The Cable

Czech foreign minister: The West is losing to Putin

Russia President Vladimir Putin is well on his way to reestablishing Russia as a regional hegemon and the West has been too slow to recognize and deal with Putin's strategy, according to the foreign minister of the Czech Republic.

"We are not going back to Stalin, we are going back to Nicholas I," said Karel Schwarzenberg, the Czech minister of foreign affairs, in an exclusive interview with The Cable. "It was under Nicholas that the great part of Central Asia was conquered by the Russians and Putin is quite successfully getting them under the control of Russia again, and the West is losing."

The Obama administration's "reset" policy toward Russia was not enough to influence the path of the Russian government, a path that was set when Putin resumed power, Schwarzenberg said, and now the West must acknowledge and deal with the aggressive autocracy Putin has put in place.

"I have the impression we were a bit too late and too little. We were much too slow and much too little engaged during [former President Boris] Yeltsin's time," he said. "We can't accept this; we can't accept that any world power is dominating his neighbors. We shouldn't have illusions about the regime Putin has installed."

He said that Putin was now reacting to the increasing unrest inside Russia by turning inward and isolating Russia from the influence of Western society, for example by shutting down the U.S. Agency for International Development's mission in Moscow.

"By kicking [USAID] out, he indicated himself what he considers most dangerous for his autocracy," Schwarzenberg said. "He is now afraid to meet the people and that indicates that he realizes the opposition exists and that it has become a force in Russian society. Russia is changing much faster than he thought. It is not as easy to be a dictator as it was 40 years ago."

Schwarzenberg was in town to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sept. 21. He said they talked about Syria, where the Czech Republic is America's protecting power because the United States has withdrawn its diplomatic presence in Damascus. The Czechs protect the U.S. buildings and perform consular services for the roughly 3,000 Americans living in Syria.

The Czech Republic is among the only Western country that still has a diplomatic presence in Damascus. Schwarzenberg said that decision was made for practical, not political reasons.

"I think the purpose of the embassy is for the central government to get information and by withdrawing diplomats you lose the source of information," he said. "If it makes sense and as long as we are getting information, that's a good reason to stay. And the ambassador says she is not scared, so we stay there."

Schwarzenberg said the Czech Republic does not support a NATO-led effort to impose a no-fly zone in Syria and he doesn't think that Western countries should arm the rebels.

"I do think they get enough money and supply from the states backing them like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. They are better armed each day," he said. "It is a normal civil war which is more difficult because on the opposition side, there are many different groups, with different aims, financed by different countries."

The Czechs also want changes in an investment treaty with the United States that goes back decades, but the U.S. government is resisting those changes. Clinton also made the case that the U.S. company Westinghouse should be chosen to build the new nuclear power facility in the Czech Republic, rather than the other two bidders, Schwarzenberg said.

Schwarzenberg was the Czech official who signed the agreement with then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2008 to station an X-band missile-defense radar system in the Czech Republic, an agreement that the Obama administration abrogated when it altered U.S. plans for missile defense in Europe.

The Czech defense minister at the time, Alexandr Vondra, famously said that this decision was indicative of the Obama administration's "enemy-centric" policy. Schwarzenberg said he understood the decision and the Obama administration's perceived turn away from Europe towards other regions including Asia.

"I'm a realist and maybe I was not so full of admiration of the United States as [Vondra], who lived inside the Soviet bloc. I consider myself a great friend of the United States but I know that great powers have their own interests and act in accord with them," Swarzenberg said.

"The Pacific basin is now more important than Europe, it's perfectly understandable," he said. "I think in Europe we have to learn that we have to care much more ourselves, for our own security."

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The Cable

Romney calls for a broad rethink of foreign aid

Mitt Romney pledged Tuesday to shift foreign aid toward the private sector and deprioritize humanitarian aid in favor of promoting free enterprise and business development around the world.

In remarks at the Clinton Global Initiative, Romney laid out his most detailed proposals on foreign aid thus far, including his plan to move foreign aid to rely more on public-private partnerships that enlist American corporations to the cause of helping the developing world.

"Free enterprise has done more to bless humanity than any other economic system not only because it is the only system that creates a prosperous middle class, but also because it is the only system where the individual enjoys the freedom to guide and build his or her own life. Free enterprise cannot only make us better off financially, it can make us better people," Romney said.

He said that America was a compassionate nation but that Americans wonder why foreign aid often falls victim to corruption and doesn't seem to solve the problems of the developing world. Romney believes that is because the private sector is now playing a much larger role in the developing world than foreign governments.

"If foreign aid can leverage this massive investment by private enterprise, it may exponentially expand the ability to not only care for those who suffer, but also to change lives," Romney said. "For American foreign aid to become more effective, it must embrace the power of partnerships, access the transformative nature of free enterprise, and leverage the abundant resources that can come from the private sector."

Romney then said he would lower the priority of foreign aid as a means to address humanitarian needs, such as health, as well as foreign aid as a means to promote U.S. strategic interests. He said the foreign aid goal that will receive "more attention and a much higher priority" if he is elected would be "aid that elevates people and brings about lasting change in communities and in nations."

Romney invoked the name of Muhammed Bouazizi of Tunisia, "the street vendor whose self-immolation sparked the Arab Spring," and said his protest was based on his desire to work to provide for his family.

"Work. That must be at the heart of our effort to help people build economies that can create jobs for people, young and old alike," Romney said. "Work builds self-esteem. It transforms minds from fantasy and fanaticism to reality and grounding. Work will not long tolerate corruption nor quietly endure the brazen theft by government of the product of hard-working men and women."

A Romney administration would initiate "Prosperity Pacts" through which the U.S. government would work with the private sector to eliminate trade and investment barriers in developing nations in exchange for U.S. aid packages that focus on "developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights," he said.

"The aim of a much larger share of our aid must be the promotion of work and the fostering of free enterprise," said Romney. "Nothing we can do as a nation will change lives and nations more effectively and permanently than sharing the insight that lies at the foundation of America's own economy--free people pursuing happiness in their own ways build a strong and prosperous nation."

"I've laid out a new approach for a new era," he said. "We'll couple aid with trade and private investment to empower individuals, encourage innovators, and reward entrepreneurs."

Romney started his speech with a joke about Clinton's speech endorsing President Barack Obama during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

"If there's one thing we've learned this election season, it's that a few words from Bill Clinton can do any man a lot of good," Romney said. "After that introduction, I guess all I have to do is wait a day or two for the bounce."

Note: The headline on this story has been changed to better reflect Romney's proposals.

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