Friday, December 08, 2006

europe view



The fog of the “new cold war”

Dec 7th 2006

And guess who's winning, so far

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LIKE analogies involving the second world war, the “new cold war” is not a phrase to use lightly.

Or maybe at all. Russia is not now seeking military domination of Europe. It is not a one-party state. Nor does it claim to be the embodiment of an ideological success story. The once-towering edifice of Marxist-Leninist ideology is as ruined as social credit or syndicalism. An exposition of “sovereign democracy”, as the Kremlin now grandly calls its scheme of things, would barely fill a postcard, let alone a textbook.

To compare all this to the Soviet Union of Leonid Brezhnev's era may look not only insulting, but absurd. The West’s differences with Russia seem mere nuances when set against the gulf between the modern world and the suicide bomber.

But to argue only that the old cold war is dead and gone is to risk missing the point. Whatever we end up calling it, a new period of deep-seated rivalry is approaching—and perhaps has already begun. As in the mid-to-late 1940s, such things take a bit of time to sink in.

Point one: Russia is different. Whether you think of it as Gazpromistan, or as Kremlin Inc, the Russian state now is as inelegant a creature as ever it was in communist times. It is an authoritarian bureaucratic-capitalist arrangement in which a squabbling elite, drawn largely from the security services, extracts enormous rents from raw materials, steals some, and uses the rest to vie for power, spouting nationalist and sometimes xenophobic rhetoric to maintain popularity.

In short, it turns wealth into power, and then power back into wealth. At home—and abroad.

Point two: Russia is a threat. The Soviet cocktail of communism and imperialism was a hard sell. Especially towards the end, it meant poverty and dictatorship, plus foreign domination. Russia’s main weapons now are more subtle and potent: cheap gas, and money for the right people. The orgy of greed and moral myopia in Moscow in the past 15 years has shown that lawyers, accountants and bankers are willing to forget professional ethics for huge fees.

Russia’s main weapons now are more subtle and potent: cheap gas, and money for the right people

Politicians can lose their bearings, too. Imagine that Helmut Schmidt, the German chancellor until 1982, had not only been great chums with Brezhnev, but in his final months of office had pushed through huge government loan-guarantees for a project that would increase his country's energy dependence on the Soviet Union. And then, as soon as he was out of office, he had taken a lucrative post running that same project.

Fanciful? That is what Gerhard Schröder did with the planned Baltic gas pipeline. Even if it is never built or used, it shows that Russia can brazenly co-opt a Western politician, and expect only a whimper of protest from others. The West is all the weaker for its addiction to wishful thinking. Surely it is better to negotiate and compromise with Russia, than have a messy and costly confrontation?

Even now, money can’t buy everything. So there’s always murder. A veteran Kremlin-watcher in Moscow wrote to your correspondent recently: “Anna Politkovskaya was killed to warn Russians against criticising the Kremlin, especially in Western media. Alexander Litvinenko’s murder was to warn defectors. The only question now is: 'who is next?'”

Surely the Kremlin is not that brazen or brutal? Maybe. But few have won money in recent years underestimating the brazenness and brutality that lurk beneath those onion domes. We face a systemic rivalry based on conflicting values and clashing geopolitics. Not a cold war, perhaps, but it’s getting chilly.


La Russophobe said...

Over at Publius Pundit we've been asking "who's next?" for some time now. See Part I here

and Part II here

Actually, it's just as important to ask "chto delat" when we find out who's next. Any ideas?

nicu said...

eatyourbeans said...

Question. Is Russia as it is currently governed capable of having a systematic foreign policy? Or should we regard it as an unstable and violent gang that lurches its way from heist to heist and hit job to hit job?

Am enjoying your blog. Hope you get lots of customers.

La Russophobe said...

NPOPESCU: Thanks for the link! Indeed, it does say just about all you need to say about Russia that, as the author notes, nobody can exclude the possiblity that Putin was responsible for the attacks on Politkovskaya, Litvenenko and Gaidar. Indeed, nobody can exclude the possiblity of his being responsible for the Moscow apartment bombings. And for that matter, who knows how long the author of your piece, Mr. Osobtsov, has to live

Anonymous said...

Well, well, well... Why are you so afraid of Russia? What is all this hysteria for? Maybe it's time for you to stop thinking in cold-war terminology? If there is any real proof that Litvinenko or Politkovskaya were killed by FSB agents - provide it to the public. If you don't have evidence - you'd better stop blaming Russian government. And, by the way, don't you think that these murders were conducted from Europe or the US to bring the image of Russia as of an ugly and brutal bear back to life? And a few words about Gaidar. If you were familiar with the current political situation in Russia well enough, you would't have supposed that Gaidar was a real danger for the Kremlin and hence was killed. I can tell you that now he is just a minor critic of the government but not a person the Kremlin is afraid of. So, in my opinion, the western press is exaggerating the blood-thirstiness of the Kremlin.

La Russophobe said...


"You'd better stop" -- is that a threat? Going to slip Edward some Polonium if he doesn't, heh?

Who says the Kremlin would only go after Gaidar if he was a "real danger"? Isn't Russian history clear proof that Russians are more than capable of acting irrationally? How about Krushchev at the UN or Putin talking rape to the Israeli diplomatic delgation?

The idea that we should wait to get "evidence" that the KGB has acted is crazy. That's just what the KGB would want us to do, it's their business not to LEAVE evidence.

It's really quite amazing that you can dismiss as ridiculous the claim that the KGB might be involved in killing its enemies, but you can accept the idea that the US would kill Russian enemies just to make Russia look bad. That's really classic Russophile hypocrisy.

Just curious: How many enemies of the Kremlin would have to be killed before you would admit that the Kremlin might be involved? 100? 1,000? 10,000?

For a thorough debunking of PATRIOT's claims, see here:

Penny said...

Hey, patriot, the Kremlin, like every behaviorally recorded collection of thugs, is paranoid about everything. Why wrench private broadcasting from private hands if you aren't paranoid, or dissolve provincial elections, or cancel oil contracts? 13 murdered journalists in any democratic society is alarming, unless you are a fascism approving idiot.

Your brainless defense of the obvious is laughable. You don't seem to be very in touch with the political situation in Russia, but, I'm sure you've been told that before. Save your instructive comments for other like minded fools.

Unknown said...

I agree with the basics of the article.Russia renew, but it still Russia and never forget the URSS pact with Hitler.The question is not if we are afraid of new Russian policy.The question is that besides Europe,the world is not very much worry on what is going on in Russia.And I suggest to watch closer Sino Russian relations as well what Russia is doing in Latin America and may be in Africa.In LA they sell arms and coach Chavez how to govern using better energy resources political power.What Chavez is doing with his pupil Morales and may be Correa in future, is cucaracho copy of Putin Gazprom and so on,policy.If this is good for world or not, is a good question posted by author.

La Russophobe said...

npopescu's article has been translated into english here:

beatroot said...

The comparison between the ‘Cold War’ and the present ‘Trade War’ are strained to the point of silliness.

Rusia is a threat. Cheap gas, and money for the right people

So you mean ….Cheap gas today, tanks on Poland’s border, 25 years ago? Not the same.

Putin is authoritarian but he has also brought a certain stability to the country And a stable Russia is better than Yeltsin’s staggering drunk Russia.. Russians do like that.

And as long as Russia feels secure and stable they are not going to be anything like the threat they were. And certainly not anything like the ‘Soviet threat’.

La Russophobe said...


You obviously haven't been following current events. I suggest you visit my blog and click on the sidebar category "cold war" to see the long list of items that clearly establish the cold war has already started.

You probably also laughed when Boris Yeltsin said Vladimir Putin, a proud KGB spy, would become Russia's second elected president in 1,000 years. But it happened.

Russia is providing arms to Venezueal despite a US ban, nuclear technology and missiles to defend it to Iran despite a European ban, and financial aid to Hamas and Hezbollah. This is direct cold-war activity no different than in Soviet times, and your statements are nothing but propaganda, also the same as in Soviet times.

roobit said...

" murder was to warn defectors. The only question now is: 'who is next?'”

So who is next? Edward Lucas? Alas I doubt it but that would feel so fucking great! A scumbag dies in terrible pain. I know, I know - it's just wishful thinking! But it would feel so good - you go to some Google news thing going and voila you see - Edward Lucas is dead. Murdered in some spectacularly painful manner. Along with his wife and children. All dead. Suffered terribly. This feels like winning lottery. But seriously, look what this piece of shit accomlished - created a powerful news outfit online, gathered a bunch of dedicated admirers with telling names like La Russophobe,plus an odd Pole or two (or what is the vile species?), all fantasizing wildly about Sino-Gazprom Union with Chavez, a Rumanian gypsy - indeed a veritable nuthouse online but on the other hand the Economist (oh miracle of miracles!) keeps publishing "stories" by this hateful scumbag despite the fact that the stuff is spiteful and totally outlandish.

Edward Lucas said...

Dear Roobit

You are welcome to attack my ideas as forcefully as you like (though facts and logic always help). But please refrain from making remarks that it is easy to interpret as offensive. I think if you term Poles a "vile species" you are putting yourself in a weak position when it comes to dealing with people who make unpleasant generalisations about Russians.

Bonaparte said...

once with Romania in EU politics will focus again on this area, there are several "frozen conflicts" like Transnistria, which needs to be solved soon.