|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Lavrov Invokes FDR in Speech on Russian-American Relations
Addressing the Los Angeles World Affairs Council Sept. 26 on the topic of "Russia and the U.S.: Between Past and Future," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recalled the anti-fascist alliance during World War II as a better framework, than today's constant sparring. "According to a number of Russian historians," said Lavrov, "the tough confrontation between our countries in the 20th Century subsided at least twice, due to awareness of the common nature of our interests, and the general direction of development of our two countries. The first time occurred in the 1930s and early 1940s in connection with the processes of the formation of the [Soviet] state, and the fight against a common deadly enemy. This period was symbolized by the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The second time it happened in the 1960s and early 1970s, on the basis of the 'advanced industrial society' and a renewed closeness of interests in maintaining international stability."
In the speech as a whole, Lavrov presented the image of a Russia which has become more pragmatic and self-conscious since the end of the Cold War, and wants to be viewed as an equal partner rather than as a challenge. A central pillar of Russia's foreign policy is Russian-American relations, which, according to Lavrov, if developed positively, will have a beneficial effect for the world as a whole. "When Russia and the United States succeed in working together, they manage as a rule, to generate viable solutions. We would like to see this practice of working together prevail in our relations with the American partners."
The unique role which Russia can play in world affairs Lavrov sees as connected to the historical tradition of Russia, which "has always lived at the crossroads of civilizations. For centuries, their coexistence in harmony and mutual influence were essential for our survival. Hence, the unique role that we could play in maintaining harmony between civilizations of this world, threatened not only by terrorists and extremists of all stripes, but also by ideology-driven approaches to the world affairs. Indeed, any political thought may mutate towards extremism. Political scientists do not exclude an emergence of liberal fundamentalism."
An example of such "fundamentalism," Lavrov said, is the rhetoric used by people like Dick Cheney, who in his speech in Vilnius (May 4) spoke about the establishment of a community of "sovereign democracies" in the region between the Baltic and Black Seas. Lavrov used the explicit reference to Cheney to underline that Russia, while being in favor of sovereign democracy, would want to develop this without "external interference." And that not every country mentioned by the U.S. Vice President, "is ready for that or can afford it."
The foreign minister noted that Russia's autonomy in its foreign affairs has become a complicating factor in U.S.-Russian relations. He hopes, however, that people will prevail in the United States, who understand that "the interest of the United States lies in having a strong, capable, and independent Russia, which is a partner."
Georgia-Russia Crisis Escalates
Tensions between Tbilisi and Moscow exploded with ferocious accusations and protests, after Georgian authorities Sept. 27 arrested four officers of the Group of Russian Troops in the Transcaucasus (GRTT). The three lieutenant colonels and one captain, two of them arrested in Tbilisi and two in Batumi, are accused of espionage. Russian TV reports that the GRTT staff building in Tbilisi has been surrounded by Georgian internal troops, presumably because a fifth targetted Russian officer is inside.
The Russian Foreign Ministry immediately demanded the release of the officers, charging the Georgian leadership with "constant provocations." On Sept. 28, Moscow recalled its ambassador from Tbilisi for consultations, announced plans to evacuate GRTT staff and their families for their own safety, and advised Russian citizens not to travel to Georgia. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, speaking at the Russia-NATO Council meeting in Slovenia, accused Georgia of practicing "banditry at the level of the state," with actions that were "completely wild and hysterical." Foreign Minister Lavrov said there was a basis to bring Georgia's "anti-Russian policy" before the UN Security Council.
Lavrov situated the latest events in the context of the Saakashvili government's push for closer ties with NATO. At a NATO meeting on Sept. 21, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer announced that the organization is set for "a more intensified dialogue" with Georgia. On Sept. 22, angry statements about South Ossetia passed between Georgia and Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry accused Georgia of dilatory tactics in the Joint Control Commission on South Ossetia, while President Saakashvili accused Moscow of seeking to annex South Ossetia and Abkhazia through "gangster occupation" of the autonomous districts. Today, Russian state TV showed an Abkhazian official, who charged Tbilisi with staging provocations in order to drive Russian peacekeepers out of the country, clearing the way for full integration with NATO.