Russia's Nostalgic Generals

Generals everywhere are mocked for wanting to fight new wars the same way they fought the last one. Russia's military leaders--indeed, much of its foreign policy elite--is stuck in a similar rut. Both generals and diplomats are finding it hard to move beyond Cold War thinking, and their retrograde posture is hindering President Putin's efforts to push the country in a new direction.

Around the world, Vladimir Putin is viewed as a strong man whose word is sacred. But this is hardly the case. In the Iraq crisis, both the Foreign Affairs and Defense Ministries voiced opinions starkly at odds with Putin. Such divisions occur regularly.

Kremlin watchers, also stuck with Cold War mindsets, prefer to believe that President Putin and his ministers are playing a game of ``good cop/bad cop,'' in which, where the West is concerned, Mr Putin is good and everyone else is bad. If so, it's a strange game with perverse effects. For any foreign policy needs clear goals. But what happened during the Iraq war demonstrated that no real practical goal--such as securing repayment of Iraq's debts or preserving Russian interests in Iraqi oil--guided Russia's foreign policy. Instead, the Kremlin placed at risk its hard-won warm relations with the US for no clear reason.

It is no secret that Russia's diplomats and military leaders were unhappy with Putin's decisive tilt toward the West after the war on terror began. Both the Foreign and Defense Ministries wanted a drawn-out fight over America's withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and NATO enlargement. They were mightily disappointed when Putin stated that he did not want any ``hysteria'' over these issues.