In the "New York Daily News," RFE/RL correspondent James Kirchick writes that "Russia continues to be marked by domestic authoritarianism and aggression beyond its borders."
-----------------------------------------------------------"I Spy a Nuisance, Not a Partner: Beyond the Espionage Case, Russia is Belligerent and Defiant"
By James Kirchick
The FBI arrest last week of 10 alleged Russian spies has produced a shrug of the shoulders on both sides of the Atlantic. On Wednesday, a senior Russian government official told the state-run Interfax news agency that the incident "will not negatively affect Russian-U.S. relations."
Such soothing tones have been echoed in Washington, where The New York Times reported that the White House "expressed no indignation that its putative partner was spying on it."
Many analysts are echoing this official nonchalance. Writing in the Financial Times, King's College London Prof. Anatol Lieven concluded that the brouhaha is but a "temporary rift" in Russo-American relations, and should do nothing to forestall the fruitful development of the "west scaling back its ambitions in the former Soviet Union with Russia's growing realization that it needs a new partnership with its former U.S. and European rivals."
While many of the details of the Russian "illegals," covert agents assuming false identities without diplomatic cover, are indeed amusing, they obscure a more important story: Far from becoming a more responsible international citizen in response to Washington's outreach - "the reset" - Russia continues to crack down on internal dissent, threaten its neighbors and impede efforts at reining in rogue states. Laughing this incident away as but a minor blip in relations between the United States and Russia does a disservice to both countries, not to mention the Russian people.
The case Lieven makes for improved Russian behavior on the world stage is typical of Kremlin apologists. He says that Russia deserves credit because, since the initiation of the reset, it decided to sign the new START treaty on nuclear arms reduction, "supported more pressure on Iran," "increased help for U.S. and NATO communications to Afghanistan" and, "perhaps most importantly, Moscow has not taken advantage of the deep recessions in the Baltic states to stir up unrest among Russian minorities there - as it easily might have done."
This list of contributions to international peace and goodwill would be heartening were they in any way meaningful. Regarding the much-vaunted agreement on nuclear arsenals, both the U.S. and Russia have been steadily reducing their stockpiles for years, and the new treaty does not address Russia's numerical advantage in tactical nuclear weapons, the sort that can be used in a battlefield scenario. As for Iran, Russia would only sponsor last month's UN Security Council resolution after it had been heavily watered down and the U.S. government agreed to lift sanctions on four Russian businesses engaged in the supply of military hardware to the Islamic Republic.