• Strategy Session with National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Bulgaria

    On December 9, the Atlantic Council’s International Security Program hosted an off-the-record strategy session with Svetlin Yovchev, national security advisor to Boyko Borisov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria. He was previously head of Bulgaria’s State Agency for National Security and earlier he worked in the former National Security Service.

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  • What the Russian Duma Elections Could Mean for the Future

    Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party must feel embarrassed.
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  • No Russian Revolution, But Seeds of Opposition Growing

    The Russian parliamentary elections may not be the start of another Russian Revolution, but they do prove that something is rotten in the state of Russia, and the Russian people know it. What is to be done?
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  • Russia's Red Alert

    Russian President Dimitry Medvedev announced today that he would "immediately put the missile attack early warning radar station in Kaliningrad on combat alert" and take other aggressive steps to counter NATO's missile defense system.

    In an official statement reprinted on NATOSource, Medvedev claims this step was taken after NATO and the United States rebuffed repeated gestures from Moscow to cooperate. He asserts, "Rather than showing themselves willing to hear and understand our concerns over the European missile defence system at this stage, they simply repeat that these plans are not directed against Russia and that there is no point for us to be concerned. That is the position of the executive authorities, but legislators in some countries openly state, the whole system is against Russia."

    Seeing that NATO was going forward regardless of Russia's concerns, Medvedev announced several steps:

    First, I am instructing the Defence Ministry to immediately put the missile attack early warning radar station in Kaliningrad on combat alert.

    Second, protective cover of Russia’s strategic nuclear weapons will be reinforced as a priority measure under the programme to develop our air and space defences.

    Third, the new strategic ballistic missiles commissioned by the Strategic Missile Forces and the Navy will be equipped with advanced missile defence penetration systems and new highly-effective warheads.

    Fourth, I have instructed the Armed Forces to draw up measures for disabling missile defence system data and guidance systems if need be. These measures will be adequate, effective, and low-cost.

    Fifth, if the above measures prove insufficient, the Russian Federation will deploy modern offensive weapon systems in the west and south of the country, ensuring our ability to take out any part of the US missile defence system in Europe. One step in this process will be to deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad Region.

    Other measures to counter the European missile defence system will be drawn up and implemented as necessary.


    If the situation continues to develop not to Russia’s favour, we reserve the right to discontinue further disarmament and arms control measures.

    Medvedev's statement repeatedly expressed that this process is reversible but that "if we are asked to ‘cooperate’ or in fact act against our own interests it will be difficult to establish common ground. In such a case we would be forced to take a different response. We will decide our actions in accordance with the actual developments in events at each stage of the missile defence programme’s implementation."

    Barry Pavel,  Director-Designate of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council and former Senior Director for Defense Policy and Strategy on the National Security Council staff, declared on Twitter upon seeing the announcement that "NATO should ignore this." Later, he added, "This is about Russian domestic politics."

    Tomas Valasek of the Centre for European Reform tells Financial Times that , "Mr. Medvedev seems to be taking the debate on missile defence into the strategic realm of US-Russia arms control," adding, "Here, the prize is to get a follow-on deal to the Obama-Medvedev agreement of 2008. The chances of success here are already low and these comments may push them lower.”

    Thus far, Pavel's analysis seems to be shared by the White House and NATO. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says that he has "taken note" of Medvedev's statement and termed his actions "very disappointing." National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor declared, "We continue to believe that cooperation with Russia on missile defense can enhance the security of the United States, our allies in Europe and Russia, and we will continue to work with Russia to define the parameters of possible cooperation. However, in pursuing this cooperation, we will not in any way limit or change our deployment plans in Europe."

    I share my colleague's sense that Medvedev is playing to a domestic audience and that the United States and its NATO allies should not make policy decisions based on temper tantrums from Moscow. But that doesn't mean that the Russians aren't genuinely concerned about the changing balance of power represented by this missile plan. Indeed, our constant dismissal of their concerns only rubs their noses in the fact that we now view them more as a nuisance than a serious power.

    Medvedev's statement comes on the heels of Tuesday's announcement that the United States was ending cooperation with Russia under the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, after Moscow had long since fallen out of compliance. Asked directly yesterday whether this would impact ongoing efforts to work with Russia on missile defense, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declared, "we don't see a direct connection between the two: missile defense is missile defense, conventional arms control is conventional arms control."

    But this is rather an obtuse position. Indeed, linkage—the explicit tying together of various bilateral concerns to encourage cooperation on issues the United States cared about—was a cornerstone of American policy during the period of détente with the Soviets. Surely, the Russians see all matters of the security relationship with the United States and its NATO allies as intermingled.

    NATO can talk until it's blue in the face about how its missile defense program is aimed at unspecified rogue states (a not-so-secret code for "Iran") but the Russians naturally see a missile defense system based in countries within what they consider their sphere of interest a threat. After all, missiles are about all Moscow has to cling to as evidence that they're still a great power. For that matter, as FT notes, the fourth phase of NATO's Phased Adaptive Approach goes beyond the short- and medium-range missiles that would ostensibly be acquired by Iran to "deploy an interceptor capable of shooting down ICBMs, which form the bulk of Russia’s nuclear deterrent."

    So, I think we should take Medvedev seriously when he declares, "We will not agree to take part in a program that in a short while, in some 6 to 8 years’ time could weaken our nuclear deterrent capability. The European missile defense program is already underway and work on it is, regrettably, moving rapidly in Poland, Turkey, Romania, and Spain. We find ourselves facing a fait accompli." Those sound very much like the howls of a wounded bear. 

    James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. Photo credit: AFP/FT.

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  • Russian Stereotypes: A Flawed Analysis Resulting in Inadequate Policy Choices

    The relationship between Russia and NATO is in dire need of radical rethinking.  In the past two decades, the evolving security environment has provided opportunities for NATO and Russia to establish new levels of cooperation but diverging perceptions continue to cause the relationship to stagnate. 

    For the better part of the last decade, Western analysts and decision makers shaping the NATO-Russia relationship have relentlessly drawn on stereotypes of Russia to explain their inability to engage with Moscow. For their part, meanwhile, Russian analysts and decision makers have referred to their inability to promote Russian interests in the framework of the post-Cold War European security architecture.  Thus much of NATO-Russia relations continues to be a remnant of the Cold War, and these ties to the past regularly suppress creative thinking.

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  • Roundtable Discussion on US-Russia Relations with Dr. Sergey Rogov

    On November 18th, the Transatlantic Relations Program hosted a discussion with Dr. Sergey Rogov, director of the Institute for US and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences and a delegation from the Center for US-Russia Rapprochement.

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  • Transatlantic Approaches to Security in an Evolving Arctic

    On November 17, the Atlantic Council hosted a part-day conference on Arctic security. The event began with a word of welcome by Board Director Sherri Goodman, and an introduction by Ambassador Wegger Chr. Strommen of Norway, who stressed the importance of Arctic issues not only to Norway, but to the world. 

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  • Why Punishing Ukraine Only Hurts Reformers

    Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was recently sentenced to seven years in prison at the close of a corruption trial which was roundly condemned as highly political and deeply unfair. The verdict met with disapproval both abroad and in Ukraine, where protests have been stymied by government security forces.

    Vitali Klitscko, leader of the Democratic Alliance for Reform and world heavyweight boxing champion, has referred to the decision as “political hare-kiri”—and in terms of foreign policy, he may well be correct. If Yanukovych wishes to maintain Kyiv's recent trajectory out of post-Soviet space and into alignment with the West, the Tymoshenko verdict has made his goal that much harder. However, European and American policymakers would do well to remember that if Ukraine is denied a path westward, it will inevitably drift east.

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  • Vladimir, Fear the Arab Spring’s Message

    The protests sweeping the Middle East have revolved around economics and accountability. After decades of corrupt and stagnant rule, Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans and Syrians found themselves impoverished and no longer willing to acquiesce to dictatorship.

    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s announcement last month that he would seek a third presidential term raises the possibility that Russia, too, might experience protests in its future.

    When it comes to Putin’s strongman ambitions, American officials face the same conundrum that they did in the Middle East. Too often in the region diplomats preferred the stability of the known to the potential instability of the unknown. However, if Washington applies one lesson from the Middle East to other regions of the world, it should be that deferring pressure for reform brings not stability; rather, it promises far more instability down the road.

    This is particularly true of Putin. Absent meaningful reform, his corruption and cronyism will likely destabilize Russia.

    These debates should be front and center with regard to the future of U.S.-Russian relations. This is especially true as both Russia and the United States head into an election season, and as the U.S. Senate is about to confirm a new ambassador in Moscow, Michael McFaul.

    Russia may be closer to the civil unrest threshold than some diplomats acknowledge, and so might provide fertile ground for a “Russian Spring.” Recently, the deputy director of the Paris Institute for International and Strategic Relations, Didier Billion, was quoted in the French daily Le Monde as saying, “Russia and China, being far from true democracy, refer with anxiety to the ‘Arab Spring’ in general, since it can serve as the model for their own people.”

    Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote last June that Russians are “angry about rampant corruption at the highest levels.” He went on to observe that even a think tank close to Putin’s United Russia Party believed that the Russian government was suffering a “crisis of legitimacy.”

    The economic turmoil of the 1990s disillusioned Russians, who embraced Putin as he restored the order that they craved. But, like many Middle Eastern rulers, Putin failed to diversify the economy, delivering instead short-term growth due mainly to high oil prices. But luck favors no one indefinitely. According to former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, a fiscal conservative who advocated reforms and stepped down last month under pressure, a drop in oil prices to below $60 per barrel could cripple the economy, as the government bases its spending on a price of slightly over $100 per barrel.

    Unlike many Arab states, but like Iran, Russia faces a demographic problem. Low birth rates and an aging population will exacerbate budgetary problems. Putin will have trouble making pension payments as the work force declines in numbers. Compounding the problem, Russian productivity is at most 10 percent of that of the United States, according to Mikhail Prokhorov, the former leader of Russia’s increasingly pro-Putin Right Cause Party.

    While Putin still enjoys high popularity among the Russians, the future already looks uncertain. Recent travelers to Moscow and many Russia watchers have compared Putin to the late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, whose name is synonymous with zastoi, or stagnation. Brezhnev’s policies resulted in slow growth, poverty and severe shortages of food and basic goods, all of which contributed to the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.

    Just as the Arab world has faced a brain drain, young, talented and educated Russians are also considering leaving their homeland. A recent Levada Centre survey found that 22 percent of Russian adults would like to leave Russia permanently – the highest figure since the Soviet Union’s collapse and a more than threefold increase from four years ago. Their desire to leave has less to do with ideology than with frustration over Russia’s direction, and a lack of a future for them and their children. Russian oligarchs not only send their children to study in the West, they now prefer to remain there themselves.

    Russians traditionally weather misery but, like many Arabs, there is a limit even to their patience with corruption, poverty, high unemployment, and cuts in basic commodities. It is true that Russia differs in many respects with the countries of the Middle East. However, poor living conditions and lack of hope for a better future is ultimately what drives unrest, no matter where it takes place.

    Because Russia is now far more open than it was during the Soviet era, Russians have greater access to information, particularly through the Internet. It is no coincidence that Russia’s government is now talking about greater Internet censorship. This illustrates the concern of the authorities with the possibility of increased protests.

    As in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, such instability might bring good. But it could also unleash more brutal, xenophobic, and nationalist forces. Without a strong, sustained push for reform, a sequel to the “Arab Spring” farther north might not be so unrealistic.

    Anna Borshchevskaya is the assistant director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council. This commentary originally appeared in The Daily Star.

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  • A Smart EU Reponse to Yanukovych

    The turmoil that has gripped European-Ukrainian relations following the sentencing of Yulia Tymoshenko risks jeopardizing an important strategic relationship, and both sides stand to lose big from this fallout.

    Whether or not Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s former prime minister, is guilty, was given a fair trial or should be punished for her commercial interests and dealings while in office or beforehand is a separate issue. These are questions that Ukrainians will have to answer for themselves. It is primarily their responsibility and decision on how, if at all, they choose to deal with those who profited handsomely from the transition. This is the dark chapter of history that most post-Communist societies are grappling with.

    As for Europe, the Tymoshenko case brings forward a different set of challenges. Namely, is this a country that functions and lives by the same set of standards, principles and ideals as Europe?

    Obviously, Ukraine is not Sweden, and there is still a lot of work to be done before the reforms in Ukraine bring about institutional and practical changes that will make the country fit into that mold.

    But the EU, as a whole, is not Sweden either. It is a collection of many countries, each at different stages in terms of their reforms. Look at the stark differences between Sweden, Germany, Romania and Greece, for example. But all EU members are working toward a common goal: a functional, transparent, equal and fair, and law-abiding community. And therefore, the distance between the quality of institutions in Ukraine and in some new EU members is not so large.

    The right thing for the EU to do at this stage is to look into the legal system in Ukraine and assess whether it is functional, free and fair, and whether the legal reforms pursued by the government in Kiev are in accordance with European standards. An opinion on this should be based on objective criteria, and it is Europe’s right to have this opinion.

    But pointing fingers in the direction of the current government, calling them thugs and, more problematically, isolating President Viktor Yanukovych is not smart politics on the part of the EU. It does nothing to ensure our strategic interests with regards to Ukraine are protected. Cornering the current leadership will only ensure that Ukraine turns its back on Europe and falls further into the Russian embrace.

    This is not in anyone’s interests, except perhaps Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s, who is keen on making Kiev more dependent on Moscow.

    Europe’s strategic interests with regards to Ukraine have not changed overnight. And the Tymoshenko case does nothing to undo the fact that Ukraine is a country through which the bulk of Russia’s gas is sold to Europe. Ukraine has massive agricultural potential — one that is rich in raw materials and minerals and is a huge and still-untapped market for European companies to profit from.

    Instability in Ukraine is a major risk for Europe from the perspective of soft security. From illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking to proliferation of illegal weapons, these are not matters to be taken lightly, and they are certainly issues that bind Ukraine and Europe in a strategic partnership.

    Europe is by no means better off if Ukraine becomes a criminal state. The border between Europe and Ukraine is large and would be difficult to protect against illegal trading in human beings, or substances like drugs and weapons.

    The cost of losing Europe would be equally devastating for Ukraine. The path of reforms would likely stall. Ukrainian industry would lose access to the world’s richest and biggest market. Likewise, Ukraine’s citizens would lose the European dream. The potential for a social crisis is large and would impair the nation’s path toward progress and prosperity. If the economy continues to stall or drop, Ukraine will likely fall further into the Russian sphere of influence, and its reforms would crumble under the spell of Putin’s economic paradigm.

    It is time for sobriety and clearheaded strategic thinking on both sides. Ukraine and Europe should hold an emergency summit, where they can openly discuss the Tymoshenko case, come to common resolutions and positions — and move on to larger issues.

    The more relevant question, which the summit should address, is how to keep Ukraine and Europe on the path of convergence and work toward the ultimate common end result — a Ukraine fully integrated into the EU.

    Borut Grgic is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and founder of the Trans-Caspian Project. This piece originally appeared in The Moscow Times.

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