Saturday, March 10, 2007

big chill

This is a long rant written last month about Putin and Russian foreign policy which was never published and is now slightly out of date. It is not a considered view and is certainly not a reflection of The Economist's stance. I post it here mainly because I would be interested in comments on how it could be improved



Putin goes ballistic

PINCH yourself. You are not dreaming of 1976, when Abba’s Mamma Mia was top of the charts, Prince Charles was a bearded bachelor and Noel Edmonds was presenting a daring new programme called the “Multi-coloured Swap Shop”.

You are not dreaming because the cold war, supposedly is over. The evil empire has collapsed. And the west and Russia are friends. Or are they? For one thing in recent days has been startlingly reminiscent of the nightmarish world of superpower confrontation in the 1970s—the intimidating, duplicitous rhetoric coming out of the Kremlin. This week General Nikolai Solovtsov, the commander of Russia’s strategic missile forces, warned Poland and the Czech Republic that if they dared to accept new American bases, they should reckon with becoming the targets of Russian nuclear missiles.

President Vladimir Putin said in a harshly worded speech in Munich earlier this month that America’s plans could upset the international balance of power. He also accused the United States of having “overstepped its national borders in every way”.

Another echo of the cold war is Russia’s return to the police-state habits rooted in its darkest history. Democracy, always flimsy, has become an outright sham, with hand-picked parties taking part in choreographed contests that recall the bogus multi-party systems of communist-run eastern Europe. The mass media is muzzled. Freedom House, an American think tank, in its newly published survey “Freedom in the World 2007” put Russia in its bottom, “not free” category. That is not just western scaremongering. The guest speaker at the launch was none other than Andrei Illarionov, the brilliant free-market economist who until 2005 was Mr Putin’s adviser.

“The outside world does not know what is going on,” he warned the assembled dignitaries in Washington DC, where he is now based. Too right. Many of those whose freedoms are being curtailed are too scared to speak up. Russians themselves have noone to turn to. Westerners prefer not to cause more trouble. When Britain’s ambassador, Anthony Brenton, was hounded for months by the thugs of “Nashi”, a pro-Putin youth movement, neither Downing St nor the Foreign Office saw fit to complain publicly. That, officials said privately, was because they did not want to jeopardise BP’s already imperilled investments in Russia.

Repression and corruption go hand in hand. As Anders Aslund, the top Swedish Russia-watcher, noted recently, it is astonishing that Russia’s communications minister Leonid Reiman, a close personal friend of Mr Putin’s, has been shown by a Swiss court to be the owner of telecommunications assets in Russia worth more than a billion dollars—yet this has not been reported by any significant media inside Russia, and Mr Reiman remains at his post without having offered any explanation or apology, beyond an implausible blanket denial.

Yet at first sight, Russia’s fight with America is an odd one. The planned Czech radar and Polish rocket base aim to counter not Russia’s nuclear deterrent, but attacks from Iran and North Korea—rogue states whose nuclear ambitions the Kremlin, supposedly, is helping us to check. This is not the “star wars” plan conceived by Ronald Reagan, which aimed to block a Soviet nuclear strike on the West. This is a far more modest scheme, originally launched under Bill Clinton, which aims to deter rogue states from even thinking of using nuclear weapons against the west.

A moment’s thought shows that this scheme cannot be used to block Russia’s arsenal of thousands of nuclear warheads, launchable from anywhere on the planet by air and submarine, as well as from nuclear silos all over that country’s vast landmass. The planned rocket base in Poland will have just 10 interceptor rockets. But to deter a country such as Iran, likely to have even in a decade’s time only a handful of long-range missiles, America’s “son of Star Wars” is a sensible approach.

So why is Russia behaving so neurotically? First, because it loathes the pro-western orientation of the once-captive nations of eastern Europe. Whether it is Estonian soldiers fighting alongside British squaddies in Afghanistan, or Polish special forces training with the SAS, the new enthusiastic alliances in the cause of freedom are a constant and embarrassing contrast to the Kremlin’s current and former foreign policy—one based on black arts and brute force, not shared values and common interests. The Kremlin fails to see that its own bullying tactics and mischief-making have sent these countries queuing up to join NATO, just as its own supposed allies are wriggling frantically out of the Russian bear’s uncomfortable hug.

Just across the Polish border in Belarus, the country that was once Russia’s closest ally, the government is questioning the continued presence of Russia’s main missile-tracking radar at Baranavichy. Yet in Poland, once Russia’s satellite, the government is glad to host an American one. I recently asked Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s official spokesman, if he could name one neighbouring country which was a friendly and grateful Russian ally. He struggled for some seconds, and then mentioned Uzbekistan, a loathsome and backward Central Asian dictatorship. Had I asked the same question at the White House, I would have been answered with a list of more than 20 ex-communist countries that cherish their friendship with America, and want to deepen it further.

Secondly, America’s new bases underline Russia’s own technological backwardness. Russia’s anti-missile protection system is a crude cold-war affair that protects only Moscow—and with interceptors so clumsy that even if they worked, they would leave the Russian capital devastated. America’s programme is hugely ambitious and expensive. Like Reagan’s original star wars, it is a project that the clapped-out Russian economy cannot hope to match.

America, and its allies in “new Europe” have dealt crisply with the bullying Russian rhetoric of past weeks. Robert Gates, a veteran cold warrior who is now America’s Defence Secretary, responded to Mr Putin with a humorous put-down—by far the best way of dealing with Russian bluster. Karl Schwarzenberg, the doughty Hapsburg prince who is now the Czech Foreign Minister, responded with a silky and elegant disdain straight from the salons of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to which his country once belonged. If Russia was trying to show that it was a peace-loving country, he noted, trying to “blackmail” its neighbours was hardly the way to go about it.

The row over the rocket base and radar, though, is just a skirmish in the struggle that will determine the future of a European continent coming to terms with a resurgent Russia. The east-west relationship is antagonistic, touchy and mistrustful; it is not—yet at least—a reprise of the Cold War. But the Russian regime—in the throes of a power struggle as the end of Mr Putin’s constitutional term approaches in 2008—needs foreign enemies, and if it does not have them, it invents them. By bashing the west, Russian officials can show their patriotism, and stoke their compatriots’ sense of paranoia—and turn a handsome penny into the bargain.

Mr Illarionov—a man with intimate knowledge of the Kremlin’s inner workings—says: “Russia is engaged in the export of non-freedom. That is not stated publicly, but that is the reality”.

From a military stand-point, Russia has long seemed more like an impostor than a true superpower. Its army is a shambles, plagued by bullying and corruption; its navy and air force are crippled by cash-starvation that for more than a decade left the ships mostly at anchor, and the warplanes on the ground.

Now Mr Putin is trying to restore the armed forces’ former might. His war-chest is fuelled with billions of dollars of oil and gas revenues from Russia’s booming economy, which has grown from $200 billion in 1999 to $1 trillion (around half the size of Britain’s) last year. Three days before his speech, the government unveiled a £90 billion rearmament plan that should replace 45% of Russia’s weaponry by 2015. It includes new early-warning radars, new intercontinental ballistic missiles, a fleet of supersonic nuclear bombers, and 31 new warships including nuclear submarines, and aircraft carriers. Other plans include rearming 45 tank battalions and five air defence brigades with modern missiles.

It sounds scary. But even Russia’s trillions of petro-roubles are not enough to restore a superpower arsenal. Russia’s armed forces are too clapped out, the technology too backward. Those new weapons that Russia has tried to develop in recent years have largely been hopeless failure. The new seaborne Bulava missile regularly fails during tests. Without missiles, the new submarines are useless. Pavel Felgenhauer, Russia’s top independent defence analyst, says: the “rearmament plan only pretends to be a replica of a Cold War build up, while in fact it is a modest attempt to keep even a fraction of Russia’s present Soviet-made strategic defence operational until 2015”.

What Russia really wants is something different: to scrap the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed in 1987 by Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. That scrapped thousands of American and Russian ballistic missiles with ranges from 500 to 5500 kilometres. For years, that has been seen as the crowning arms-control achievement of the 1980s. But now Russia says the INF treaty was a terrible mistake as it prevents development of the Iskander-M missile, which has a potential range of 500km. As Mr Felgenhauer puts it “Moscow wants to deploy new missiles that cannot reach the United States, but are designed for neighbours.” That, he says, will underline the Kremlin’s new foreign policy doctrine, which he characterises as: “Keep out! Stop poking into our neighbourhood—or we may go ballistic.”

It will be years before Russia’s military build-up bears fruit. But right now, with America distracted and the European Union divided, the pickings look rich and easy for the ruthless and power-hungry spooks and crooks who run the Kremlin. One of Mr Putin’s top allies confided to a western visitor earlier this year “We have realised that there is a limit to what we can do with overt politics. From now on, we are going to use brute economic force to get what we want.”

And it is there—not in warheads or tanks—that the terrifying weakness of the west is starkly exposed. For during the cold war, the capitalists and the freedom-fighters were on the same side. Even the most cynical and amoral moneybags could see that communism would be not just bad for business: it would be bad for him. It was that alliance between idealism and self-interest that fuelled the fire of western determination and unity, until the evil empire and the Berlin wall came crashing down in ruins.
But now idealism and self-interest are pulling in different directions. Human-rights campaigners may stand up for Russian dissidents and political prisoners. Politicians with a conscience (often in faraway America, rather than nearby Europe, it must be said) still care when small countries such as Estonia and Georgia face the full blast of Russian hate campaigns and economic sanctions. But the business lobby is pulling in the other direction. The city bankers and pinstriped lawyers who launder Russia’s money and reputation abroad may know what they are doing—but it is bad for business to admit it. Inside Russia, every western businessman has a story to tell about the rampant corruption and terrifying lawlessness. But nobody speaks up.
The truth is that nobody in power in the west wants to confront the Kremlin—even when Russian officialdom shelters those who have committed an act of nuclear terrorism in the heart of London. Privately, politicians such as Tony Blair, George Bush and Germany’s Angela Merkel are deeply gloomy about Russia’s future, and detest Mr Putin. But they are hamstrung by the need to deal with Russia on issues such as the middle east, North Korea, Iran, nuclear security and the like. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, boasted recently: “Not one single significant international problem can be resolved without Russia or against Russia.”
Just as in the cold war, the Kremlin can count on what Lenin called “useful idiots”: those in the west who, whether from naivety, wrong-headedness or darker motives, are willing to defend Russia and criticise those who attack it. The predictable bleats of moral relativism form a deafening chorus. “Has Russia done wrong in its genocidal war Chechnya? Well what about Iraq?” “Is Mr Putin a thug? Well, George Bush is an idiot.” “Corruption in Russia is atrocious? Yes but at least it is stable and prosperous”. “Russia is bullying its former satellites? Just what America did for decades in Latin America”.
Those useful idiots looked pretty silly when the Soviet Union’s crimes and shortcomings were finally exposed. What will it take to embarrass them this time?


22 comments:

Kuba said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kuba said...

he text - inasmuch as it presents an overall panorama and the'balance sheet' of today's Russia - is good - (take it from a 'paranoid maniac'- it counts double :))- if a little clueless...it is all well known and as it is so, it might be treated as a constans of the global equasion.
I think it would gain raison d'ete, if you ventured to suuply your thinking on the variables in it and how you see the ways they may influence Russia's course and/or - on how Russia may exert its influence upon global situation, provided what you rightly pointed out, that the reservoir of might to actually throw behind the roars is conditional upon two, or three basic factors:
a.) one: (not least psychological) capacity of Russian leadership to keep up psychological warfare. Now Putin has it, but once he goes - what then?
- how much - you think - of that capacity rests on Putin's individual background (i.e, is vulnerable in case of change at the steering wheel) and how much is generated by the stable system of power?

If the existence of such a stable system of power is assumed - and it is plausible to argue otherwise - there opens further interesting extension to follow:
- the question of what is the 'physiology' of that system(granted that its morphology is more or less well known)?

b.)the second factor which you have also tackled but, dare I say, failed to explore all its grave implications) which conditionalizes the efficiency of Russia's global play is its being dependent badly on the fluctuations in short- and mid-term fossil-fuels' prices.

It would be, perhaps, worth mentioning that the extent of this dependance is the function of progress - or lack of it - in the advancement of the on-going political plot to drive a natural gas noose around the E.U's neck.

Equally noteworthy in connection therewith might be the fact of how far Russia has already managed to get with this scheme and that it has been so far achieved by cunning application of the paralysing combination of'hardware'(infrastructure) and 'software'(politically administered flow of investment capital alongside the spreading cobweb of legal /political agreements - bi and multilateral).

If it succeeds in completing that scheme, besides other obvious gains, Moscow will acquire new immunity to the currently looming 'sea-sickness' from the unpredictability of prices of oil - the other of the two main Russian 'fund-raisers'

You might want to turn attention to the following:
As for today, Russia remainsis outside OPEC but once Europe has been rendered manageable by means of natural gas, it will no doubt press forward its already existent plan to put up its own cartel of gas-providers which given the leverage at Russias fingertips would be far more monolythic that OPEC).

Here, an important - I think - observation becomes self-imposing yet strangely seldom explicitly formulated:
- in the light of all just said, it seems Russia is existentially under immense time pressure to make a homerun lest the external conditions should coincide with its structural weakness to bring its stamina to zero.
Call me Polonocentric (Poland, not polon being at the center:)!) but let me digress on a largely omitted aspect of the Polish veto against new EU-Russia deal: never mind its declared motif - one fundamental argument to look at it favourably is that it throws a monkey wrench down the afore-outlined Russian scheme-mongering.
It is, by the way, both pathetic and scary to observe the Franco-German short-sightedness in their dedication in undertaking their leming-like suicidal chases toward the edge!).



The list of possible tracks to follow is long; let me add just one more, third factor:

- Russia's other (active and potentially threatening) referrential pole (Europe being passive and threatened): China and its new global strategy, not least the frenetic armament. Suffice to say, within next 5-10 years China will have no less than 94 brand new Han-class nuclear-propelled submarines in the water, each capable of carrying missiles with mutiple nuclear warheads, ('smaller' news include China having just developed its own fighter-jet and its purchase of an aircraft-career etc) juxtapose it with the fact that China still has unresolved land border issues with Russia and India, each of which already once errupted into military skirmish in the 60-s and you have plenty to think about...
3:51 AM

krksr said...

Edward,

In reference to the passage about Russian resentment of the pro-Western leaning of most ex-communist countries...

It seems to me that Russians tend to see geopolitics as a game of power between the large nations in the world. The Americans, the Russians, the British, the French, the Germans, the Japanese, the Chinese... Small nations are not subjects in this game, to them – they are objects.

In a recent rally outside our parliament house in Tallinn, there was a rather unfriendly exchange of words between a demonstrator and Meelis Atonen, a Reform party MP. It ended with the demonstrator calling Mr. Atonen 'gospodin amerikanets' - 'Mr. American'...

The idea that small nations might just want to live in peace and not have to worry about being invaded by a larger neighbour seems almost completely alien to many Russians. After all, how can objects have any wants or wishes...

That is why I think the Russian administration might see the establishment of defence missile bases in the Czech Republic and Poland as a matter American expansion, rather than Czech/Polish defence. Or, at least, it is very easy for them to portray it as such to the Russian electorate...

Regards,
Kristjan

BEING HAD said...

I think that the take from Poland was that they did NOT want the missiles there. Also, though the Belarusian president did do a lot of talking in January and early February about how unfriendly the Russians had become, in general Belarus has been quite yielding to both sides and has not put much of a real argument against anything Russia has done.

You do make a very strong point though that we are returning to the days when there was almost universal fear of a coming nuclear exchange. I think much of this proactive arrogance on the part of the Russians comes from a combination of having some wealth for the first time in a decade and a half mixed with the fact that they are in fact leaning towards a heavier, centralized hand. To me the explanation is simple: If this is the time when the money is coming in, it is definitely a case of 'let the big dog eat". It is ironic though that in polls taken around New Years, well better than 50% of the former Soviet Union wanted to go back towards some sort of a brotherhood union. I don't believe any of those people wanted to go back to the cold war though and I have to believe that Russia's bloodthirsty policies have come as something of a shock.

krksr said...

BH,

Which poll are you referring to?

Kristjan

Giustino said...

It ended with the demonstrator calling Mr. Atonen 'gospodin amerikanets' - 'Mr. American'...

It's pretty typical that they'd choose Russian to yell something at an Estonian parliament member. Two insults at once!

I don't know what their problem is. I just don't understand it. I read these Internet dialogs from the Russian side and for whatever reason, some of them really hate Estonians - Balts in general.

I guess it's because they have totally rejected Russian culture, and that worries the Russians, who for whatever reason see their country as some kind of purveyor of civilization. I mean if Russian isn't worth anything in Latvia, at least in the government, then it must REALLY not be worth anything, right?

I also think it's because they don't have a democracy so they can't hate local politicians. And the Russian media just feeds them reasons to hate their neighbors. The pop psychologist in me would say that they are projecting -- that they really hate themselves.

Anyway, there's some grotesque Nazi-esque stuff being freely uttered by Russian Internet heads, on the magnitude of "we'll get you back and assimilate you."

In those moments, the image of a mushroom cloud over Moscow doesn't seem as far detached. You recall that as fearsome as Germany was in the 1940s, they still lost, and they lost big time. Dresden was also a civilized place before the allies flattened it in that conflict. Let's not harbor these assumptions that bad things don't happen three or four or five times.

But those are just the thoughts of a paranoid rambling mind. The bottomline is, why do they always want to seek some kind of imperial agreement where they carve up the world into spheres? At what point did they fail to register the death of 19th century style imperialism?

krksr said...

Giustino,

The discussion between the demonstrator and Atonen was actually in Russian all the way through, so there was no special insult in that.. In fact, it's hard to find any insult in it at all, since the discussion was about the statue.. :)

But that's the point - to me and, I'm sure, to Atonen it just seemed bizarre and amusing, but to the demonstrator it made sense. In the Estonians (possibly) moving the statue, he saw the hand of America..

As to your general question of "what their problem is", my simplistic answer would be that I guess they feel that we don't love them as much as they think they should be loved..

Kristjan

BEING HAD said...

To KRKSR:

I knew I'd get called on the polls. Here's one from Angus Ried

If a referendum on unification of the former Soviet republics into a new alliance would be held today, would you vote in favour of the alliance or against it?

RUS, UKR, BEL

In favour
51%, 45%, 36%

Against
22%, 25%, 32%

Other / Not sure
27%, 30%, 32%


Here is also this quote from an Azer.com article:

When asked about the level of intervention by the State into the economy of the country, young Azerbaijanis demonstrated fairly liberal thinking: 8.8 percent supported the idea of a completely free market economy with no government intervention (5 percent in Russia; 11.6 percent in Ukraine). But when the question was posed in a more specific way: "What should be the relationship between the government and its people?" Young Azerbaijanis showed themselves to be more paternalistically oriented than their post-Soviet colleagues: 68.2 percent opted for the response: "Government should care for all of its people" (Russians polled 64.3 percent; Ukrainians, 62.6 percent).

What explains this strongly paternalistic orientation a decade after the demise of the command administrative system? Unlike the Soviet government, the governments of the new independent States do not claim to look after their citizens. Is this belief simply part of the legacy which has been passed down from older generations?


Here are two more quotes from Hoover.org:

"In a poll conducted in 2003, the Russian Center for Public Opinion found that 53 percent of Russians still regard Stalin as a “great” leader. The explanation is not far to seek. The collapse of communism has meant not just greater freedom but also widening inequality and a dramatic decline in average living standards."

and...

All this helps explain why so many Russians might welcome a return to the USSR. Or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that they would willingly trade their own recent history for a version of China’s, which would give them the benefits of the market economy without the costs they associate with the collapse of the Soviet state.

In addition to these I site the last election results for Putin and Lukashenka, and the reversal of the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine. I have a more definitive survey somewhere on the BHTimes, I remember running it.

krksr said...

Oh dear,

It would take a month for us to find common ground, BH. I'm not going to try.

Let me just say that I think you should pay far more attention to the differences between ex-Soviet states. I mean, comparing Azerbaijan with Georgia, or Belarus with Latvia is rather like comparing North Korea with South Korea, albeit the difference is not quite as big.

And please don't make claims like "In polls taken around New Years, well better than 50% of the former Soviet Union wanted to go back towards some sort of a brotherhood union", when your actual poll data suggests that this is true only of the people in Russia.

All the best,
Kristjan

BEING HAD said...

I understand your perspective. But from my position, and this means from the position of a guy standing at Ploshad Lenina, drinking in the New Year in front of the Yolka with about 20,000 of my closest friends from Pinsk Belarus, I really wish for you to know that Belarus would not have had the slightest problem becoming a part of a larger political/economic entity that included the like-cultures of the former USSR. I don't think any of the 15 states wanted to lose sovereign identity, but all of them would be in great favor of something that would allow them the economic power to continue their culture as they have known it. I don't think this is a long shot idea in any possible way.

I think you are being too quickly dismissive by only acknowledging the 50% yes. Please understand that ONLY a quarter said no. And this is after a decade and a half of poverty and the constant uncertain future that all have. I take that no exactly as seriously as the yes and this means that 75% would go, today and without question. And better, let’s remember that Putin and Lukashenka ran on tickets that suggested that they were both from the old school and that both won in landslides with even larger percentages than I mentioned. If the American Presidential election went like this, it would be the biggest landslide since FDR.

But I really like this blog. I have been reading for a while and I just stuck a link up for you taday. Hope you don't mind.

Giustino said...

The discussion between the demonstrator and Atonen was actually in Russian all the way through, so there was no special insult in that.. In fact, it's hard to find any insult in it at all, since the discussion was about the statue.. :)

Oh no, not the damn statue again!

But that's the point - to me and, I'm sure, to Atonen it just seemed bizarre and amusing, but to the demonstrator it made sense. In the Estonians (possibly) moving the statue, he saw the hand of America..

The funny thing is that Iceland rerecognized Estonia first in 1991, followed by Denmark. The US was still sitting on its hands, trying to figure out what to do.

Likewise it was Estonia's Nordic neighbors that helped bring the country both into the European Union and NATO.

This country is mostly owned by Sweden and Finland. So if there is an invisible foreign hand, it's in Sweden or Helsinki. You can bet that those Rootsi and Soome investors don't mind that Atonen (who has a Finnish name, anyway) and his party of euroliberals are in power in Tallinn..

krksr said...

Giustino,

This brings us back to the supposition I started with: that Russians tend to see world politics as a game of power between large nations, and small nations are not subjects in this game - they are objects.

Of course, I don't know what proportion of Russians see the world that way, but I do know that many do, and it's definitely something worth keeping in mind, as it explains many actions and exclamations that might otherwise seem quite insane.

It happens quite often that Russian government officials and Duma members - in their saner moments, when they're not accusing us of fascism – accuse Estonia of not giving sufficient provision to Russian interests. It's an odd accusation on the face of it, but it becomes intelligible if you assume that the Estonians have no will of their own, and all they do is choose between the will of different large nations, most specifically – American and Russian. And if you think that, you notice that the Estonians systematically choose to serve the will of the Americans. As do many other ex-communist countries. And the Russians resent that, as Edward points out.

This sort of thinking is obviously not in tune with reality, but it should be noticed and understood when dealing with Russians. Consider now, for example, the accusation that the US "has overstepped its national borders in every way"...

Kristjan

PS. I think you underestimate the role of the US in getting the Baltic states into NATO. I think we certainly wouldn't be there without their clear and forceful support.

Giustino said...

PS. I think you underestimate the role of the US in getting the Baltic states into NATO. I think we certainly wouldn't be there without their clear and forceful support.

That's quite true. But I also think it wouldn't have happened without agreement from Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and other long-term members.

Take the situation with Georgia. Georgia's strongest NATO supporters are countries like Estonia and part of the US defense hierarchy. But the appetite doesn't seem to be as strong among European members that are probably hungover as it is from EU expansion.

US + Estonia doesn't equal NATO membership. Georgia is going to have to sell itself to more of NATO if it wants to eventually get into the club.

And that's why Russia is so wrong in interpreting the world as a game between great powers. It is in Germany's interest that the Baltics be stable and in NATO - they are in Germany's backyard - just as it was in Germany's interest to participate in the NATO actions in Kosovo in 1999, also in Germany's (and Italy's) backyard. But is Georgian membership in NATO in Germany's interests?

I'm not sure.

Tom said...

I don't have any comments on the foreign policy aspects of the piece - I think it's right to point out that Russia is itself destroying its own friendships in the near abroad.

Just a comment on the freedom of the press in Russia - the Reiman issue was widely reported inside Russia. There is currently a steady rise in the number of reports of official corruption, especially at a local level. This may be a pre-election campaign, to persuade people that the centre is doing something about corruption. Of course, the press isn't free here - information flows freely, but no one is allowed to blow up a scandal about it. This is all done behind closed doors, like with Zurabov, the pensions minister, who is gradually having the screws turned on him. He would have been out in six months in the West, but it's taken six years in Russia.

Martin said...

Edward,

The silky and elegant disdain of Hapsburg princes notwithstanding (perhaps the loss of their own empire has forced the Hapsburgs to regain some of their deftness of touch), as a British citizen living in Britain I am consistently dismayed by the cavalier attitude towards Rusian sensibilities displayed by our government and our employees such as Anthony Brenton, the so-called 'British Ambassador to Moscow'.

From what one reads, Brenton is at best undiplomatic, at worst a meddling nag. He should be fired immediately.

It is not our role to make Russia the way we would like it to be. It is not our place to interfere in its domestic affairs. For better or worse, it is the way it is; and British interests are best served by buying the gas, staying quiet, holding our noses and supping with a very, very long spoon.

krksr said...

Yes,

Just like when your neighbour is raping his daughter, it's in your best interest not to make a fuss about it. God forbid he might cancel next week's badminton game.

krksr said...

Giustino,

I strongly believe that what's in the interest of my community is also in the interest of me personally. Likewise, what's in the interest of the Western world is also in the interest of each individual Western country, I think. (Remember the scene in the movie "A Beautiful Mind" that begins with the words "Adam Smith needs revision"? ;)) Of course, the question is, do administrations of countries consider things along those lines. I'd like to think they do. Because along those lines, Georgia's membership in NATO is certainly in Germany's interest.

Kristjan

Martin said...

Kristjan,

To compare a nation to a household is fatuous; the two entities are not subject to the same rights and obligations.

However, if one wishes to extend that metaphor to its logical conclusion one could argue that the mass migration into the UK, RoI and Sweden from the A8 nations since May 1 2004 is a form of squatting.

Disagree?

krksr said...

Martin,

Rights and obligations come into play when discussing specific actions that serve a person's or a nation's interests. There, there is little to compare, you are right. What I am really talking about is defining what a nation's interests inevitably are and must be, and there your view is far too myopic, in my opinion.

Everything we do influences the world – I think you would not argue with that. Everything private persons do influence the people around them. If I become aware that my neighbour is really raping his daughter, the first question I have to answer is, "am I for it, against it, or neutral towards it?". Putting it differently, the question becomes "is it in my interest?" - to which the answer can be either "yes", "no" or "uncertain".

I think most people would agree that they are not for a man raping his daughter, it is not in their interest. The reason is not something directly tangible – after all they are not the ones being raped. I suppose the answer comes from a sense of right and wrong, more generally from our culture and the wish to preserve it.

The next question, therefore, for most people, is "how do I stop this practise or, at least, reduce it?". To which the answer is, "go to the police", "have a chat with the neighbour", etc. The answer is not, however, "play badminton with him next week as if everything were fine", because that would be counter-productive to realizing the interest of the raping stopping, as it would be an affirmation to the neighbour that his behaviour is acceptable to his peers.

Now, everything nations do influence the world far more deeply, and in the case of large powerful nations, this is especially so. When you read Edward's description of Russia, and you reply to it with "let's keep our mouths shut and our wallets open", I really have to question your logic.

- Do think the current internal developments in Russia are in Britain's interest?
- Do you think that Russia, if it continues uninterrupted on its current course, will eventually become a country that will have the means and the will to influence Britain in an undesired way?

My answer to these two questions would be "no" and "yes".

If you accept that, we can move on to the next question, which is "what should Britain do about the current developments in Russia?", or, putting it another way, "how are British interests best served?".

I can think of a number of things. Supporting the remaining free press, discussing human rights violations on international forums, working towards making the trends known to your potential allies. Ultimately, however, money speaks louder than words, and the way to really influence Russia is to make fuel purchases conditional on desired political decisions. Proper application of stick and carrot is the best way to influence young people – and non-allied nations.

If, on the other hand, Britain chooses to "buy the gas and stay quiet", they would be directly contributing to the forceful rise of a powerful, autocratic country, whose administration is real unhappy about all the territory they've lost in last few decades. In effect, you will be feeding a monster that grows stronger and meaner with every bite. And one day, it might be behind your door with a wish list...

Kristjan

Kuba said...

Martin said: "To compare a nation to a household is fatuous; the two entities are not subject to the same rights and obligations." ...may I ask, where do you see the difference, let alone scale, between a housing community and a group of countries forming an international community?

"However, if one wishes to extend that metaphor to its logical conclusion one could argue that the mass migration into the UK, RoI and Sweden from the A8 nations since May 1 2004 is a form of squatting.

Disagree?"

...it would be preposterous, if it was not plain stupid;
if, however, a word is after all to be spoken on it, it will be this; the choice of 'squatting' as a metaphore for mass migration to the three countries combined with your previous prescription for jolly good relations with Russia, speak volumes on your own anxieties and insecurities, but fail to relate to reality in the least bit:
- as to your Russia stance; since this kind of 'argumentation' really does turn my otherwise omnivorous stomach, let me say I see your obvious lineage going back to the somewhat-less-than-glorious one Neville Chamberlain who in his time also sought to find peace. Quite another person said then: "it may never be a complete certainty as to whether it will eventually come to a fight if one side is so determined to give way completely"...80 years have passed, I did not know they still make you!
- secondly, find me squatters that pay the bills for years in advance - for themselves and for their landlords!

Giustino said...

Well, Russian diplomacy is often tactless. And while metaphors are often poor in international relations, diplomatic relations often DO take the form of personal contact.

That being said, how much sanctimonious or boorish posturing from Vladimir Putin or Sergei Lavrov can you take before you want to tell these guys to shut up?!

They can say downright nasty, irritating, destabilizing things. If someone continues to fart in your general election, do you just sit there and continue to supp with your very long spoon?

I am frankly surprised that more people haven't lost their patience.
And as weak as the British Empire is, I hardly expect ambassadors from the UK to be treated with such contempt and not to respond accordingly.

Kuba said...

speaking of logic to mataphors, one more thing in Martin's direction:
...would you agree that 'supping with a very, very long spoon' - especially when accompanied with 'holding your nose', as you advocate it, bears with it the risk -(the one I would not be as couraeous to take on!)- that what you gobble up at your end and what's actually being served at the other...may not be exactly the same thing?...
...So, to stave off bad indigestion, heed this:
...the thing you are supping looks like s#@%t and it doesn't smell like roses, either!.
Of course, you might like to cover up your ears, too, for that full sensory deprivation effect you seem to be after, only then, when s#@%t hits your greedy tongue, don't come crying!