|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Putin Gives Merkel Image of a Strengthened Russia
March 10 (EIRNS)German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on March 8. Far from being "demobilized" on presenting Russia's interests, Putin told his guest that he was aware that many in the West were glad he would be out of office soon, but he warned that dealing with newly-elected President Dmitri Medvedev might be different for them, but "not easier, since he is also a Russian patriot." Russia would always insist that its genuine interests be respected, but that ought not necessarily lead to conflicts with the West, if the West remained cooperative.
As Merkel confirmed to journalists afterward, Putin made clear that a number of important disputes that Russia presently has with NATO and the West will remain on the agenda, unless satisfactorily solved in the view of the Russians: disputes over the independence of Kosovo, and over EU/NATO expansion into Ukraine and Georgia, for example. Putin said that these two states are free to decide, but that the decision on joining NATO were too important to have it as just a government decision without a referendum. If the Ukrainian and Georgian people voted in favor of NATO, Russia would accept it. Putin also said that Russia would accept an independence solution for Kosovo, if it were in line with international law and with Serbia's consent.
In the context of Merkel's visit, senior Russian diplomats pointed out the level of good bilateral relations and emphasized commitment to improve them, but there were also reminders of certain contentious aspects. Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin, said in an interview with Germany's Der Spiegel magazine (published March 10): "The Germans and the Russians see many things similarly. In contrast to the U.S., we have experienced war on our soil, and we know that we jointly bear a large responsibility."
In an interview with Novosti information agency March 6, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin talked about the "constructive character of Russian-German relations," at the core of which was "the mindset of seeking collective answers to security challenges," and "the commonality of history, and the cultural/psychological compatibility of Russians and Germans in an integrating Europe." But he also noted areas overshadowed by disputes between Russia and the West, like relations between EU and NATO, and the Balkans, among others.
Kamynin mentioned a upcoming meeting in Berlin of the bilateral High-Level Strategic Group on Economic and Financial Cooperation. Merkel and Putin agreed that the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline project should go ahead as planned.
Germany Opposes Rapid Eastward NATO Expansion
March 11 (EIRNS)In spite of different views on other issues, Chancellor Merkel and her Russian hosts in Moscow March 8 did agree on rejection of some of the most aggressive NATO expansion plans. At a Bundeswehr Commanders meeting in Berlin March 10, Merkel said that Ukraine and Georgia were "countries themselves entangled in regional or domestic conflicts, which, in my view, cannot be members of NATO." Merkel said a country should only be a member of NATO, "if it also has qualitative support of that NATO membership among its population and not just support by its present political leadership." She added "we are an alliance for the protection of our security, rather than an alliance in which individual members are maybe still absorbed with their domestic security."
Merkel's remarks are similar to those by senior Russian officials: Putin at his joint press conference with Merkel; and a high-profile interview given to Der Spiegel by Russia's NATO ambassador Dmitri Rogozin. Rogozin warned against admitting Georgia and Ukraine to the Western military bloc, which is on the table for the upcoming NATO summit April 22 in Bucharest. Rogozin said, to "push Georgia into the Western alliance, is a provocation, which can lead to bloodshed." This would be "the end of Georgia as a sovereign state," because it would lose its provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia in this case.
As for Ukraine, Rogozin said that a majority of the population does not want to enter NATO. The country would be split, and that would destabilize Europe. Rogozin again attacked U.S. plans for stationing missile defense in Eastern Europe, warning that Russia would then position its nuclear missiles to reach relevant targets in both countries. But, addressing a Konrad Adenauer Foundation seminar in Berlin on March 5, on the topic "On the Eve of the NATO Summit: Prospects and Scope of Eastward Expansion," Rogozin said that Moscow still hopes for a positive answer from the United States to President Putin's proposal for Russia-NATO cooperation on missile defense.
Speaking to Der Spiegel, Rogozin announced that Russia would submit at the upcoming NATO summit, offers of a series of "very important agreements" with the Western partners, to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan and contribute to the reconstruction of the country. One of the Western countries Rogozin meant was certainly Germany. At the aforesaid Bundeswehr meeting, Merkel insisted that German deployments to Afghanistan stay limited to the non-combat zone in the north, and she added that out-of-area deployments of the German armed forces must always be based on a broad political consent in Germany. A broad majority of Germans rejects an expanded mandate in Afghanistan, however.
Russia Said To Have Plan To Solve Stalemated Conflicts
March 15 (EIRNS)At the April 2-4 Bucharest NATO summit, according to press reports in Russia and France, Russian President Vladimir Putin, attending as an observer, will make a broad initiative aimed at solving the stalemated conflicts over autonomous regions in Moldova and Georgia. Through this initiative, Putin evidently seeks to avoid the trap of a region-wide outbreak of separatism, into which it could fall following Kosovo's declaration of independence.
Le Monde of Paris March 14 wrote that Russia is currently promoting a model for resolving these conflicts, for Transdniestria, the heavily Russian-populated enclave that in the early 1990s declared independence from Moldova, formerly the Soviet Republic of Moldavia. "The rebel region would rejoin Moldova," reported Le Monde, and in exchange for this, Moldova "should commit itself not to join NATO." This scenario was also published in the Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta in February.
Putin presented the proposal to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, on the sidelines of the Feb. 21 summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States, comprised of former Soviet republics (CIS), reported Le Monde. He apparently got a favorable response. Voronin told the Russian daily Kommersant on March 11: "Nobody is saying that European integration must go necessarily through NATO."
This plan proposes a great deal of autonomy for Transdniestria within Moldova, in exchange for Moldova's declaring a status of "permanent neutrality" which should be recognized by Russia, Ukraine, the United States, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Moldova would then quit GUUAM, an organization created nine years ago by Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova to counter Russian influence on its periphery.
To get his plan adopted in Transdniestria, Putin is evidently working with the president of the Transdniestrian parliament, Yevgeni Shevchuk, whose Renewal Party has signed a cooperation agreement with United Russia, the Russian political party whose slate Putin headed in last year's Duma elections, according to Le Monde. The purpose of this collaboration would be to outflank President Igor Smirnov, who led the break with Moldova, and is a spokesman for an old "Soviet" patriotic faction in Russia, but "has lost his aura in Moscow."