Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 24

Top officials from NATO member and candidate countries, from formerly Soviet-ruled nations and from Russia gathered on February 3-4 for the Munich Conference on Security Policy, the West’s top annual event in this field. NATO’s Secretary General Lord George Robertson, Henry Kissinger, the incoming and outgoing U.S. defense secretaries–Donald Rumsfeld and William Cohen–and a phalanx of U.S. senators, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, most of Western Europe’s ministers of foreign affairs and defense, military commanders in European theaters, and top European Union officials discussed the alliance’s policies and relations with Russia.

It was to this audience that Russia’s representative at the conference, Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov, offered a startling dose of Soviet-style propaganda and disinformation, which led many of those present to speak of a Kremlin relapse into the Cold War. Ivanov’s powers in Russia are second only to President Vladimir Putin’s, together with whom he had risen in the KGB. Inasmuch as he supervises and coordinates the Foreign Affairs and Defense Ministries and the intelligence agencies, Ivanov was correctly introduced at the conference as Putin’s closest confidant and “the number two man in the Kremlin, the man who drafts policy and implements it.” As a measure of how seriously Ivanov took this occasion, he made a point of stating that it is more consequential than even the Davos Forum of heads of state, just held in Switzerland. His presentation in Munich to the plenary meeting had a follow-up at his press conference.

Ivanov accused NATO of creating the mass of refugees in Kosovo and of inflicting a “Chornobyl-like nuclear disaster” there. He thereby tried to blame the West for the Kosovo exodus, which had been triggered by Moscow’s Serbian protege Slobodan Milosevic. Ivanov made no mention of the fall of Milosevic and the reestablishment of a democratic system in Serbia–a change ushered in with Western support against Russian resistance. The “Balkan Chornobyl” story–about contamination from NATO’s depleted uranium ammunition–looks like a rerun of familiar Soviet-era disinformation operations. That story was first planted in an Italian radical-leftist paper, infiltrated West European media and generated a flurry of Europanic with anti-American overtones, before NATO conclusively debunked the story. At the Munich conference, William Cohen and others equated the “Balkan Chornobyl” allegations with the Kremlin’s all-too-recent story about the Russian submarine Kursk being rammed by an American or “NATO” submarine. Cohen described both as “complete fabrications.”

Participants in the conference were also taken aback by Ivanov’s barely veiled demand that the West simply write off part of Russia’s debts in order to avoid Russian international mischief which, he implied, could be more costly than the value of debt write offs. To illustrate that point, Ivanov declared that Putin’s rapprochement with Cuba, North Korea and Iran was directly linked with the debt issue.

As part of his case against the U.S.-planned antimissile defense, Ivanov offered Russian participation in international export controls on missile technology. American conferees, however, cited the Russian government’s “connivance” in the violation of the nonproliferation regime by Russian companies exporting missile and nuclear technologies to rogue states like Iran.

Disregard for fundamental Western interests and the assertion of claims to dominate former Soviet-ruled countries formed the twin bases of Ivanov’s presentations. In the process, he freely used deception in his prepared presentation and news conference regarding Moscow’s policies in the “near abroad.” Asked when will Russia finally withdraw the troops from Georgia, Ivanov responded that Russia had “already closed down” two bases there and is negotiating “in a civilized manner” with Georgia about the other two bases. The first part of that reply misrepresented the situation at the Gudauta and Vaziani bases, neither of which has been closed. On the contrary, Moscow presses hard for continued control of Gudauta as a Russian “peacekeeping” base and for shared control at Vaziani. The second part attempted to conceal the fact that Moscow is pressing Georgia to sign a treaty which would grant Russia long-term basing rights at Batumi and Akhalkalaki.

Anyone familiar with the Soviet/Russian official idiom knows that “civilized” denotes, in that idiom, “without the use or threat of force.” However, the bilateral Russian-Georgian military negotiations are being accompanied by threats of Russian military intervention in Georgia under “antiterrorism” pretenses and by political and economic pressures. The latter take two forms: selective, punitive imposition of visa regulations for Georgians and intermittent cutoffs in energy supplies.

Ivanov, however, serenely denied either. He failed to acknowledge the exemption of secessionist Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the visa regulations–which is intended to draw the two regions further away from Georgia and closer to Russia. And he claimed that the energy cutoffs were only intended to punish some–unspecified–“corrupt” Russian, Georgian and American companies. The only partial truth in this statement is its hostile allusion to the American company AES, operator of Tbilisi’s energy supply system. AES has restored order and business integrity to that system, ensured its continued operation and plans to overhaul it in spite of the unreliability of Russian gas supplies.

Asked when the Kremlin will remove the troops from Moldova, Ivanov claimed that “four” trainloads have recently been withdrawn, and that the process is being slowed down by objections from Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov. In fact, Russia has withdrawn only a single trainload, and that contained neither troops nor armaments, merely surplus equipment such as field hospitals and kitchens and civilian transport vehicles. Nor can the alleged “objections from Smirnov” be taken seriously. The entire Transdniester leadership consists of citizens of the Russian Federation–some of them with KGB backgrounds–who were granted power by Russian authorities and are treated as official guests by the Russian government on their frequent visits to Moscow.

Pumping up a minor figure like Smirnov and hiding behind that creation, Moscow aims to keep its forces in Moldova under a changed guise as “peacekeeping troops” with a mandate from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and with Russia as the principal “guarantor” of the eventual settlement of the conflict. That is the current objective of Yevgeny Primakov, Putin’s plenipotentiary envoy to the negotiations on conflict settlement in Moldova. By claiming that Smirnov thwarts the withdrawal of Russian troops, Ivanov and Primakov destroy Russia’s credibility as a “guarantor” of the eventual settlement. If Moscow truly cannot lift Smirnov’s alleged objections to the withdrawal of its troops, then it can “guarantee” nothing in Moldova except deadlock and latent instability.

Asked to explain the Russian Caspian Flotilla’s demonstration of force during Putin’s recent visit to Baku, Ivanov claimed that the exercise had been approved in advance by Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijan has further agreed to hold joint naval exercises with Russia in the Caspian Sea. The first is palpably false because the Russian navy exercised, according to its official communique, in “northern and central parts” of that sea, where Moscow does not recognize the jurisdiction of any littoral country including Azerbaijan, and never made a pretense of requesting any country’s approval for those exercises. The January 8-12 show of gunboat diplomacy–featuring the use of live ammunition–was in fact unprecedented in a closed sea like the Caspian. It aimed to assert a Russian right to enter virtually any part of that sea in the absence of a sectoral partition of the water surface–a partition which Moscow strongly opposes. By the same token, the Russian naval foray unwittingly highlighted the need for full sectoral division, including that of the surface, in order to prevent Russian navy from entering at will and firing its guns in parts of the sea which other littoral countries regard as theirs.

The claim about Azerbaijan’s agreement to hold joint naval exercises seems to be on a par with Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev’s allegations–in September 2000 and January 2001–that Azerbaijan had joined the CIS joint air defense system under Russian command. Baku has denied Sergeev’s groundless assertions. Beyond the element of wishful thinking, Sergeev and Ivanov’s claims appeared designed as trial balloons, a means of psychological pressure on Baku, and an attempt to generate doubts in the West about the consistency of Azerbaijan’s Western orientation.

To justify the massive Russian military presence in Tajikistan–and goal of introducing troops elsewhere in Central Asia–Ivanov claimed that the troops there protect the West against the influx of drugs and terrorism. He cited statistics on the amounts of drugs confiscated by Russian border troops in Tajikistan. But Ivanov would not mention that those figures represent only a fraction of the drugs traffic that goes through Tajikistan. And he kept silent over the fact that Russian-controlled Tajikistan is the main corridor for the narcotics traffic to Russia and further on to Europe; and has recently become a supply source in its own right. International antinarcotics agencies and the Russian media have abundantly documented these facts. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which are free from Russian troops, have an incomparably better record than Tajikistan with regard to drugs. And it is Tajikistan, too, that the terrorist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is using as a staging area and transit corridor to attack Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, with the acquiescence of the Russian troops that Ivanov said are there to guard against drugs and terrorism (Sergei Ivanov, “Global and Regional Security at the beginning of the 21st Century,” follow-up discussion and press conference at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, February 4; UPI, February 4; see also the Monitor, October 12, 24, November 16, December 5-6, 13, 20, 2000, January 3, 23, 31; Fortnight in Review, November 3, December 1, 2000, January 5).

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