Egypt: US versus Russian foreign policy.
Posted by democratist on February 4, 2011
4th February 2010,
Over the past week or so Democratist has once again been bemused by how faithfully and obviously Russia Today provides an almost direct representation of Russian government policy on any given issue, at any given time, despite it’s stated claim to editorial independence and posturing as left-wing “alternative” to the mainstream media, especially in the US. While RFE/RL or CNN may sometimes reveal a pro-American bias (and Fox News remains as dreadful as ever), nothing beats the “straight from the Ministry of Information” feel of so much of RT’s reporting.
A week after the clearly one-sided use of Wikileaks reports to argue that the revolution in Egypt was being directed by the CIA, RT’s latest position alternates between yet another barrage of faux outrage at the shortcomings of American Empire (what right does the US have to interfere in Egyptian affairs, after having supported Mubarak for so long?) combined with an undercurrent which reveals the Russian MFA’s true intentions; an eye to profiting from the West’s potential alienation from autocratic regimes in the region (one of RT’s correspondents today commented that Obama’s calls for a rapid transition of power in Egypt was a message “to friends and foes alike, when the going gets tough, don’t call on us”).
In this regard, Democratist has found RT’s recent interviews with journalists and anti-American peace campaigners critical of US financial support and weapons sales to Egypt rather unconvincing, given that since 1991, the Russians have, just like the Americans (but without the United States’ enduring relationship with the regime, or its deep pockets) been happy to “do business” with Mubarak, and agreed to sell the Egyptians a nuclear energy package worth $2 billion back in 2008, in addition to selling weapons to Syria and Iran.
From our perspective, it would be fairer to point out that, while both the US and USSR/Russia engaged in realpolitik and interference in the internal affairs of third countries in the Middle East and elsewhere during the Cold War, and have both continued to do so to differing extents subsequently (e.g. in Ukraine and Georgia in the Russian case, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere for the US), the Russians have remained wedded to an unswervingly nationalist and realist outlook (attempting to topple regimes they didn’t like or bolster those they did, happy to deal with anyone as long as it supports their national interests), whereas the United States has, in addition to its morally questionable but strategically driven realist maneuvering, also consistently defined a separate liberal, democratizing ethical role for itself, including in the middle East.
Has the US been hypocritical? Certainly this is true to an extent; the US may be more likely to play up human rights abuses by opponents than allies (Iran or Syria versus Saudi Arabia or Turkey). In the case of Iraq, the neo-conservative interpretation of liberal interventionism (“freedom at the barrel of a gun”) has resulted in disaster. And in the current Egyptian case, it seems likely that State Department officials are working with elements of the old regime to make sure that things don’t change too quickly (whilst probably also seeking to bring together oppositionists to help govern the country in the interim before an election).
Nonetheless, as the Wikileaks cables (which RT did so much to publicise last week) demonstrate, the US has also worked behind the scenes to gradually foster democratization in autocratic allies such as Egypt. This is because as Michael McFaul has observed, it recognizes the long-term security advantages that stem from enduring alliances with other democratic countries that similar agreements with autocrats cannot provide. These include sustainability (how long the relationship lasts), consistency (the threat of internal instability), and cost. The latter two problems are apparent in the Egyptian case.
However, in relation to Russia’s own foreign policy, realpolitik continues to dominate almost completely. Apart from their willingness to sell regional autocrats both weaponry and reactors, the Russian attitude towards democracy and human rights can be gauged by (taking an example closer to home) their actions during last December’s elections in Belarus, before which they provided media and financial backing to the opposition, only to cut a deal with Lukashenko at the last-minute, and then have President Medvedev describe it as an “internal matter,” when 600 people (including 7 of the 9 opposition candidates) were arrested for protesting the subsequent widespread electoral fraud.