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reflections

May 13, 2005 | 12:38 GMT

4 mins read

Geopolitical Diary: Thursday, May 12, 2005

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Russian Federal Security Service, said Thursday that foreign intelligence services are planning further "uprisings," along the lines of Ukraine's Orange Revolution, to undermine Russian influence in the former Soviet Union. Patrushev specifically charged that the foreign services include U.S., British, Kuwaiti and Saudi agents. "Foreign secret services are ever more actively using non-traditional methods for their work and with the help of different NGOs' educational programs are propagandizing their interests, particularly in the former Soviet Union," Patrushev said before the state Duma. "Our opponents are purposefully and step-by-step trying to weaken Russian influence in the former Soviet Union and the international arena as a whole. The latest events in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan unanimously confirm this." According to Patrushev, the next target will be Belarus' head of intelligence, Viktor Veger, who also said the attempts were being kept suppressed. In a sense, there is nothing controversial in this view. The United States has made it clear that it supports democratic movements in Eurasia, and that it is prepared to support these movements financially. The Russians have long charged that the Saudis were interfering in Muslim Central Asia, supporting what they call Wahhabi movements. The inclusion of Kuwait in Patrushev's statement is interesting, but only to a limited extent. This is an old story. In part, this is about a difference in perspectives. The United States claims it is simply supporting democratic movements. Moscow's view is that this is an internal affair for these countries, that the United States is interfering with its sphere of influence and that the U.S. love of democracy is simply a useful justification for power politics. All of this is not, as we have been saying, particularly new. What is new — and extremely important — is that the head of the FSB said this in Russia's Duma. He undoubtedly said this with the knowledge and approval of President Vladimir Putin, and he effectively linked Russian interests to those of Belarus — the state that has evolved the least since the fall of the Soviet Union. It is also Russia's buffer with NATO and is of vital strategic importance. But most important is that the charge was made. It is now official that Russia views the United States and others as conspiring against its interests, and that the various democratic nongovernmental organizations are actually operating as agents of the CIA. Put differently, the democratic movement in the former Soviet Union is perceived as a plot by Western intelligence to destroy Russia. Now, if that is the Russian view, obviously some consequences follow. If these nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are in fact CIA fronts, then their suppression is not only permissible, but imperative. But more important still is the fact that if these charges are believed, the Russian government must believe that the United States in particular is its enemy. Given what was said and who said it, it is hard to draw any conclusion other than that the Kremlin believes that the United States is plotting to destroy Russia — and that Russia is going to resist. We call that a cold war. It may not look and feel like the big one, but if the Russians believe the charges they are making (and they do) and the Americans won't back off (and they won't), that will pit the covert forces of the United States against the covert forces of Russia. Caught in the middle will be political forces in third countries from Belarus to Central Asia, as well as, logically, liberal forces inside Russia. Moreover, if this speech is to be taken seriously, the counteraction by the Russians should start quickly, since delay would be irresponsible. It will be interesting in the extreme as to whether any senior Russian official reinterprets these statements to give them a more limited or benign spin, or whether they will simply let them stand. The former would indicate that Patrushev simply got carried away; the latter, that this is a calculated declaration of clandestine warfare, with NGOs caught in the middle. This situation is getting very serious, very fast. At the least, we know that President George W. Bush must have really convinced Putin that he is gunning for Russia.

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