Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Review from New York Sun

February 7, 2008 Edition > Section: Opinion > Printer-Friendly Version

Putin's New Cold War

February 7, 2008
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/70910

LONDON — So you thought the Cold War was over, did you? Welcome to Vladimir Putin's new Russian Empire.

Using the wealth generated by soaring oil and gas prices, the Kremlin has intimidated its former satellites in Eastern Europe, while treating most of America's North American Treaty Organization allies as if they too could be pushed around.

Russian revanchism for the supposed humiliations of the Yeltsin era in the 1990s drives this agenda. President Putin calls the collapse of the Soviet Union the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the twentieth century, and the suggestion is that everything that has happened since 1991, or even 1989, should now be reversed.

The Russian bear is now throwing his weight about in the international arena, inciting riots in neighboring states or cutting off energy supplies where the Kremlin feels its interests and prestige are at stake.

Whether this campaign of bullying is comparable to the Cold War is a matter of huge importance to the West. Hence it matters which experts we pay attention to.

One whom I can unreservedly recommend is Edward Lucas, an authority on the subject who has been covering the region since the 1980s and has for many years been the Central and Eastern Europe correspondent for the Economist. Mr. Lucas has just published "The New Cold War: How the Kremlin Menaces Both Russia and the West" (Bloomsbury).

Mr. Lucas pulls no punches in excoriating the Putin regime. He is a brave man to stick his neck out so far. In Russia, journalists have been murdered for saying less than he claims in his book.

But "The New Cold War" is extremely — indeed, overwhelmingly — persuasive about the fate that has yet again befallen the unfortunate region of Europe that lies on the borderlands of East and West. For Mr. Putin's Russia, "repression at home is matched by aggression abroad." Whether it is targeting missiles at NATO countries or actually firing them at Georgia, Moscow has no compunction about using brute force to achieve its aims.

The most worrying factor in the situation is not, however, the attitudes of the most part fiercely independent states in the Baltic, Caucasus, or Central Europe. It is the tendency of the wealthy countries at one remove from Russian power, but dependent on Russian energy supplies, that really gives cause for concern.

Knowing how to play what Mr. Lucas calls "pipeline politics" is really the only contribution that Mr. Putin has made to Russian foreign policy during his eight years in office. But it has yielded political as well as economic dividends, despite the notorious inefficiency of Russia's state-run energy monopoly, Gazprom, whose chief executive, Dmitri Medvedev, is Mr. Putin's anointed successor.

During the period after September 11, when America was preoccupied with the Islamofascist threat to the virtual exclusion of others, West European leaders mostly cozied up to Mr. Putin: notably Jacques Chirac of France, Gerhard Schröder of Germany, and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy. Mr. Schröder even stooped so low as to accept a job from Gazprom immediately after leaving office.

During the past year or two, there has been a change of leadership and a notable hardening of tone: Chancellor Merkel of Germany and President Sarkozy of France have both talked tough to the Russians. But the energy dependency of Europe has increased if anything, while Russia's successful attempts to diversify its customer base in the far east has strengthened its bargaining in position.

Russia may call the shots in its acrimonious relationship with NATO, but the real economic power still lies with the West. "The free market cannot be decoupled from the free society," Mr. Lucas states. As long as Europe and America do not abandon the small, weak states in Russia's sphere of influence, they can prevent the new Cold War from spiralling out of control.

The Cold War was all about beating the Soviet Union at its own game, while keeping a clear sense of the ideological and moral gulf that separated the two systems. The Lucas thesis is in essence a plea for "a renewal of both that moral competition and moral distance."

In the War on Terror, the West's greatest enemy is itself, as in the Cold War. "Until we make it clear that we believe in our own values," Mr. Lucas argues, "we cannot defend ourselves against the subversion and corruption that are leaking into our citadels of economic and political power."

That's the point: we must believe in our own values. If we who have lived by this Judaeo-Christian moral code — including freedom, democracy, and the rule of law — do not proclaim it and fight to preserve it, why should the Russians, who have lived under one form of despotism or another since time immemorial, suddenly adopt it as their own?

Whether it is defending itself against Islamofascism or Putinism, the Atlantic alliance must believe in its own mission before it can win the war of ideas.

February 7, 2008 Edition > Section: Opinion > Printer-Friendly Version


Bäckman said...

Glad you are getting good notices. Good paper, though I suspect some on the staff would gladly have Putin as long as they could have Bush for another term.

Anonymous said...

Edward Lucas is totally crazy and should be kept in the zoo.
I wonder what will he write on the death of Patarkatsishvili in London today. So, Russians are to blame, again? Maybe someone else... Maybe some democratic friends of Mr. Lucas/Financial Times/Economist in Caucausus. I'm even scarried to think about it. May be it is the the guy with freedom torch, who organized George Bush' Brezhnev/Kim Yong Il -style visit to Georgia several years ago?
The problem is that it is really hard to sell this "new cold war" bull****. Come on Ed, leave it to the beaver! Try to write on something you really know at least.


Anton said...

I wonder what Mr.Lucas is going to say about the fact that Russia is one of the few countries defending the legitimacy and jurisdiction of UN. While several EU countries and the US have simply ignored it and torn off a piece of Serbia.

It will create some credibility difficulties for several nations dealing with separatism and will possibly cause a chain reaction. I wont´t mention the creation of a mafia,corruption run state, fueled with muslim-radicalism, just on the edge of Civilised Europe...good one.

However, so typical of Western Double standards, Abkhasia and South Osetia, don´t have the right of self-determination.