Here is one measure of the aggressive shift in Russian foreign policy in recent days: Dmitri O. Rogozin, Russia’s representative to NATO, a finger-wagging nationalist who hung a poster of Stalin in his new ambassadorial office, is not sounding so extreme any more.
“There are two dates that have changed the world in recent years: Sept. 11, 2001, and Aug. 8, 2008,” Rogozin said in an interview, explaining that the West has not fully grasped how the Georgia conflict has heightened Russians’ fears about being surrounded by NATO. “They are basically identical in terms of significance.”
“Sept. 11 motivated the United States to behave really differently in the world,” he said. “That is to say, Americans realized that even in their homes, they could not feel safe. They had to protect their interests, outside the boundaries of the U.S. For Russia, it is the same thing.”
Only a few months ago, the blustery Rogozin, 44, was regarded even in the Kremlin as more performance artist than diplomat. Established officials sometimes rolled their eyes when he was mentioned, as if to acknowledge that Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s president at the time, had sent him to NATO to do a little trash-talking to rattle the West.
Yet Rogozin’s arrival at alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, in January might be seen as an omen of the crisis to come. He quickly scorned what he called the “blah, blah, blah” diplomatic niceties and pounded away at a single theme: after years of affronts, Russia had had enough.
Its invasion of Georgia three weeks ago made that apparent, as did its decision on Tuesday to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the breakaway enclaves at the center of the hostilities. Now the rising stature of Rogozin, who called NATO criticism of Russia’s military action “bigoted and indecent,” underscores Russia’s new tone — one adopted by both Putin, now prime minister, and President Dmitri A. Medvedev.
Rogozin has become a prominent Russian voice even as he remains a provocative figure in Moscow who led a political party that espoused anti-immigrant appeals — including an advertisement showing dark-skinned immigrants throwing watermelon rinds on the ground — described by some opponents as racist.
After the Georgia conflict broke out, NATO said there would be no “business as usual” in relations with Russia, and Russia in turn suspended some military cooperation. The Kremlin refrained from canceling all ties, saying it would continue to provide assistance in Afghanistan. Still, in comments this week, Medvedev has assumed a tough stance.
“We do not need illusions of partnership,” he said Monday in a nationally televised appearance with Rogozin. “When we are being surrounded by bases on all sides, and a growing number of states are being drawn into the North Atlantic bloc and we are being told, ‘Don’t worry, everything is all right,’ naturally we do not like it.”
“If they essentially wreck this cooperation, it is nothing horrible for us,” he said “We are prepared to accept any decision, including the termination of relations as a whole.”