US analyst: West should better monitor Russia

There is "little appetite" today in the Western world to monitor Russia's "influence operations" and "active measures" vis-à-vis the EU, Ariel Cohen, a senior researcher with the conservative US Heritage Foundation, told in an interview.


There is "little appetite" today in the Western world to monitor Russia's "influence operations" and "active measures" vis-à-vis the EU, Ariel Cohen, a senior researcher with the conservative US Heritage Foundation, told EurActiv in an interview.

We are seeing a lot of tension in Russia's near abroad – in Ukraine, in Georgia and in Moldova. Does this have anything to do with the EU's push to launch its the Eastern Partnership initiative ? Is Russia somehow trying to counter this initiative?

I am sure Moscow is not happy with the Eastern Partnership policy, because it views it as a Western encroachment into what some among the Russian post-Soviet elite believe is Moscow's "privileged sphere of interest". Yet, I think that along with examining Moscow's policies in Central and Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union, one needs to examine European policy, or lack thereof, on the Eastern partnerships.

In the case of a crucial area, energy, European capitals and Brussels (the EU Commission and its secretariat) have not come up with coherent goals, policies and strategies to deal with the growing European dependency on Russian energy.

Beyond that, different European capitals view Russia differently. I have just come back from Germany, and the Germans are focused on developing economic, energy and political ties with the Kremlin. However, other European capitals, especially in the 'new' Europe, view things differently.

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The Baltic states - Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary etc. - are concerned about Russia's assertive foreign policy and endangering their independence. They are also very concerned about Russia-Georgia and Russia-Ukraine relations. So to say that the difficulties in the neighborhood policy are only the fault of Moscow or the product of its intrigues is oversimplification.

For example, Poland, the Baltic states and some other 'Mittel Europa' states would like to see Ukraine as a part of the European Union. It makes sense to them, just as Poland's membership in the EU and NATO made sense for Germany. On the other hand, 'old' Europe does not want Ukraine as a fully-fledged member of the EU any time soon.

Do you think that Russia is pulling strings, in the Czech Republic for example, to keep the Lisbon Treaty on ice, or perhaps even kill it? Czech analysts recently developed such a view when speaking to EurActiv.

The Lisbon Treaty has run into trouble primarily due to the problems in Europe as a whole. In Ireland, in France, in Holland and in Germany, there is vociferous opposition to the Lisbon Treaty. There are historic, economic and structural reasons why this treaty is so problematic.

There is a massive lack of democratic supervision in the creation of Europe under that treaty. The unification was supposed to come under a series of referenda. When referenda were against, that path was scrapped and redirected towards national parliaments. And even that road may not be sufficient to create the European entity as envisaged in the Constitution. So to blame this just on Russian intrigues is probably an easy way out, and an oversimplification of deeper problems.

However, you need to get to intelligence services and security services engaged in monitoring Russian influence activities. This is not just intelligence collection. This is what was known during the Cold War as "influence operations" and "active measures". There is, unfortunately, very little political appetite for doing this, and many experts have retired or even passed away. Still, it's no surprise that these activities are taking place today more than ever before.

What other advice do you have for the Obama administration in its Russia relations, should it be willing to listen to the Heritage Foundation?

The Obama administration is trying to push the 'reset' button on US relations with Moscow. Yet in foreign affairs, haste is the enemy of wisdom.

Russia poses multiple challenges to the US. The Kremlin is calling for a new European security architecture and for replacing the post–Bretton Woods economic architecture. It rejects the dominant role of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and is calling for their replacement by regional institutions - again, the "sphere of influence" approach predominates.

It is also seeking to use energy exports, weapons sales, and investment opportunities in the Russian market as tools to drive wedges between European capitals, and between Europe and the United States.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev put this practice into stark relief when, the day after the US presidential elections, he directly challenged President-elect Obama by threatening to deploy nuclear-capable missiles on the border of a prominent NATO ally.

Such threats underscore the importance of designing a comprehensive US foreign policy toward Russia. Today, Medvedev and Obama are all smiles, but it is what the two sides do - such as developing a joint approach on Iran, cooperating on Afghanistan, etc. - not the rhetoric, which will define the relationship.


Ariel Cohen's areas of expertise are Russia and the former Soviet Union, Ukraine, Central Asia and the Caucasus, Central and Eastern Europe, and international energy security, among others.