July 12, 2016 –
By Eduard Popov for Fort Russ
Translated by J. Arnoldski
From July 14th to 15th, US Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Moscow. This is already the fourth visit to Russia since May by the head of the foreign policy department of the US. In this case, however, the frequency of visits does not mean that the two countries enjoy trustworthy relations. On the contrary, they have rarely ever been so bad as now.
It is hardly a coincidence that John Kerry’s visit comes on the heels of the NATO summit in Warsaw. A new foreign policy situation or, perhaps, even a new geopolitical situation was pronounced at this event. For the first time, Russia was not called a “partner” by the leadership of the North Atlantic Alliance. As NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg stated, relations with Moscow will be based on “defense and dialogue.” Of course, this is better for both Russia and NATO than war. But this statement is nonetheless quite frankly harsh, especially in light of the strained relations between Russia and the Alliance. NATO’s frequent military exercises and the construction of military infrastructure along Russia’s borders found their conceptual expression in Stoltenberg’s words.
US President Barack Obama, however, surpassed even the NATO general secretary in terms of harsh expressions and categorial (absurd) assessments. In Obama’s words uttered at the summit of the alliance in Warsaw, “Russia has violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, an independent European country, and is taking provocative actions against NATO member countries.” The American president named terrorism and the migration crisis as the other two threats. In fact, Russia was practically put on par with ISIS. Not surprisingly, Obama endorsed the decision of the organization to increase support for Ukraine.
The Stoltenberg and Obama duet essentially gave a new “Iron Curtain speech” officially opening the new “Cold War” against Russia with the risk of it becoming a hot one. Regular dangerous situations at sea and in the air with the involvement of US and NATO forces on the one hand, and Russian units on the other could result in an unexpected collision or even deliberate provocation. The risk increases due to the fact that the US and NATO have already conceptually rearmed themselves and are in a state of war (so far a cold one) with Russia. Thus, even an accidental collision by aircraft or sea vessels will be interpreted in the context of war, not peace. They are preparing the role of “aggressor” for Russia in advance.
For example, an accidental collision between Russian and American planes in the sky over Syria would be interpreted by the US and NATO not as a tragic accident, but as a natural consequence of “the Russians’ aggressive policies.” A similar incident could happen anywhere else: in the sky over the Baltic or Black seas or along the borders of the Baltic states and Russia, etc. The growing intensity of NATO’s military aviation flights and Russian military aviation exercises are not only exacerbating mutual distrust, but also increasing the chances of a tragic accident. German Foreign Minister Steinmeier perfectly understood this when he called for the alliance “not to be saber-rattlers” and not “annoy the Russians on the perimeter of their own borders.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry has fully assessed the words of Obama and Stoltenberg. On July 11th, one of the departments of the ministry issued a comment on John Kerry’s upcoming visit. It reads: “The situation in Russian-American relations remains difficult. They have seriously suffered from unfriendly steps taken by Washington since the beginning of 2014…We are responding to US attempts to harm us, including dangerous activities in the military sphere, on the basis of reciprocity.”
The comment also contains a peaceful wish for “the ability to improve the atmosphere of Russian-American relations” during John Kerry’s upcoming visit. But the likelihood of this is seen exclusively by Moscow as a prerogative of Washington, who is to blame for the broken atmosphere of bilateral relations. In this statement is hidden something more than a standard blaming of the opponent for playing the game wrong. Translated from diplomatic language, this means: “You have declared war on us, so we will respond with the same.”
By dragging its opponent beyond morality and civilization (the comparison of Russia to terrorism as one of the major threats to the world!), the US is pushing Russia back against the wall and leaving it with a simple alternative: either surrender at the mercy of the victor without any hope for mercy, or protect its interests.
Most likely, Kerry will play back the harsh words of his boss while simultaneously demanding that Moscow make concessions on certain matters (Syria, Ukraine, etc.). John Kerry’s visit to Moscow promises to be a difficult one. Russia has been left in stiff conditions and is simply being forced to defend itself. But Russia still has one important trump card: the uncertain future of a Democratic administration staying in the White House. Here is why Kerry is in a rush, while Moscow is strengthening its resistance.