Does Kremlin anger over US plans to site anti-missile
facilities close to its borders reflect genuine Russian
America keeps saying its anti-missile system will not target
Russia and to suggest otherwise would be absurd because Russia can
overcome it. Well, Russia could overcome it today but what about in
15 years’ time, when it is not just two facilities but a global
Russia would have nothing to fear if it was just the
anti-missile base in Poland and the radar site in the Czech
Republic but if the idea of a global anti-missile system becomes a
reality, the nuclear capability of Russia, China and other
countries will be undermined.
So when the Americans say they are not targeting Russia, they
are right, but when Russian generals say that the US is targeting
Russia, they are also right. It is two sides of the same coin.
When [Russian President Vladimir] Putin criticises the US
aggressively over its anti-missile system plans, I can imagine the
faces of China’s leaders, sitting quietly in Beijing and happily
nodding approval because Putin is fighting for them against a
system none of them want. Putin reflects the views of all those who
are not US allies.
Were the US planning to build its facilities in Turkey or Italy,
I think the Russian reaction would have been slightly more
restrained but still negative.
The only Russian electioneering [ahead of the parliamentary
ballot in December and presidential vote in March 2008] going on
here is in the tough style and manner the Kremlin is using.
Not that Putin really needs it — our society could not be more
politically consolidated if it tried and everyone backs the
president and whoever he puts forward to replace him. Nonetheless,
the authorities are always happy to have an extra bit of
But I do not think the stance on the anti-missile system depends
on elections. The rhetoric may change but Russia will continue to
view it as a threat.
Let down by Bush
Countries can cooperate on strategic security only if they trust
each other and where anti-missile systems and national security are
concerned, the trust has to be very high indeed.
Just now, it would be absurd to talk about such trust between
Russia and the US.
Theoretically, it was possible five or six years ago, when
Russia and the US were united against terrorism, but the trust
gradually disappeared and Russia believes that it has been cheated
by the US.
In Putin’s eyes, Russia has done a great deal for the West and
America. Putin removed the military base from Vietnam, he shut down
the radar station in Cuba, he did not stand in the way of the US
opening bases in Central Asia.
The US believes that Russia had no choice and that it was in
Russian interests anyway but Russia believes that all it got for
its efforts was the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the dispute with
Georgia, Nato expansion and now these anti-missile sites.
Putin’s sharp words today come down to his deep sense of
disappointment in the US. He feels misused.
Stumping the EU
I can understand how people see this dispute in terms of New
Russian arrogance and resurgent Russian imperialism but that is a
very facile interpretation.
If we are talking about projecting power here, just look at
Poland, for example, which has become the lead EU state in all
things regarding Russia and determines how relations with us are
All the politicians I have spoken to privately in the EU — and I
do meet a lot of them — have told me they do not support the
anti-missile system. They all say it is a perfectly useless thing
that nobody needs.
And many of the people I have talked to in private have told me
they believe the anti-missile system is a US tactic to prevent the
EU from becoming an independent player in foreign policy.
In my view, the anti-missile system plan spells the end of any
attempt to have a common security policy in Europe because East
European countries, for very understandable reasons, do not trust
Western Europe to look after their security. They believe that
America will defend them.
So you can blame everything on Russia, and sadly Russia does
much to encourage that position, but the situation really is much
All former empires, especially the big ones like France and
Britain, have gone through the same difficult process.
For Russia it is even harder because it never regarded Ukraine,
Belarus and Kazakhstan as colonies but as natural parts of our
The USSR’s imperialism was based on ideology and confrontation
with another side. A Cold War is not possible now because it would
mean dividing the world in two.
We might be wrestling with the US or EU but there would be
enormous countries on the sidelines, enjoying the spectacle. I mean
China, Iran and India, to some extent.
It would be a lose-lose, not win-win, situation because the
winners would be China and the others.
Of course, Russia wants to be a great power again but not a
It wants to be a member of the club which sets the rules and
wants to review the rules which were drawn up when it was weak.
Russia’s world view today is mainly through the prism of
economic interests. It perceives the outside world as an enormous
market where every country competes for a share.
It is a young and terribly aggressive, ruthless, unceremonious
kind of capitalism but it is guided by profit.