With Russia refusing to commit to sanctions on Iran while protracting the negotiations on nuclear arms reduction, the average American politico might begin to wonder whether their former Cold War rival is obstructing American foreign policy for the sheer fun of it.
Owen Matthews believes it’s exactly that. Writing for Newsweek, he claims that as Moscow’s power wanes, “it clings to relevance the only way it knows how — by playing the nuisance card.”
“To remain important,” notes Matthews, “Russia has to be seen as an obstacle.” Exhibit A? Its persisting criticism of the planned American missile shield for Eastern Europe. But that is actually Matthews’ sole argument. Russian obstructionism to the defense system is irrational. Its lukewarm support of Iran and the increasingly desperate attempts to prevent former satellite states from deserting to the West are perfectly understandable from Moscow’s perspective however; not inspired by a simple desire to oppose Washington.
“Moscow’s paranoia about diminished clout” has pushed it to ally itself with rogue states, according to Matthews, including Iran, Syria and Venezuela. But Russian relations with these countries hardly constitute alliances! What’s more, although Matthews hints at Russia’s efforts to keep former Soviet republics in Central Asia under its influence, he neglects to explore its intentions for the Collective Security Treaty Organization and for EurAsEC which is set to become a free-trade zone with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Belarus involved.
Russia is wary about losing its status as a major power and Matthews is right to make mention of the internal politics involved. By standing up to the will of the United States, Putin can present himself as the sort of strong leader many Russians so crave. But to dismiss the entirety of the country’s present day foreign policy as obstructionism is very much underestimating of the Russian strategy — and very much underestimating of the role which Russia continued to play in a great part of Eurasia. Remember Robert Kaplan: “The bear still has teeth.”