Skip to comments.Departing Putin seeks to stop NATO gains
Posted on 03/31/2008 2:51:26 PM PDT by NormsRevenge
MOSCOW - This week's NATO summit in Romania will be Vladimir Putin's last appearance at a top-level international forum before he steps down as Russian president, still pushing to halt NATO's expansion into the stomping grounds of the former Soviet Union.
The Kremlin realizes it doesn't have the power to force the West to reverse its recognition of Kosovo's independence or persuade Washington to drop its plan to deploy missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic.
But Putin has had notable success in blocking NATO membership for its former Soviet neighbors Ukraine and Georgia.
"Georgia's accession into NATO will be seen here as an attempt to trigger a war in the Caucasus, and NATO membership for Ukraine will be interpreted as an effort to foment a conflict with Russia," said Sergei Markov, a Russian parliament member with close links to the Kremlin.
Amid a litany of such threats from Moscow, some NATO members are reluctant to inflame tensions at the three-day summit that begins Wednesday in Bucharest.
On Monday, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said admitting the two countries to NATO was "not a matter of whether, but when." However, he said the launch of the membership process might be delayed at this week's gathering.
NATO decisions are made by consensus, and there is no hiding the divisions over whether to put Ukraine and Georgia formally on the road to membership. While Washington and new NATO members in central and eastern Europe strongly support it, Germany and some European partners are opposed.
Last week diplomats at NATO headquarters, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the summit would likely produce a statement of support for the Ukrainian and Georgian bids and an offer of increased cooperation, but no more than that.
"Many alliance members would prefer to avoid a move which would badly damage relations with Russia," said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs.
The fact that Putin is attending the summit of former Cold War enemies is a powerful image of a world transformed. He is not going to sit in on the discussions, but to join the alliance leaders for brief talks about Russia-NATO relations on the last day, assuming it is clear by then that the Ukrainian and Georgian membership bids have been shelved.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Kremlin has watched in frustration as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has spread to Russia's borders by taking in three former Soviet republics and six former satellite countries.
For both historical and strategic reasons, membership for Ukraine and Georgia provoke the strongest resistance.
Putin has responded to Western policies by resuming strategic bomber patrols, sending a naval squadron into the Mediterranean in the most ambitious deployment since the Cold War, and warning that Russia might point its nuclear missiles at Ukraine if it joins NATO and hosts a missile defense system.
Ukraine is deeply divided, with its western regions backing NATO membership and the Russian-speaking east and south fiercely opposing it.
"We aren't going to just sit down and watch our people being dragged into NATO like slaves," said Markov, the Russian legislator.
Georgia's bid, meanwhile, is undermined by unresolved conflicts in two breakaway provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow has developed close ties with both, and Russia's Kremlin-controlled parliament has called for "speeding up" sovereignty for the secessionists if Georgia's NATO bid goes forward.
"If Georgia joins NATO, Abkhazia and South Ossetia will come to Russia's doorstep, pleading to save them from NATO," said Alexander Konovalov, head of the Moscow-based Institute for Strategic Assessment. "Russia will be forced to recognize their independence, even though it doesn't want to do so."
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov left Russia's tactical position unclear Monday. "We cannot ignore the opinion of the parliament" on the separatist regions, he said, but "President Putin has stated numerous times that he stands for the territorial integrity of Georgia."
The Kremlin's defiance is encouraged by eight years of Russia's oil-driven economic boom that filled government coffers with petrodollars.
Putin says newly elected President Dmitry Medvedev, whom he will serve as prime minister, will be no less firm about defending Russia's national interests. Medvedev spoke strongly against NATO's expansion to Russia's borders in a recent interview.
Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy head of the USA and Canada Institute, a Moscow-based think tank, said that if NATO keeps its hands off Georgia and Ukraine, Putin will likely be more cooperative in his last five weeks as president and offer to boost cooperation with the alliance.
There are also hopes for easing the dispute over missile defense.
U.S. officials have proposed allowing Moscow to closely monitor the prospective missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, and after the summit Bush will visit Putin at his Black Sea residence in Sochi in hopes of resolving the dispute.
But Lukyanov doubts Russia will give ground until the Bush administration is gone.
Natalya Vitrenko, who heads an anti-American party, left, burns a NATO flag while rallying in front of U.S. Embassy to protest U.S. President George W. Bush's visit and Ukraine's efforts to join NATO, in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, March 31, 2008. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Anyone who thinks that the communist USSR went away is living a lie. The future will show that only the name went away.
Bush seeks to salvage legacy at NATO, Putin summits (No bias here, no sir.)
Reuters on Yahoo | 3/31/08 | Matt Spetalnick
Posted on 03/31/2008 5:47:34 PM EDT by NormsRevenge
Departing Putin seeks to stop NATO gains.
Btw, where is he going?