The dawn of a new year has brought a renewed focus on Russia and on U.S.-Russia relations—and on some sharply acerbic divisions.
The aftermath of the Russian parliamentary elections and the ensuing demonstrations in the streets of Moscow and other cities; the looming Presidential elections in Russia in March; the appointment of Michael McFaul, the architect of the vaunted "reset" policy as ambassador in Moscow; and sundry reflections on the 20 years since the fall of the Soviet Union—these and other issues have kept Russia in the forefront of the foreign policy debate.
At the same time, we are accustomed to seeing a pattern of ebb and flow when it comes to Russia and Russia policy. It has been our consistent position at the Carnegie Council that, for a host of reasons, the relationship with Russia endures as one of the most critical for the United States. Among these reasons are:
 The nuclear question: the United States and Russia, New START notwithstanding, still possess more than 90 percent of the world's strategic nuclear warheads, along with the lion's share of tactical nukes, which remain largely unconstrained by any treaty;
 The matter of trade and commerce: Despite Russia's recent accession to WTO, it is still subject to the anomalous and anachronistic Jackson-Vanik amendment (see Jackson-Vanik: Time for Reconsideration? and Jackson-Vanik: A Bridge to the 20th Century) which, if not removed from the books, could put the United States at a disadvantage in trading with a growing Russian market, and could indeed put us in violation of our WTO obligations; and
 The plain fact of Russia's strategic global position: from a greater Middle East to North Korea, Russia borders virtually every trouble spot on the planet, thus suggesting that a cooperative U.S.-Russia spirit is preferable to that of confrontation.
In a febrile Presidential campaign environment in the United States, Russia policy may be fueled more by heat than by light, more by electioneering rhetoric than informed analysis. We therefore launch today a regular, biweekly Russia Bulletin, the content and approach of which will be shaped by events, but which will contain some reflections on news items of note, some attempt at analysis, and some reference to ongoing and useful research being conducted elsewhere. We shall also, on occasion, take a look at the foundation community, and at what is being funded by way of research or NGO activity in or concerning Russia.
In each Russia Bulletin we shall take a look at one of the critical holdover issues that continue to strain the bilateral relationship. And in this first bulletin, we consider the aftermath of the parliamentary elections, the ensuing Moscow demonstrations, and the various charges and counter-charges as to what and who are behind them.
Divisions that Keep on Dividing: Missile Defense
"Reset" ambitions notwithstanding, 2011 was not a good year for U.S.-Russia relations. As recently as December 30, 2011, the influential Nezavisimaya Gazeta offered this bleak summary in an editorial piece:
"The whole year saw a deterioration of our relations with the West as a whole and with the United States in particular. The problem of missile defenses—a potentially ruinous one for the economy—so far has no 'road maps' to help the opponents to move toward one another."1
The prioritizing of missile defense (MD) as the cause that divides, and the choice of the term "opponent" are significant. The mutual intransigence on MD is clear, and compromise unlikely. At the NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels in early December the rhetoric was stark: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated the Russian threat to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad in retaliation for a proposed, U.S.-urged NATO MD shield in Europe or Turkey that would threaten Russia; NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen scoffed at the Russian threat as a "waste of valuable money against an artificial enemy."2
While the S-G's concern for Russia's economic wellbeing may be sincere, so to are Russia's fundamental concerns as to the value of the entire NATO-Russia dialogue: "We would like our intellectual abilities and our military expertise, which also exists, to be treated with respect when we are called for cooperation," said Lavrov in Brussels.3 The key word here is "cooperation:" for Russia, the NATO-Russia process is increasingly seen as a fig leaf for NATO's intent to move ahead with its MD agenda. In this regard, it is interesting to compare Lavrov's articulation of the Russian position with a statement by former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev—no friend of the current administration in Moscow that Lavrov represents:
"During the period following the breakup of the Soviet Union, the United States and the European Union kept relations with Russia in a state of uncertainty. On the one hand, there were numerous declarations of cooperation, even strategic partnership. On the other hand, post-Soviet Russia was not given a hand in resolving key problems, and obstacles were put in the way of its integration into the European and global economy. It seems that while being given occasional pats on the back, Russia is still being treated as an outsider, not as a serious and constructive force in world affairs."4 [My emphasis]
From Russia's standpoint, what is to be made of the avowal of the new ambassador to Moscow (and the aforementioned architect of "reset") Michael McFaul, in his swearing in ceremony on January 11?
"We do not intend to sign any legally binding agreements that could in any way limit our missile defense system."5
Pretty categorical—as was the announcement on January 4 by Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces (RSVN) that some dozen intercontinental ballistic missile test launches are planned for this year, the majority of which are "under experimental programs to test new missiles and improve existing ones with a view to piercing missile defense systems."6
Back to the Cold War future? The point is that if the United States and NATO are sincere in their stated intent to engage Russia in a serious discussion of missile defenses (which would include Putin's on-the-table offer of exploration of a joint system) the dialogue must go beyond just inviting Russia to meetings—as Rasmussen proposed for the upcoming NATO session in Chicago. From Russia's point of view (if one may be allowed a mixed metaphor) this would be kicking the can a little further down a dead-end street.
The Election Aftermath
There was barely disguised schadenfreude in the United States and the Western media in general over the results of the December 4, 2011 Duma elections, which saw a significant erosion of support for the government-supporting United Russia; the popular vote for the Medvedev/Putin-leaning party fell from 64 percent to just under 50 percent. In addition, the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invoked a preliminary Office of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) election monitoring report to express "serious concerns about the conduct of the elections," alleging such voting fraud tactics as ballot box stuffing.
In this context, it should be remembered that, according to a Congressional Research report of December 13, 2011, "the [Obama] administration reportedly [provided] about $9 million in U.S. assistance …..over several months for voter education and other nonpartisan efforts to enhance the electoral environment." [sic]7
The primary vehicle for this support is the independent election monitor Golos, or "Voice" in Russian. While many new reports suggested that Golos was established in some form of preemptive mode for the December elections, the organization was in fact established more than a decade ago, in April 2000. From the very beginning, it has received support from USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) of the U.S. government, as well as much more substantial financial underwriting from various agencies of the European Union.8
Golos is also a member of the 140-member Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM), which is also funded by NED and USAID.
According to a USAID news release, "In its first decade, Golos has successfully monitored three federal and over 100 regional campaigns in 50 different Russian regions. Golos also trained more than 25,000 election observers and participated in 15 OSCE observation missions abroad."9
It is this backdrop that must be taken into account when one considers the heated rhetoric following the December Duma elections. From Secretary Clinton: "'proud' of Golos and other Russians who tried to bring about a free and fair and credible election."10
From Prime Minister Putin: "Judas [Golos] isn't the most respected biblical character among our people. [Foreign governments] should direct money toward paying down their own state debt and end this costly and ineffective foreign policy."11
However one may come down on the matter of an organization of Golos's stripe, the critical point is that, for Putin and for many Russians (opposition groups of course see it differently) this organization is an actual policy instrument interfering in Russian business. It is also interesting to note—again regardless of the merits of the case for or against Golos—that, according to the December 15 Moscow Times article, Golos
"is now even thinking about giving up foreign money altogether. The controversy has raised its profile in Russia, and it has started receiving donations ranging from $20 to $100."
We shall in future bulletins explore in more detail the money trail for Golos from the West, from both public and private (foundation) sources. But, in general, the matter of Golos raises the question: What would the reaction in the United States be if a Moscow-funded NGO were at work across this country monitoring elections in, let us say, Palm Beach County, Florida?
Some final thoughts on elections and the portents of the December vote for the Presidential choice in March:
- Barring some unforeseen reversal of fortune, Vladimir Putin will be reelected. While sobering—as Putin himself acknowledged—the December elections might in a sense be seen in the same way as the mid-term elections in the United States, in which incumbents rarely do well.
- Can we think of a few Western political leaders who might welcome a 49 percent approval rate right now?
- Of Mr. Prokhorov, and the allegation that he is a stalking horse for Putin: one recalls the same conspiracy theory being floated for candidates named Perot and Nader.
- If Putin is not victorious, the victor will not be some color-revolution liberal—a Nemtsov, a Yavlinsky—to be feted by the West, but either a resurgent Communist Party or—highly unlikely—some parvenu like Alexei Navalny, whom Nezavisimaya Gazeta recently described as "the hard-boiled anti-corruption crusader turned ultranationalist rabble rouser."
To quote the old adage, let us be careful what we wish for.
1 Remchukov, Konstantin. "In 2011 Politics Returned to Russia." Nezavisimaya Gazeta (Moscow), December 30, 2011.
2 Odynova, Alexandra. "Lavrov and Rogozin Rap NATO Missile Shield ." Moscow Times, December 9, 2011. http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/lavrov-and-rogozin-rap-nato-missile-shield/449543.html (accessed January 11, 2012).
4 Gorbachev, Mikhail. "Is the World Really Safer Without the Soviet Union?" The Nation, December 21, 2011. http://www.thenation.com/article/165317/world-really-safer-without-soviet-union (accessed January 11, 2012).
5 Gabuev, Aleksandr, and Polina Eremenko. "Michael McFaul Sends an Undiplomatic Message." Kommersant (Moscow), October 14, 2011. http://missiledefense.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/michael-mcfaul-sends-an-undiplomatic-message/ (accessed January 11, 2012). (originally from RT.com)
6 ITAR-TASS. "Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces plan 11 ICBM launches in 2012." ITAR-TASS (Moscow), January 4, 2012. http://www.itar-tass.com/en/c154/311063_print.html (accessed January 11, 2011).
8 Meyer, Henry. "Western-Funded Russian Vote Watchdog Complains of Pressure." Bloomberg (New York), December 2, 2011. http://mobile.bloomberg.com/news/2011-12-02/western-funded-russian-election-watchdog-expects-official-ban (accessed January 11, 2012).
9 United States Agency for International Development. "Golos Celebrates its 10th Anniversary." USAID. http://russia.usaid.gov/publications/news/20100426/Golos10/ (accessed January 11, 2012).
10 Nichol. CRS Report.
11 Meyer. "Western-Funded Russian Vote Watchdog Complains of Pressure." Bloomberg.