Red Line: ABMs in Europe, chess in Tripoli and Anthony Weiner

Secretary-General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Source: Reuters

Secretary-General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Source: Reuters

Each week, Voice of Russia hosts Red Line, a discussion about the events of the week, as seen from Moscow. This week, ABMs in Europe, chess diplomacy in Libya and Anthony Weiner.

Participants: Ekaterina Kudashkina, Sergei Strokan, Mira Salganik, Nikolas Gvozdev, Evgeny Buzhinsky, David Mack


Ekaterina Kudashkina:  This week we will start with new tensions in U.S.-Russia relations over President Obama’s plans to create a new anti-ballistic missile shield in Europe. In the second part of our program, we will speak about Libya, where in a fresh case of chess diplomacy former Kalmyk president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov sat down with Muammar Gaddafi over a gameboard in Tripoli. And finally we will discuss the latest sex scandal in U.S. politics – Anthony Weiner – and try to discover how “Weinergate” is different from another similar stories all over the world.


Let’s get straight to the point with our first section, Beyond the Headlines, in which we will discuss the biggest challenge for the U.S.-Russian reset.

Speaking recently at the Royal United Services Institute, Secretary-General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen gave what the press described as a strongly worded attack on the current Russian arms policy, as Moscow begins to develop new inter-continental ballistic missiles.

“What does not make sense is for Russia to spend billions of rubles on a new offensive system to target the West. This type of rhetoric is unnecessary. This type of thinking is out of date. This type of investment is a waste of money. Because we are not a threat to Russia, we will not attack Russia, we will not undermine the security of Russia. The threats to Russia come from elsewhere. Our invitation to cooperate on missile defense is proof of that,” Mr. Rasmussen said.

Sergei Strokan: This was the first strong statement made by Mr. Rasmussen on Russia. From his very first steps as a secretary-general of NATO, he has put a strong emphasis on the necessity of a political reset with Russia, so I see there is a growing irritation in Brussels over Russia’s position.


Ekaterina Kudashkina: These matters require a more balanced approach, because emotions really stand in the way. But there was a chain of events to get emotions running high. First, there was a joint declaration issued by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization stating that the bloc is opposed to any Western plans for ballistic missile defense that could “jeopardize international stability.” Then, there was the announcement that the Czech Republic has pulled out of the ballistic missile defense concept. Then, a U.S. anti-missile cruiser sailed into the Black Sea Jun. 13 to participate in the joint U.S-Ukrainian military exercises “Sea Breeze 2011.” That came just days after NATO rejected Moscow's proposals for cooperation in missile defense.

Sergei Strokan: The matter is pretty serious. The gravity of the situation is emphasized by the latest statements by the Russian Foreign Ministry in response to Sea Breeze 2011. Let me quote what Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “The Russian side has repeatedly stressed that we will not let pass the appearance of elements of U.S. strategic infrastructure in the immediate proximity of our borders and will treat such moves as a threat to our security.”


I think we have to ask ourselves why there is such a big fuss over the Ukrainian-U.S. naval exercises, which are conducted on an annual basis? It looks like the Obama administration is using the Sea Breeze 2011 exercises as a political message.


Ekaterina Kudashkina: Then it means that the whole situation around Sea Breeze and the U.S. warship coming into the Black Sea actually confirms Moscow’s suspicions that, although U.S. and NATO officials talk about setting in motion “an invigorated NATO-Russia cooperation,” the Obama administration is still pushing ahead with its own missile shield in Europe.

Sergei Strokan: I have noticed one thing. In recent weeks Russian and international media were flooded with an amazing variety of comments on the ongoing debate on weapons of mass destruction.

Some commentators are going so far as to suggest that if an understanding is not reached, Russia might at some point withdraw from New START.

However, others argue that disagreements are an inevitable part of any negotiating process. Those who advocate this point insist that there is still strong will for practical cooperation in missile defense directed against threats from outside Europe.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: I believe that most analysts miss a fundamental point, which is the question of what the US-NATO anti-ballistic missile system in Europe really implies; and what the real threats it is going to face once created? It looks like there is a lot of behind-the-scene politics over the issue that distort the real meaning of the problem.


Sergei Strokan: I agree with you because there are a lot of technical military details involved. As a result, the audience both here in Russia and outside is largely manipulated by “loudmouth patriots.”


Ekaterina Kudashkina: There is another question that is interesting to me: In the age of information technology, is there really a need to kill to become a winner in global competition? There are information technologies, there is competition in business, so countries do not need to come into direct conflict just to dominate the international scene.

Sergei Strokan: You are not the only one who holds this opinion. This point is highlighted in the recent opinion in The New York Times by Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to NATO. I just want very briefly to emphasize the key points of that opinion, which appeared in The New York Times under the title “Missile Defense: As Friends or Foes?” While acknowledging that missile weapons and technologies are becoming ever more available, and a growing number of countries are interested in acquiring them, Rogozin points where the main divisive line between Russia and the West really lies.

Let me quote:  “Before creating ballistic-missile defense (B.M.D.) systems and investing billions of dollars, it is important to understand the motivation of those who try to develop WMD and missile weapons at all costs. Are these “bad guys” so bad that they entertain ideas of a perfidious attack against Old Europe? Or do they want to raise their international clout and become members of the nuclear club by such perverse means?”

Rogozin is accusing the West of just wasting billions of dollars, something that Rasmussen has accused Russia of. The only difference in quotes is that Rogozin was speaking about billions of dollars whereas Rasmussen said that Russia is wasting billions of rubles. You see the same mentality – this is the problem. Needless to say, any future missile-defense system, created without Russia or without NATO, would bring us nowhere. The solution is a joint missile defense system built on the principles of equality, transparency and responsibility.


Ekaterina Kudashkina: Well said. But it is easier said than done. Now I suggest we turn to our guest speaker – Nikolas Gvozdev, Professor of National Security Studies at the US Naval War College.

Nikolas Gvozdev: There were expectations that the Obama administration was not really going to presume missile defense with the same degree of interest; but I think now in Russia the sense is that there is the U.S. administration is moving forward with the Bush plan, which has just been redrafted and redesigned. So, all of the unresolved issues that were there two or three years ago have come right back out from under the table.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Are the parties to negotiations trying to resolve those issues? Are the negotiations constructive?

Nikolas Gvozdev: They can be, but the problem is not in negotiations, the negations are ongoing, but they are running up against two issues. The first is that the United States is not going to delay implementation of its missile defense plans until differences with Moscow are resolved. The second issue is that Washington and Moscow still have a great deal of distance between them over what they have agreed would be the parameters for Russian cooperation in defense system. Everyone accepts the idea that Russia should play a role, but when you start to get into details of what that actually means, you run up into problems. And really one of the biggest concerns from the Russian side is that Moscow wants to have a veto over the use of the system – when it can be used, how it can be used; and the United States is going to be very uncomfortable having a missile defense system that, if Russia does not agree to use it, then it cannot be used.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Are there still some compromise scenarios that have not been looked at?

Nikolas Gvozdev: There are always compromise scenarios, but even compromise scenarios in the end have the same control issues of who in the end has the right to use this system, when it can be used, does it require all parties to agree, does it simply require all parties to be notified. So, obviously the compromises are there, they all come down in the end of this question of command and control. The fundamental question is that Russia is not a part of NATO, therefore what veto power should Russia have over a U.S.-NATO system for it to be used?

Ekaterina Kudashkina: In fact, Mr. Rasmussen sounds a little bit irritated, if you have read his comments; they give the impression that patience is running out more quickly than time is running out.

Nikolas Gvozdev: I think that people want to have a sense that this issue could be quickly resolved within the parameters of the reset, but that is the question that does not have an easy, immediate answer to it. In the end, it boils down to the fact that we still have a good relationship between the Medvedev and Obama administrations, but we still do not have trust really emerging there between both national security establishments, and in the end for this to move forward either the United States has to be prepared to trust that Russian involvement in the system would be beneficial, or the Russian side has to trust US intentions. You cannot make missile defense work effectively in the absence of trust, and we are seeing this lack of patience as a result of that.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Do you think that it is largely something like an emotional residue of the Cold War thinking, because if you look at that issue from the rational point of view, is there any reason why our nations should regard themselves as potential enemies?

Nikolas Gvozdev: No, they shouldn’t, and there is no rational basis for that at the present time. The problem is that neither side wants to preclude any future that could arise where you might have a situation with both countries antagonistic against each other. Both sides today look at each other and say: “We have a good relationship,” but we do not have a deep sense that this good relationship is destined to last, and so both sides are hedging against each other, and that is part of what drives this emotional reaction to missile defense.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Now we have another guest speaker, Evgeny Buzhinsky, lieutenant-general and an advisory board member of the Russian thinktank, PIR Center. What is your impression? Are emotions running really high around the issue of missile defense in Europe?


Evgeny Buzhinsky: I think you are right, emotions are running too high because the issue is very difficult both for the U.S. side and for Russian side. We started this process in 2001, and still after 10 years we have differences, but our presidents agreed to go on with the process of negotiations, consultations, how to cooperate.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: What do you see as the major obstacles in those negotiations?

Evgeny Buzhinsky: The major obstacle is clear. When President Medvedev made his proposal in Lisbon, he made proposal for “sectoral missile defense,” in which Russia has its own sector and full responsibility for this sector. That, of course, excluded the issue of guarantees of not aiming the system against the potential of the other side. But the sectoral approach was denied by the alliance, and, formally speaking, they are right, they cannot, as Mr. Rasmussen said, give to a non-member of the alliance the right to protect any member of the alliance.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Mr. Rasmussen said that the European states need to increase their defense budgets. Where is the logic here?

Evgeny Buzhinsky: In Lisbon, the figure given was 200 million Euros immediately for the integration of the U.S. segment of its global missile defense and the European aircraft defense. There was a huge number of comments in the European capitals about the huge sum of money, but, frankly speaking, it is only on paper. When we get to integrating the actual hardware of the U.S. and European systems, the cost will be much more.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: How do you see the prospects of those negotiations?

Evgeny Buzhinsky: I do not know the shape of the compromise, but I do hope that they will find this compromise. It is not the first time that the U.S. and Russia have tried to reach a consensus, and my practice shows that in most cases the compromise can be reached, especially if there is a political willing, and I see that there is a political willing on both sides.


Ekaterina Kudashkina: Are we running out of time? The U.S. and NATO are still going to press on with creating this system regardless of what the Russia’s position is?

Evgeny Buzhinsky: Well, it is natural, it is right. Russia is also goes with its own plans regardless of what the U.S. and NATO are doing. Each side has its own plans as for building or modernizing its national security systems, national defense systems.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: And now let’s move to the Red Line’s second section, Between the Lines. Today I suggest we look at a story run by The Independent, entitled “Dictator's gambit: look who's joined the chess set.”  Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the head of the world chess body FIDE, former ruler of Russia’s Republic of Kalmykia and a self-declared alien abductee, sat down with Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli to discuss the Libyan conflict and play a game of chess.”

This approach to mediation could hardly be described as standard, but the approach seems to have worked. They had two hours of talks, and we now know that Mr. Gaddafi told Mr. Ilyumzhinov he had no intention of leaving Libya

Sergei Strokan: But how was the game?

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Mr. Ilyumzhinov said he offered a draw, so as not to offend his host.

"Of course, he was weaker – much weaker – than me, but it was interesting," The Independent said, quoting his interview to Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: The Independent says: “The most extraordinary meshing of chess and politics was by Mr. Ilyumzhinov himself, during his rule of the arid steppe region of Kalmykia, in southern Russia. The FIDE chief made chess lessons compulsory for schoolchildren (a move followed recently by Armenia), and built a "Chess City" complex on the edge of the region's capital.”

Jon Speelman, The Independent's chess correspondent, says that the game requires "determination and great nerves to maintain form under extreme tension.” I believe it is something each of us could use.

Sergei Strokan: As far as Mr. Ilyumzhinov is concerned, I think he is a rather eccentric person.

For example, last autumn he did an interview with The Independent, and then he said that he was abducted by aliens in 1997, who took him into space. He also said chess is a "cosmic game" brought to Earth by aliens.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Well, if we get to mystical side of the reality, than his visit to Tripoli might look somewhat ominous. It’s a well-known fact that just before the start of the war in Iraq in 2003 Mr. Ilymzhinov made a trip to Baghdad. At the time he sat down for talks with Saddam Hussein and his son Uday, both of whom he considered to be his friends. As we all know, the chess appeared to be not much of help for the Iraqi leadership.


Sergei Strokan: You want to say that Mr. Ilymzhinov brings disasters like comets, and his coming is a bad omen?


Ekaterina Kudashkina: But – joking aside: the chess diplomacy, or whatever you call the concerted international effort seems to be working. On Friday, the news came that Mikhail Margelov was meeting in Tripoli with the Libyan prime minister, who told him that the Gaddafi government was holding direct talks with the Libyan rebels in Paris. Besides, on Thursday Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that his father would be ready to hold the general election and step aside if he lost it though he would not go into exile.


Sergei Strokan: I do not think he is in a position to step down; he will stand very firm that he is the Libyan leader, and that seems he does not understand that his time has gone – this is the tragedy. As you know, Russia also made it clear that if he just steps down, then there can be options to find for him such a place where he can retire. The window of opportunity is closing, he cannot waste time, he has to take decisions now; he has to understand that there is no way for such initiatives like holding elections and Mr. Gaddafi being reelected.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: But as a cornered politician, as a cornered person in general, he is not in a position to make responsible decisions. I suggest now we discuss this with our next guest speaker Ambassador David Mack, a veteran U.S. diplomat who spent all his career working in the Middle East and Libya in particular.

David Mack: I am interested to hear the news as reported by the Russian envoy that there are direct contacts between the Libyan government in Tripoli and the rebels with their headquarters in Benghazi. I would note that the Russian involvement in this diplomatic process is very significant.. It is necessary not only to have a strong military response to protect the Libyan people from government attacks and well-implemented United Nations sanctions on the Tripoli regime, but it is also necessary to have some diplomatic framework, so that there is a way to resolve this with Gaddafi eventually stepping down from power.

I do not believe that a solution that involves Gaddafi staying in power is something that would be acceptable either to a great majority of the Libyan people, or to the international community. That is, however, not to exclude that there could be a graceful way for him to exit the scene.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: You said you met him several times, so what is your personal impression, what kind of person he is?

David Mack: When I first met him, we were both in our late twenties, and I was interpreting for the U.S. ambassador at meetings with Gaddafi and other officers who just taking power. Like all young men of that age, including myself, he was ambitious, he had rather grand ideas for Libya’s future, and he was in many ways quite idealistic. I think over time since he was able to gratify a lot of rather ambitious notions that he had, and sometimes rather bizarre ideas, unlike most of us as we grow older, we realized the limitations of what we can accomplish, we became more careful, we became more cautious, but Gaddafi struck me as a person who did not have a strong grasp on reality, he did not understand that degree at which the rest of the world had moved on and had left Libya behind.


Ekaterina Kudashkina: Now time has come to move on to Red Lines’ RED LINE’s concluding heading, Man in the News. This week the man is Anthony Weiner, a Democratic congressman from New York and the face of the latest political sex scandal.


So, Anthony Weiner, who was a young and rising star of the Democratic Party in the U.S., was caught red-handed and had to admit to having sexually charged online correspondence with at least six women. His wife Huma Abedin is an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and is reportedly pregnant with their first child. What added tension to the story was that despite the mounting pressure of Democratic leaders, Weiner was refusing to resign until the last moment, insisting that though his sexual online activities were “regrettable,” he did not do anything illegal. The scandal reached its climax when President Obama called on Weiner to resign, and so finally Weiner resigned. This is the whole story, and it made headlines in the world press.


Sergei Strokan: Still Weiner’s stubborn refusal to step down was quickly turning into no-win situation for the Democrats who were having their plate full with other problems and probably most of all they wanted him to disappear.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Well, and he did. But what is interesting to me is the reaction of press. Let me give you one quote: “In light of Rep. Anthony Weiner's recent sex-capades, it's clear that when public figures do wrong, the media just won't let them live it down.”

Sergei Strokan: I think that there is always a lot of hypocrisy in media’s handling of sex scandals. And Weiner’s story overshadowed a Democratic victory, the recent victory of Democrat Kathy Hochul in a special election in New York’s 26th Congressional District, which the Democrats described as a major sign of a Democratic recovery after the 2010 midterm elections.


Ekaterina Kudashkina: Well, as far as I understand, Hochul’s win is supposed to show how concerns about the future of Medicare might doom Republicans in swing districts. But with the Weiner’s troubles, the headlines are about a Democrat’s misdeeds, as opposed to a Democratic electoral gain.


New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Weiner's fall "a lost opportunity" that was "tragic." And I tend to agree with him. Weiner represented parts of New York City in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1998. He had established himself as a leading liberal voice in the House. He easily won a seventh two-year term in last November's elections.

At his news conference, when he was announcing his resignation, he apologized to his wife and he thanked her for standing by him. But if fact at this conference his wife was not present, she was not there.

Weiner said of his future: "I got into politics to help give voice to the many who simply did not have one. Now I will be looking for other ways to contribute my talents."


Sergei Strokan: If there's a lesson for Weiner it's pretty simple: Girls talk. If a famous politician — or entertainer or athlete — sends me a naked picture, I am going to share it with my friends. Or else – if idea of virtual online sex doesn’t appeal to me I don’t answer the sender. Mind you, Weiner has been corresponding for three years and none of his women protested, they seem to have been quite happy to go on! So what is his crime? And speaking of Weinergate – may I mention the thing called privacy? Isn’t it a basic human right that is to be honored by media too?

Ekaterina Kudashkina: I agree with you, Sergei, but when we are talking about political figures, they need to keep to moral standards, - and that is my belief. 

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