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When did the rot start in Russian foreign policy?

Let us return to a time of joy for the world. 

In 1993 the world was rejoicing that the Soviet Union had failed and the Cold War was over. The USSR broke up into Russia and a number of former Soviet Republics, called the Commonwealth of Independent States. 

Now put what Russia is doing today into context by reading the words penned in the New York Times article, below, almost 25 years ago. 

Then read the words spoken in 1992, 129 pages of testimony where Russia assumes the role as Guarantor of Peace throughout the region.  Provision Verbatim Record Of The Three Thousand And Forth-Sixth Meeting Held at Headquarters, New York, on Friday, 31 January 1992, at 10.30 a.m

Here are the most notable words, spoken by then Russian President Yeltsin in Russian and translated into English.

Russia is fully aware of its responsibility for making the Commonwealth of Independent States an important factor of stability in the world.

In light of what Russia is doing today, we need to review these words.  De facto the US Monroe Doctrine has been bastardized by Russia. In the 1992 meeting, Russia states they are responsible to preserve the peace and stability of the CIS countries.  Starting in 2008, Russia has invaded Georgia, twice, and Ukraine, also twice. Russia would never use this as an argument but could always raise it as a question. Did the UN sanction its behavior in this 1992 meeting? Just like the 11 alternate theories that Russia didn’t shoot down MH17. Or the legal suit postured by Russia against Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, saying they weren’t properly granted independence from the USSR.  Like most Russian propaganda. They are all distractions…

As an anonymous expert remarked to me.

Basically in 1993 [Russia] decided to rebuild the Empire. Everything since has been trying to support that objective.

The New York Times article fully illustrates this argument. Leslie Gelb is seemingly prescient.

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What is missing is the original transcripts.  The UN archives the transcripts but only started in 1994. According to Gelb, that transcript was very incendiary. 

ps. As for Russian democracy, that is a myth. It’s an autocracy rapidly morphing into a fascist state.

Foreign Affairs; Yeltsin as Monroe

Last week, in a speech pregnant with bad memories, President Boris Yeltsin called upon the U.N. for an extraordinary grant of authority: make Russia the “guarantor of peace and stability in regions of the former U.S.S.R.”

The speech sent shivers of a new Russian imperium down to the toes of neighbors like Ukraine and Georgia. But it was welcomed by some Central Asian republics momentarily less fearful of Moscow than of internal strife and, in private, by high Clinton Administration officials presently more worried about future “Yugoslavias” than a resurgent Russia.

The words and reasoning in the speech suggested a Russian Monroe Doctrine. Not the original U.S. version propounded by President James Monroe in 1823 that simply warned Europeans away from intervening in the Americas. More like the corollary advanced by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904 that flatly asserted the U.S. right to intervene on its own even without foreign threats.

Teddy Roosevelt’s language, it must be said, was a whole lot grosser than Mr. Yeltsin’s. “Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society,” T.R. said, may force the U.S., “however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.”

At least Mr. Yeltsin had the good grace to ask for an international blessing for Russian intervention. Although, it should be noted, he also left the door open to unilateral action by asserting that “Stopping all armed conflicts on the territory of the former U.S.S.R. is Russia’s vital interest.”

But if T.R.’s corollary was a prime example of “big stick” diplomacy, Mr. Yeltsin may have been practicing “big shtick” politics (Yiddish for devious trick, by one definition). Mr. Roosevelt’s principal audience was the world and especially Latin America. Mr. Yeltsin’s fancy footwork on the world stage was actually choreographed for his own countrymen.

To the Civic Union, a powerful grouping of centrists whose meeting was the occasion for his speech, he was saying that he had heard their pleas last year for a Russian Monroe Doctrine and for integrating at least some of the former Soviet republics into a new “confederation.”

To the dispirited and impoverished military, he was saying that he believed it would have new and even more gratifying missions — preserving the peace and keeping alive the flame of a Greater Russia — and for peacekeeping would be paid hard cash by a grateful world.

Mr. Yeltsin may well be keen on keeping the peace in parts of the former Soviet empire, but he is mostly interested in holding on to his job — and preserving democracy in Russia. To do that he needs to win the historic battle over constitutional powers he’s now waging with the old-line Communist Parliament. And for that, he must have the backing of the centrists and the military. One way to get that support is to recapture the ever-popular mantle of nationalism from the parliamentary right-wingers.

Key Clinton Administration officials are cheering their Russian hero on. They trust him to be a genuine democrat and anti-imperialist. They also see no better means for policing the growing turmoil in the ex-Soviet empire than a Russia under his benign leadership.

“What’s wrong with a Russian Monroe Doctrine?” one high Clinton official asked rhetorically. “And what’s terrible about Russians being regional peacekeepers in an area where no other country can and will prevent future Yugoslavias? And why shouldn’t they have the same right to act under a general U.N. mandate the way we did in Iraq?”

Nonetheless, neither this official nor others were prepared to acknowledge Russia’s right to intervene unilaterally or to act without a specific O.K. from the U.N. or an appropriate European organization. Even then, they would give the green light only on a case-by-case basis.

Such caution from the Clinton team is very wise. While Mr. Yeltsin may be a great guy seeking to shore up democracy in Russia, he may also harbor greater external ambitions, or be driven to them. While Mr. Yeltsin may well be anti-imperial, his successor may not. While Russian troops might enter a sister republic on a peacekeeping mission, they could end up their sister’s keeper.



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