Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff at PostGlobal

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Germany

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a Senior Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic public policy and grant-making foundation. He overseas the fund's policy programs. He was previously the Washington bureau chief of the German newsweekly, Die Zeit. Close.

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Germany

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a Senior Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic public policy and grant-making foundation. more »

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Prod But Don't Pressure Russia

Germany -- George Bush contends that America's interests and values have become one. The country, he says, is more secure "when freedom is on the march". In his view, spreading democracy is not an American passion, but an interest. Nowhere is this conviction put to a tougher test than in America's dealings with Russia.

Clearly, freedom's march is increasingly difficult to detect in Vladimir Putin's Russia. Bush's theory suggests that America should push back to halt the slide. But how? Vice-President Cheney has tried. In Vilnius he recently spoke truth to (foreign) power and told the Russians everything that was wrong in the land of eight time zones. Unfortunately, the attempt backfired. The speech made it even more difficult to get Russia to agree with the Western approach to pressure the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambition.

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder tried a different approach. He cozied up to his friend Vladimir and rarely criticized Russia in public. But if he managed to gain leverage that way he rarely used it in the name of freedom.

Neither Russia-schmoozing nor Russia-bashing seems to work well. A sensible strategy towards Russia starts with two admissions, borrowed from the world of realism: the West can encourage and prod, but cannot pressure Russia to democratize. There is little leverage with a country as big and as powerful as Russia. Secondly, democratization is only one of several American interests in Russia. Energy, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation of WMD (Iran!) are others. As a member of the UN Security Council, Russia could become a force of obstruction.

A policy that is realistic and principled at the same time will avoid humiliating the Russians while letting the opposition know about Western preferences. Russia is not a full-blown dictatorship (yet). It has an elected leader and a marginal (and marginalized) opposition. This is not the Cold War. But Russian democrats need encouragement, support and, at times, protection. Thus, openly encouraging NGOs to participate in the "Alternate Russia" meeting is desirable, but sending a government representative is not.

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