There’s a game played in Washington and in many of the capitals of Western Europe that centers around drawing a big distinction between Vladimir Putin, the former president, now prime minister of Russia, and his presidential successor, Dmitry Medvedev: Putin, we now concede, is something of a ruthless thug, but Medvedev is an animal of a different stripe. Medvedev is, we are told, someone who knows what truly ails Russia and, if not exactly a Western-style liberal, he is someone we should be working with to stop the slide in relations with Moscow and the deterioration in Russian civil liberties.
So far, drawing that distinction has not borne much fruit. On Medvedev’s watch, Russia has invaded Georgia, kept up the pressure on neighboring states to fall within the Russian security and economic orbit, and done little to make Russian democrats and critics of the current regime feel any less likely to suffer vengeance from the state or its mafia.
Now, the latest: after a year or so of suggesting that a new security architecture for Europe and Russia was in order, Medvedev finally offered up a draft treaty over the weekend designed, he hoped, to put “the Cold War … behind us.” Well, in some respects, the proposed treaty does put the Cold War behind us. Unfortunately, it resurrects an “imperial” Russia to take its place.
The core principle in the draft accord is that those who sign onto the treaty—presumably all the nations of Europe and the countries on Russia’s western borders—would undertake no activities “affecting significantly the security of any other party,” nor would any state or alliance take any measures without “due regard to the security interests of all other parties.” Left undefined is what “significantly” might mean, along with “security” and “security interests” of other parties. But the thrust of the treaty is clear enough: expanding NATO should be out; expanding NATO’s defensive capabilities with its member states in the east of Europe should be out; providing assistance and advice to democratic states on Russia’s borders should stop; and, implicitly, Russia should have a veto over what others (including the United States and the European Union) do when it comes to foreign and defense policies in what it considers to be its near abroad.
In his first major speech after becoming NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rassmussen, the former Danish prime minster, called for a “new beginning” with Russia and said “We must all aim for a Euro-Atlantic security architecture in which Russia sees herself reflected.” Well, we now have Medvedev’s vision of how Russia wants to see itself reflected in that architecture. It’s not a pretty picture.