James Traub has an interesting piece in the NYT about the current conflict between Russia and Georgia. But what’s up with this:
Georgia, with its open embrace of the West, thus represents a threat to the legitimacy of Russiaâ€™s authoritarian model. And this challenge is immensely compounded by Georgiaâ€™s fervent aspiration to join NATO, one of Russiaâ€™s red lines. Russian officials frequently recall that President Bill Clinton promised Boris Yeltsin that NATO would not expand beyond Eastern Europe. Of course NATO is no longer an anti-Soviet alliance, and the fact that Russia views NATOâ€™s eastward expansion as a threat to its security is a vivid sign of the deep-rooted cold war mentality of Mr. Putin and his circle.
And then later on this:
People of all political persuasion now seem to get it about Russia. In â€œThe Return of History and The End of Dreams,â€ Robert Kagan, the neoconservative foreign policy expert who is advising John McCain, writes of Mr. Putin and his coterie: â€œTheir grand ambition is to undo the post-cold war settlement and to re-establish Russia as a dominant power in Eurasia.â€ Michael McFaul, a Russia expert at Stanford who is advising Barack Obama, also views Russia as a premodern, sphere-of-influence power. He attributes Russiaâ€™s hostility to further NATO expansion less to geostrategic calculations than to what he says is Mr. Putinâ€™s cold war mentality. The essential Russian calculus, he says, is, â€œAnything we can do to weaken the U.S. is good for Russia.â€
Is a Russian leader being paranoid and stuck in the past if he fears the eastward expansion of a powerful rival military alliance, after a promise that it won’t happen? It is not at all clear to me that Russia should be sanguine about NATO’s expansion. Does Traub suppose that member nations of NATO will always have the purest intentions when they deal with Russia? Even with the purest intentions, NATO countries are bound to have conflicts with Russia over a number of issues. Is he sure that the fact that they belong to a powerful military alliance will have no influence over their policies? I have a very healthy loathing of Putin and everything he stands for, but I can’t take much pleasure about seeing his concern on this point so arrogantly dismissed.