly a century later, as the U.S.S.R. collapses President George H.W. Bush admonishes Ukraine for breaking with Russia! Current opinion leaders chatter about “Russia’s Crimea.” Similarly, centuries of Ukraine’s incessant struggles for independence are dismissed as “300 years of Russian rule,” thus legitimizing the hope of the czarist doctrine: Ukraine never was, is not now and never shall be and playing into Putin’s hand.

Pro-Russia thinking is evident globally. Despite its lawlessness, it is a bona fide member of the G-8 and G-20; it is courted by NATO. And, if Christopher Westdal’s writings are indicative, more Russia accommodation is in the works. “Make no mistake” he says “…new boundaries of Europe and Russia will be drawn. … the Caucasus is not European…neither is Ukraine European--enough.” And, if history is a measure, the West just may allow Russia to prevail.

Pro-Russia thinking is evident globally. Despite its lawlessness, it is a bona fide member of the G-8 and G-20; it is courted by NATO. And, if Christopher Westdal’s writings are indicative, more Russia accommodation is in the works. “Make no mistake” he says “…new boundaries of Europe and Russia will be drawn. … the Caucasus is not European…neither is Ukraine European--enough.” And, if history is a measure, the West just may allow Russia to prevail.

It is chilling that the West may bargain away yet another crown jewel-- NATO’s Western self-determination-- in return for cooperation in Afghanistan and Iran. Mere chicken feed? Delusionary trust? Or both?

A good predictor of future behavior is past performance. The United States and Canada, for instance, should continue to have good relations, given some 200 years of peace and prosperity. The future in Russia’s neighborhood and the rest of the world will be turbulent unless pressured to change. In the last century, Russia invaded the Baltic states, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Georgia. There is mischief making in Armenia and Transdnistria, cyber attacks on Estonia and interference in the Kyrgyz Republic. Gratuitous butchery in Chechnya contrasts sharply to the way Canada, for example, handled Quebec’s independence aspirations.

Russia’s aggression calls for deterrents rather than rewards. Yet in April, Obama and Medvedev signed the New START Treaty to reduce nuclear power of both countries. Some fear it will ensure the U.S. nuclear arsenal cannot overwhelm Russia’s and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia reserves the right to drop out of the pact if it believes U.S. missile defense plans for Europe threaten its security.

In this uncertain world, Canada is doing its part.

During the recent visit to Ukraine, Prime Minister Stephen Harper drew heavily on Canada’s foreign policy pillars: security within a stable global framework and projection of Canadian values.

Harper spoke in Kyiv, but his words were heard in Moscow and around the world. He called for the rule of law, respect for human rights and the importance of free media. He paid homage to victims of both Nazi and Communist regimes in this blood-soaked land with the message that admission of past atrocities is a deterrent to future genocides. His performance was statesman like, in the best Canadian tradition and one which virtually all Canadiansare proud to support.

It surprises that some would have him -- Canada-- silenced because such positions are “tailored to suit…Russia-phobe diaspora voting blocks in Canada.” Moreover, dismissing Canada’s concerns regarding Russia’s territorial claims in theArctic as being “…equivalent to bald men arguing over a comb” is perplexing given the suspected massive oil and gas reserves in the Arctic and Russia’s enhancement of its navy capacity by some 50 vessels and the new military budget by 650 billion dollars.

Of course, having Russia closer to Canada, NATO and other Western democracies is desirable and current convergences would be good news were they accompanied with democratization. The reality is different. Russia glorifies its bloody imperial and Soviet past and shows little progress in becoming a rule of law state. It remains a repeat offender, a danger the West dismisses at its peril.