22 mayo 2012

NATO, or Why the Smartest Defence Is Pooling Efforts

These are not good times for the Alliance. Or rather, they have not been for most of the past decade. Operations in Afghanistan are now coming to an end and the discussion is only about when each national contingent can and should withdraw, with the tacit acceptance that many of their initial, optimistic goals have not been accomplished. This mission, which seemed to give NATO a clear purpose and showed the world that it was capable to sustain a major out-of-area deployment, could eventually (in the absence of a long-term political vision) take with itself the clarity of purpose that was so difficult to achieve, after the collapse of its main opponent more than twenty years ago.

No doubt NATO, as its most fervent supporters like to stress, also serves the useful purpose of institutionalising cooperation beyond the security realm among the allies, and especially between both sides of the Atlantic. However, the European members have come to the Chicago summit with deep divisions about how to deal with the financial crisis, with the EU not in its best moment as an area of political solidarity and economic prosperity. Add to that a US Administration already immersed in the presidential campaign (where domestic issues are always the priority) and with a widespread perception of geopolitical reorientation towards Asia Pacific. The result is an Alliance that has no option but to become less ambitious in its global scope and more efficient with less resources (‘smart defence’ as it is now called in the official jargon), if it wants to survive in these times of austerity.

There has been much ado about Putin’s absence from the G8 and NATO Summits - all right, he sent the other half of the ‘tandem’ to Camp David so perhaps he was present at that one after all (question for another day: is there a tandem anymore?). But the Kremlin is also following the general trend of inward-looking great powers primarily concerned with keeping domestic support in the face of decreasing life standards, rather than about some multilateral fora where few results can be achieved quickly. It is contradictory, then, that missile defence has been blocking Russia-NATO relations for so long: pooling resources to build a joint system would make so much (not just economic) sense in the face of common threats, as it happens in Afghanistan or in the fight against piracy. Of course, that would require a long-term vision to consolidate a shared, indivisible security for all.

14 mayo 2012

Indignación en Moscú

Tras una semana de Putin 3.0, las reformas prometidas en respuesta al descontento social comienzan a diluirse. Los gobernadores regionales vuelven a ser elegidos en lugar de nombrados; pero una repentina epidemia de dimisiones impide que se celebren varias elecciones, al haberse nombrado ahora sustitutos. Una vez más, se tratan los síntomas (las protestas) y no las causas (los problemas de los ciudadanos) con la receta de siempre (más control del Estado).

Mientras tanto, continúan las manifestaciones y la sentada en Moscú conocida como #OccupyAbai. Pero la "indignación" popular sigue siendo minoritaria, frente al escepticismo de quienes dudan de su capacidad real de influencia. La marcha del pasado domingo, con un ambiente festivo y participación de intelectuales y artistas, ha sido tolerada por las autoridades precisamente por considerarse inofensiva. Tampoco beneficia a los opositores su imagen de clases urbanas acomodadas, desconectadas de la realidad del resto del país (como se esfuerza por presentarlos el Kremlin).

En este escenario, la ausencia de Putin en la próxima cumbre del G-8 se ha interpretado como una muestra más de su autoritarismo, hostil a las críticas de Occidente. Sin embargo, aunque no parece creíble el argumento de que se queda para organizar el gabinete de Medvedev (lo cual no dice mucho de su confianza en el primer ministro), ahora la prioridad es la estabilidad interna, mediando entre las familias de la élite gobernante. Que Putin rechace acudir al foro donde se sientan los principales líderes mundiales es más una muestra de vulnerabilidad que la arrogancia de quien exhibe su fortaleza.

09 mayo 2012

Happy Victory Day (for some)

Only three days after his inauguration, Putin does not seem to have internalised the consensus-seeking, open-to-criticism attitude promised by his predecessor (now loyal prime minister) in response to demands by the opposition. There are, however, more pressing problems for his country than yesterday's vote in the Duma for Medvedev's confirmation as head of the Government. 

The result ('just' 299 out of 450) will, no doubt, be interpreted as a further symbol of Putin's gradual decline. But falling short by one vote of the desired (not needed) two-thirds majority does not amount to that, no matter how hard you try. If anywhere, those symbols are to be found in the street demonstrations of the past  months.

In foreign policy, as usual, there is much less room for manoeuvre. Putin wants a strategic partnership with the US, and (true to his style) wants it 'by decree'. Recognising that Russia's status as a great power would be further weakened by putting an end to the 'reset' policy is a positive sign of realism. That is the context in which we should interpret Moscow's future actions and occasional threats.

Today Russia is also commemorating victory over the Nazis in the Second World War, which (ideally) should remind all of us of the need to join forces against challenges to our common security. Happy Victory Day!

05 mayo 2012

Toma de posesión de Putin

Como he comentado para RNE (en este enlace desde el min. 22:08), no parece fácil que tras doce años en el poder Putin pueda adaptarse a las nuevas demandas sociales que hemos visto crecer en los últimos meses; más allá de ciertas concesiones a la oposición, como las anunciadas por Medvedev en sus últimos días como presidente, o de una renovación del partido oficialista Rusia Unida.

El principal factor a tener en cuenta es que estas demandas no son exclusivas de las clases medias urbanas, de orientación más liberal, que se han manifestado en las calles para denunciar el fraude en las urnas. Por el contrario, incluyen también problemas como la corrupción que afectan a sectores mucho más amplios; y que no se percibe (más bien al contrario) que hayan disminuido bajo el putinismo. Aquí es donde se juega la credibilidad del otra vez presidente, y no tanto en política exterior. 

Por eso es tan preocupante que durante la campaña se haya recurrido (de nuevo) a la retórica nacionalista para contrarrestar las críticas internas; lo que ha dañado, sin duda, la confianza reconstruida en cierta medida durante la etapa del reset. El día que Putin, de vuelta en su antiguo despacho en el Kremlin, quiera llamar a Washington, París o Berlín, necesitará esa confianza para ser tenido en cuenta en este mundo multipolar.