Letter: The Russian threat - and how to contain it

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The Independent Online
Sir: In principle, Jonathan Eyal is right to suggest that Nato should be extended eastwards to include the non-Soviet states of the former Warsaw Pact.

Unfortunately, though, in its present form his proposal would leave the non-Russian republics of the ex-USSR in a very uncertain and vulnerable position between Russia and the newly enlarged Nato.

Any satisfactory strategy for security in Central and Eastern Europe must include Russia as a participant. Left outside, she is liable to become the menacing outlaw of European geopolitics (like Germany under the Versailles system). If she is brought in, there is at least a chance that she could become a powerful force for stability.

There are, after all, politicians in Russia who are not neo-imperialists and we should take the opportunity to strengthen them while we can. One such is President Boris Yeltsin who, on 28 February, proposed that international organisations should grant Russia 'special powers as guarantor of peace and stability in the region (of the ex-USSR)'. What he had in mind was that the security framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States should be strengthened to the point where it could act as a partner to Nato, charged with peacekeeping in the ex-USSR under the aegis of the UN or a reinforced CSCE.

Most Western commentators reacted to Yeltsin's proposals as if he were requesting carte blanche for Russia to throw its weight around. But do we have any alternative to suggest? It seems certain that we will not want to send the Cheshires to Abkhazia or Tajikistan.

Russia will be the principal power in the former USSR, whatever happens. Asking her to lead a peacekeeping organisation under the mandate of the UN may be the best way of harnessing her strengths while restraining her weaknesses.

If non-Russian Soviet republics would agree to it, this arrangement would also offer them the best guarantee of their security likely to be available at the moment.

Yours sincerely,

GEOFFREY HOSKING

Professor of Russian History

School of Slavonic and East European Studies

University of London

London, WC1

10 June

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