To Russia, With Hate - February, 2009

To Russia, With Hate

February, 2009

In Afghanistan, Pakistan, and throughout the Middle East [.pdf], America’s name is mud, thanks to the Bush administration and its predecessors. During the Bush era, our international standing took a huge hit, with millions wondering what crazed act of aggression was going to come out of Washington next. Our militaristic foreign policy [.pdf] has alienated our friends while multiplying and emboldening our enemies. To listen to Andrei Illarionov tell it, however, we don’t have enough enemies. One more needs to be added to the list, and that is Russia.

Illarionov is a Russian citizen, formerly a top economic adviser to then-President Vladimir Putin, and a senior fellow at the ostensibly libertarian (and anti-interventionist) Cato Institute. Illarionov resigned in 2005, declaring that Russia was a dictatorship and Putin was a monster. He’s spent the last few years or so telling anyone who will listen that Russia poses a military threat to the United States, and he compares any attempt to repair relations as the equivalent of Munich, an idea that Cato Institute scholar Justin Logan rightly mocked some years ago.

In any case, using his Cato credentials to make himself appear credible, Illarionov managed to get himself invited to testify at hearings held by the House committee on international affairs today, and his prepared testimony was made available by a reliable source in the Imperial City. I’ve dealt with Illarionov’s fulminations in this space on previous occasions, but I have to say that his statement to the assembled solons in Washington has got to set some kind of record for looniness. By any standard, no matter how low, Illarionov’s testimony is clearly one of the most embarrassing moments for libertarians in the history of the movement. (Warning: I’ve preserved the original grammar and spelling.) According to Illarionov, the U.S. government has been falling all over itself to mollify Moscow, starting with Bill Clinton and continuing during the Bush administration, to no avail. "The outcomes of these efforts are well known," avers Illarionov. "They were outright failures. Russia has failed to be integrated fully into the community of the modern democratic peaceful nations."

This revisionist history, however, leaves out a few items, starting with the abrogation of the agreement reached by Bush I and Gorbachev to allow the fall of the East German communist regime in exchange for a pledge by the Americans not to extend NATO into Eastern Europe. Then there was the little matter of the Balkan war, in which the U.S. attacked the former Yugoslavia, without a UN mandate, killing 5,000 civilians and installing the Kosovo Liberation Army in power in Kosovo, which has since been ethnically cleansed of Serbs and is now Europe’s drug capital and black market weapons dump.

To acknowledge any of this, however, would contradict the Illarionov thesis, which is that Russia today is a regime of Satanic evil, unique in all history, and the quintessential threat to the U.S., perhaps more so than al-Qaeda. According to him, the Obama administration’s stance so far "strikingly resembles the beginning of the two preceding administrations’ terms. We can see similar desire to improve bilateral relations, similar positive statements, similar promising gestures and visits." Hey, that sounds good to me, but not to Illarionov, because "since nothing serious has changed in the nature of political regimes in both countries it is rather hard not to expect the repetition of already known pattern – high expectations – deep disappointments – heavy failures – for the third time."

Promising gestures and visits, positive statements, an effort to improve relations – Illarionov is having none of it. Why not? Well, because "Today’s Russia is not a democratic country. The international human rights organization Freedom House assigns ‘Not Free’ status to Russia since 2004 for each of the last five years. According to the classification of the political regimes, the current one in Russia should be considered as hard authoritarianism. The central place in the Russian political system is occupied by the Corporation of the secret police."

Freedom House, which prominently supported the invasion of Iraq and receives truckloads of U.S. taxpayer dollars through the National Endowment for Democracy scam, rates Russia on the same level as China, in spite of the regularly held elections, both for the presidency and the Duma, in which several parties, spanning the spectrum from the ultra-left Communists to the far-right nationalists, compete. Putin and his coalition of parties are somewhere in the middle. This is glossed over by both Freedom House and Illarionov, who complain that the government party is "repressing" the opposition, because, you see, they keep winning elections. Yet any reference to actual facts is out of place in Illarionov’s worldview, as the following makes all too clear. In a section entitled "The Corporation of Secret Police," he lays out his diagnosis of what lies behind the Russian state:

"The personnel of Federal Security Service – both in active service as well as retired one – form a special type of unity (non-necessarily institutionalized) that can be called brotherhood, order, or corporation. The Corporation of the secret police operatives (CSP) includes first of all acting and former officers of the FSB (former KGB), and to a lesser extent FSO and Prosecutor General Office. Officers of GRU and SVR do also play some role. The members of the Corporation do share strong allegiance to their respective organizations, strict codes of conduct and of honor, basic principles of behavior, including among others the principle of mutual support to each other in any circumstances and the principle of omerta. Since the Corporation preserves traditions, hierarchies, codes and habits of secret police and intelligence services, its members show high degree of obedience to the current leadership, strong loyalty to each other, rather strict discipline. There are both formal and informal means of enforcing these norms. Violators of the code of conduct are subject to the harshest forms of punishment, including the highest form."

In short: Russia is ruled by a secret brotherhood of the KGB, which never really surrendered power. The members of this secret brotherhood have retained complete control over the whole of Russian society, and they have managed to do this because they are a breed apart:

"Members of the Corporation are trained and inspired with the superiority complex over the rest of the population. Members of the Corporation exude a sense of being the bosses that superior to other people who are not members of the CSP. They are equipped with membership perks, including two most tangible instruments conferring real power over the rest of population in today’s Russia – the FSB IDs and the right to carry and use weapons." [Emphasis in original.]

Of course, no one in Washington has a superiority complex. And as for our officials exuding "a sense of being the bosses" – why, it’s unthinkable! One is puzzled by Illarionov’s tunnel vision: after all, the right to carry and use weapons is not, alas, universally recognized in the U.S., either, and is increasingly under attack. Does that mean we’re living in a totalitarian state? Get serious.

This secret society, the "CSP," according to Illarionov, controls everything and everyone in today’s Russia. Oh, he goes on to assure us, there are a few dissidents;"not everyone" in the Russian government is a slave of this pervasive neo-Communist conspiracy. However, the all-powerful CSP lurks behind the scenes, pulling the strings on its puppets and directing the state. Their efforts, he claims, are increasingly aggressive, and increasingly directed against America: "The TV channels, radio, printed media are heavily censored with government propaganda disseminating cult of power and violence, directed against democrats, liberals, westerners and the West itself, including and first of all the U.S. The level of the anti-U.S. propaganda is incomparable even with one of the Soviet times in at least 1970-s and 1980s."

What Illarionov means by "censored" is not government censorship. There is no government agency that censors the media, poring over news copy and commentary for evidence of anti-government opinions. Instead, what exists is a certain uniformity of opinion in "mainstream" Russia media outlets, which are owned by pro-government businessmen, powerful figures in the top echelons of the nation’s crony-capitalist elite. To a lesser degree, this is precisely what we must endure here in the U.S. – a mainstream media owned by corporations feeding off the government teat, who present a united front when it comes to the important issues of the day, including the question of war and peace. Illarionov seems to have slipped into an alternate timeline, a fantasy land in which Russia has reverted to the 1930s and a single party wields absolute power. According to him,

"Since 1999 there is no free, open, competitive parliamentary or presidential election in Russia. The last two elections – the parliamentary one in December 2007 and presidential one in March 2008 – have been conducted as special operations and been heavily rigged with at least 20 mln ballots in each case stuffed in favor of the regime candidates. None of the opposition political parties or opposition politicians has been allowed either to participate in the elections, or even to be registered at the Ministry of Justice."

This is quite simply a lie – and a preposterous one, at that. Since 1999, Russia has had three presidential elections in which an average of half a dozen major candidates were on the ballot, along with the parliamentary slates of at least a few dozen political parties. Along with United Russia, the Putinite party, the Russian voter has many other choices: the Communists, the Agrarians, the Liberal Democrats, the Democratic Party of Russian, the Russian Democratic Party, the Union of Right Forces, Fair Russia, Civilian Power, the Party of Social Justice, and the list goes on. In America, we get to choose between only two parties, both of which are subsidized and privileged by the state and federal governments. Illarionov and other "libertarian" enemies of Russia complain that Putin and his successor, Medvedev, garnered over 70 percent of the vote, but even if one allows for the usual amount of fraud – is Moscow that different from Chicago in that respect? – polls show Putin and his party are overwhelmingly popular with the Russian people. You can’t complain about the lack of real "democracy" in Russia, then complain about the outcome when Putin and his pals rack up victory after victory at the polls.

Illarionov claims there are "about 80 political prisoners in the country who are serving their terms for their views and political activities." He only names one: Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the billionaire businessman convicted of tax evasion, corruption, money-laundering, and murder, among other crimes. The others, whom he doesn’t mention, are members of the National Bolshevik Party, led by Eduard Limonov, whose political philosophy and methods can bested be summed up by the party’s symbol: a black hammer-and-sickle emblazoned on a white circle against a red background. Limonov’s ideology is based on ultra-nationalism, a deep and abiding hatred of all things Western, and an openly nihilistic glorification of violence. NBP members have engaged the police in pitched battles and taken over government buildings, and they recruit among skinhead gangs and the dregs of Russian society.

The National Bolsheviks, in cooperation with chess champion Gary Kasparov, have created an anti-Putin coalition, "the Other Russia," which has met with a notable lack of success in mobilizing anyone beyond Limonov’s loonies and other groups better known in the West than they are in Russia. All of this is pretty standard stuff for the Russophobes: we’ve heard the same line for quite a few years, ever since Richard Perle declared that Russia must be expelled from the G-8 for the crime of not supporting the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Dick Cheney accused Moscow of launching an "oil war" against its neighbors. Illarionov takes up Cheney’s war cries, listing a series of alleged wars waged by the Russians in the years since Putin’s rise to power:

"Wars against other nations.

"Since 2004 the Russian political regime embarked on a series of wars of different kinds against foreign nations. The list of wars waged in the last 5 years is not a short one:

Russian-Byelorussian Gas War 2004,

First Russian-Ukrainian Gas War, January 2006,

Russian-Georgian Energy Supply War, January 2006,

Russian-Georgian Wine and Mineral Water War, March-April 2006,

Russian-Georgian Spy War, September-October 2006,

Russian-Estonian Monuments and Cyber War, April-May 2007,

Russian-Georgian Conventional War, April-October 2008,

Russian-Azerbaijan Cyber War, August 2008,

Second Russian-Ukrainian Gas War, January 2009,

Anti-US full fledged Propaganda War, 2006-2009."

"Wars of different kinds": a slippery phrase that lacks any precise definition, and, in Illarionov’s hands, can mean anything, or, more often, nothing. In the case of these mysterious "gas wars," it means simply adjusting the price of Russia’s oil and natural gas output to reflect global market conditions. Ever since the incorporation of, for example, Ukraine into the old USSR, the Kremlin subsidized its oil and gas exports to that country, as well as to the other members of the Soviet bloc. With the fall of communism and the rise of capitalism in the former Soviet Union, the Russians sought to finally end the subsidies and save some money – this is what Illarionov, who works for Washington’s premier "free market" think-tank, the Cato Institute, means by the Russians launching a "gas war." Will wonders never cease?

And what is this "Russian-Georgian Wine and Mineral Water War" of March-April 2006 all about? Why, that’s when Russia – in response to plenty of Georgian provocations – banned the importation of Georgian wine and mineral water. This may be unwise economically, but is it really the equivalent of a "war"? Does this mean that the U.S. declared war on China when it increased tariffs on the import of Chinese-made toys? Are we smack dab in the middle of the Sino-American Toy War of 2009, without even knowing it? Get real.

I see that, in addition to the fabled "Russian-Estonian Cyber War" of April-May 2007, we also have the previously little-known "Russian-Azerbaijan Cyber War" said to have taken place in August 2008. The reality of these "cyber wars," however, is in serious doubt, given the inability of the alleged victims to trace the attacks back to the Russian government. This, like so much war propaganda, appears to be a total fabrication. That Illarionov raises these "wars" as credible evidence of Russian perfidy is a perfect joke. Unsurprisingly, Illarionov repeats the assertion, since widely debunked, that Russia invaded Georgia last year, instead of the other way around. He simply ignores the reporting that proves Georgian aggression preceded the Russian response. Illarionov descends into a parody of himself as he notes that the title of the hearing is "From Competition to Collaboration: Strengthening the U.S.-Russian Relationship," and goes on to deliver a rant to end all warmongering rants, grammar and spelling as in the original:

"Policy of the proclaimed ‘cooperation,’ ‘movement from competition to collaboration,’ ‘improvement of relations’ with the current political regime in Russia has very clear consequences. Such type of behavior on the part of the US administration can not be called even a retreat. It is not even an appeasement policy that is so well known to all of us by another Munch decision in 1938. It is a surrender. It is a full, absolute and unconditional surrender to the regime of the secret police officers, chekists and Mafiosi bandits in today’s Russia. … And therefore it is an open invitation for new adventures of the Russian Chekists’ regime in the post-Soviet space and at some points beyond it. "The very term for such type of policy has not been chosen by me, it is borrowed from the title of this hearing, namely, collaboration. Therefore the term chosen for the agents of the US administration’s policy in the coming era is ‘collaborationists.’" [Emphasis in original.]

Russia, says the Cato Institute’s Illarionov before a full committee of Congress, is preparing for war – and so should we. This is nonsense, of course, dangerous nonsense, as is Illarionov’s "Anti-US full fledged Propaganda War [of] 2006-2009." Putin, like most Cato employees, opposed the Iraq war and warned that the U.S. was alienating its friends around the world by engaging in aggressive wars, another favored Cato theme.

Russia, although nuclear-armed, has neither the resources nor the desire to engage the U.S. or its allies militarily. Illarionov’s sole evidence for this is an uproarious list of "cyber wars" and "gas wars" supposedly launched by the Kremlin, phantom "aggression" that exists entirely in Illarionov’s embittered and monomaniacal mindset. The obscene reality is that he’s trying like heck to get us involved in a real shooting war with the Russkies, all based on his ludicrous conspiracy theories about the "unique" evil supposedly represented by the Russian state. At a moment when Russia’s relations with the U.S. are at a particularly plastic juncture and could go either way – toward a new Cold War, or toward a new era of mutual understanding – to have this lunatic testify before a committee of Congress representing a supposedly libertarian perspective is sheer criminality. Shame on the Cato Institute for allowing this nut-bar to sully their name with his disgraceful "testimony."

Russia is emerging from the nightmare of Communism astonishingly intact. It’s a miracle the country survived the Yeltsin years, when the nation was looted by "former" communist apparatchiks who seized control of the nation’s resources in a series of rigged "privatizations." There is hardly any democratic tradition in Russia, and liberalism is a minority viewpoint rather than the majority mindset: long-standing habits die hard, particularly in a nation as mired in history and tragedy as Russia. Given all this, it’s amazing they have elections – relatively free and open ones – in Russia at all. It wasn’t so long ago that Stalin’s gulags held millions. Now Illarionov wants us to go to war with the Kremlin over a grand total of 80 "political prisoners" of dubious provenance. What a joke – except nobody’s laughing. These are deadly serious matters, and it’s disturbing that Congress would even entertain the rantings of someone so manifestly un-serious.


Whew! I’m sure glad that column’s over with, because it gives me the chance to talk about another kind of libertarian institution, one dedicated to the cause of peace. In response to our two-week long series of appeals, our readers have supported us to the point that we’re only $7,000 short of our goal. That went against all my expectations, given the recession-turning-into-depression that seems to be happening, but there you have it. You, our readers and supporters, have stood behind us. I like to think that’s because, unlike a certain "libertarian" institution with oodles of money and a big Washington headquarters, we stand for principle – the libertarian principle of non-aggression in the foreign policy realm, as well as on the home front.

I might add that our high standards are not only ideological. Our content is fact-based, backed up with links and plenty of documentation, and we give no platform to the ideological constructs of neoconnish ideologues with overseas axes to grind. Ron Paul is a member of the House international affairs committee, which is holding the "From Competition to Collaboration" hearing. Rep. Paul, of course, belongs to the orthodox libertarian school of thought when it comes to foreign relations, which adheres to the principle of nonintervention. Illarionov, the "cosmotarian," wants to intervene in Russia in a big way. I can’t wait to see that confrontation: when libertarian matter meets anti-libertarian anti-matter, the resulting explosion should be both amusing and instructive.

This still doesn’t explain why Cato, staunchly anti-interventionist on virtually every other issue, has it in for Russia. Here’s a theory. Cato’s Russophobia manifested itself only after Cato sponsored a joint conference with the Russians at which several top government officials and advisers were invited to speak. Cato President and founder Edward H. Crane III met with Putin [.pdf], in the company of a bevy of free-market types, and the group proffered advice to the Russian leader, which boiled down to: free up the system. Crane cited Putin as saying that he, Putin, wanted to make Russia "the center of liberal debate in Europe," and Crane, for his part, wrote: "he may well mean it." When Crane began to suspect he didn’t mean it, and Putin blocked Western investment in Russia’s vast oil and natural gas reserves, a business that Koch Industries, for years the chief source of Cato’s lavish funding, has definite interests in, Cato turned against its former ally big-time. Go figure.


In other news:

Obama’s Letter To Russia

News broke on Monday that President Obama had sent Russia’s president, Dmitri Medvedev, a secret letter in January raising the possibility of a deal — the United States might abandon its plan to build a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Russia would help end the Iranian efforts toward nuclear weapons. Jacob Heilbrunn at Huffington Post sees the move as a sign of revived American diplomacy: “Don’t look now, but the Obama administration is making as radical moves in foreign policy as it is with the economy.” No, Russia doesn’t [have] the power to compel Iran to abandon its dream of nuclear missiles. But a Russia allied with Europe and the U.S. could help exert real pressure on Tehran to reconsider its plans. Moreover, Obama clearly wants to draw Russia back into the western camp. Cutting a deal with it is classic power politics and a sign that Obama, unlike Bush, has a keen understanding of the game of international politics. You might call it, as defense secretary Robert Gates did, a sign of an “analytical” mind. Bring on the analysis. . . .

The main point is that instead of standing aloof and sulking in the corner, as the U.S. has for years, it’s starting to wield its influence. For too long, Bush allowed America’s foes to dictate events by refusing to engage them. Obama is taking the opposite approach. Just as the economy needs to be jump-started, so does foreign policy. Obama has recognized that. The revitalization of American diplomacy and power has begun. At Reality-Based Community, Mark Kleiman wonders if Obama is trying to play the Medvedev-Putin rift to his advantage: The split between Medvedev and Putin seems like good news. I wonder to what extent the Obama-Medvedev letter on missile defense was intended to add a card to Medvedev’s hand in domestic politics?

Note that the story broke first, not in the New York Times (which would have suggested a leak from somewhere in Washington) but in Kommersant, which suggests that someone in Russia thought it might be useful to have news of the letter get out. Who in Russia? Generally speaking, Kommersant reflects the views of the market economist/technocrat faction now coalescing around Medvedev as against those of the security goons and kleptocrats who constitute Putin’s power base. That suggests that Medvedev wanted it to be known that he and his American counterpart are pen pals, and that the Americans are making nice.

But where the left sees opportunity, the right sees disaster: Abe Greenwald called the offer a “debacle” at Commentary, the same word Charles Krauthammer used on Fox News All Stars, according to a summary of his remarks posted by the National Review staff at the Corner: This is smart diplomacy? This is a debacle. The Russians dismissed it contemptuously. Look, if we could get the Iranian nuclear program stopped with Russian’s helping us in return for selling out the Poles and the Czechs on missile defense, I’m enough of a cynic and a realist to say we would do it . . .

This administration has prided itself, flattered itself on deploying smart diplomacy. “Smart diplomacy” is a meaningless idea, but if it has any meaning at all, it is not ever doing something as humiliating, amateurish, and stupid as this. Also at the Corner, David Satter said the letter to Medvedev was “disturbing less for its content than for its readiness to take Russian statements literally.” Obama may have good intentions, but good intentions are appreciated only by countries whose intentions are also good. This is not the case with present-day Russia. Until there is a change in Russia sufficient to make its leaders less afraid of their own people, taking Russian propaganda statements literally is a distraction that the U.S. needs to avoid.

Meanwhile, Danger Room is reporting a different take altogether from John Pike, who heads GlobalSecurity. “Russia has neither the ability nor the interest to pressurize Iran into giving up its nuclear weapons program. It is one way the Americans can ‘engage’ the Russians, so as to not appear to be a Bush rootin’ tootin’ cowboy. But it is no more than a means to give diplomats something to talk about,” he tells Danger Room. “It is a way of putting the ball back into their court, so few months down the road we can say that we gave them the chance, [and] it is not our fault that we are forced to deploy BMD [ballisitc missile defense] components in central Europe.”


Ukrainian Communists Rally, Call For Yushchenko to go to U.S.

Communist demonstrators rallied in Kiev on Monday to call for President Viktor Yushchenko to pack his bags and leave for America. As revolutionary music blared from loud speakers, around 200 people gathered on Independence Square with flags of the Communist Party of Ukraine and a collection box to get enough money to buy Yushchenko a plane ticket. The Ukrainian president, whose popularity is approaching single digits in opinion polls, celebrated his 55th birthday on Monday. The Communists are demanding his impeachment over pro-U.S. policies that they charge go against Ukraine's interests. In December last year, Kiev and Washington signed a charter on strategic relations which includes collaboration in the defense, security, economic and energy spheres. It also establishes a U.S. diplomatic mission in the city of Simferopol, the subject of protests on the Crimean peninsula. Yushchenko has been at loggerheads with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko for several months as the former allies in the so-called "orange revolution" jostle for position ahead of presidential elections due next year. The country is struggling amid the global economic crisis and had gas supplies from Russia cut off for much of January over a debt dispute. Although a 10-year supply contract was agreed barely a month ago, Ukraine's Naftogaz energy firm has already warned Gazprom that there may be problems paying for deliveries due to non-payment by local utilities.


Turkey Hops Aboard Russia's Ride

Despite the impact of the rouble's instability and weak oil prices on the Russian economy in recent months , Moscow is pursuing a very active foreign policy strategy. Its elements focus on countering the continuing North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) encirclement policy of Washington, with often clever diplomatic initiatives on its Eurasian periphery. Taking advantage of the cool relations between Washington and longtime NATO ally Turkey, Moscow recently invited Turkish President Abdullah Gul to come to Russia on a four-day state visit to discuss a wide array of economic and political issues. In addition to siding up to Turkey, which offers a vital transit route for natural gas to Western Europe, Russia is also working to firm an economic space with Belarus and other former Soviet republics to firm its alliances. Moscow delivered a major blow to the US military encirclement strategy in Central Asia when it succeeded last month in convincing Kyrgyzstan, with the help of major financial aid, to cancel US military airbase rights at Manas, a site of great importance to Washington's escalation plans in Afghanistan.

In short, Moscow is demonstrating it is far from out of the new "Great Game" where influence over Eurasia is concerned. Turkey's government, led by Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, has shown increasing impatience with not only Washington policies in the Middle East, but also the refusal of the European Union to seriously consider Turkey's bid to join. So it's only natural that Turkey would seek some counterweight to what it has perceived as overwhelming US influence in Turkish politics since the Cold War. And Russia's leaders have no problems opening such a dialogue, much to Washington's dismay. Turkish President Abdullah Gul paid a four-day visit to the Russian Federation from February 12 to 15, where he met with President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and also travelled to Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, where he discussed joint investments. Gul was accompanied by his state minister responsible for foreign trade and minister of energy, Hilmi Guler, as well as a large delegation of Turkish businessmen. Foreign Minister Ali Babacan joined the delegation.

Visit to Tatarstan

The fact that Gul's Moscow visit also included a stop in Tatarstan, the largest autonomous republic in the Russian Federation, whose population mainly consists of Muslim Tatar Turks, is a sign of just how much relations between Ankara and Moscow have improved in recent months as Turkey cooled to Washington's foreign policy. In previous years, Moscow was convinced that Turkey was trying to establish Pan-Turanism in the Caucasus, Central Asia and inside the Russian Federation. Today, Turkish relations with Turk entities inside the Russian Federation are clearly no longer considered suspicious, confirming a new mood of mutual trust. Indicating the value Moscow now attaches to Turkey, Russia elevated Gul's trip from the previously announced status of an "official visit" to a "state visit", the highest level of state protocol. Gul and Medvedev also signed a joint declaration announcing their commitment to deepening mutual friendship and multi-dimensional cooperation. The declaration mirrored a previous "Joint Declaration on the Intensification of Friendship and Multidimensional Partnership", which was signed during a 2004 visit by then-president Putin.

Turkish-Russian economic ties have greatly expanded over the past decade, with trade volumes reaching US$32 billion in 2008, making Russia Turkey's biggest trade partner. Given this background, bilateral economic ties were a major item on Gul's agenda and both leaders expressed their satisfaction with the growing commerce between their countries. Cooperation in energy is the major issue. Turkey's gas and oil imports from Russia account for most of the trade volume. According to Russian press reports, indicate that the two sides are interested in improving cooperation in energy transportation lines carrying Russian gas to European markets through Turkey, a project known as Blue Stream-2. Previously Ankara had been cool to the proposal but the recent completion of the Russian Blue Stream gas pipeline under the Black Sea increased Turkey's dependence on Russian natural gas from 66% up to 80%. Furthermore, Russia is beginning to see Turkey as a transit country for its energy resources rather than simply an export market, due to the significance of Blue Stream-2.

Russia is also eager to play a major role in Turkey's attempts to diversify its energy sources. A Russian-led consortium won the tender for the construction of Turkey's first nuclear plant recently, but as the price offered for electricity was above world prices, the future of the project, which is awaiting parliamentary approval, remains unclear. Prior to Gul's Moscow trip, the Russian consortium submitted a revised offer, reducing the price by 30%. If this revision is found legal under the tender rules, the positive mood during Gul's trip may indicate the Turkish government is ready to give the go-ahead for the project. Russia's market also plays a major role for Turkish overseas investments and exports. Russia is one of the main customers for Turkish construction firms and a major destination for Turkish exports. Similarly, millions of Russian tourists bring significant revenues to Turkey every year. Importantly, Turkey and Russia may start to use the Turkish lira and the Russian rouble in foreign trade, which could increase Turkish exports to Russia, as well as weaken dependence on dollar mediation.

Post-Cold War tensions reduced

However, the main reason for Gul's visit was to develop stronger political ties between the two. Both leaders repeated the position that, as the two major powers in the area, cooperation between Russia and Turkey was essential to regional peace and stability. That marked a dramatic change from the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Washington encouraged Ankara to move into historically Ottoman regions of the former Soviet Union to counter Russia's influence. Then, in sharp contrast to the tranquility of the Cold War era, talk of regional rivalries, revived 'Great Games' in Eurasia and confrontations in the Caucasus and Central Asia were common. Turkey, as in the 19th century, was becoming once more Russia's natural geopolitical rival. Turkey's quasi-alliance with Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Georgia until recently led Moscow to view Ankara as a formidable rival. The regional military balance developed in favor of Turkey in the Black Sea and the Southern Caucasus. And after the disintegration of the USSR, the Black Sea became a de facto "NATO lake". As Russia and Ukraine argued over the division of the Black Sea fleet and status of Sevastopol, the Black Sea became an area for NATO'S Partnership for Peace exercises.

By contrast, at the end of the latest Moscow visit, Gul declared, "Russia and Turkey are neighboring countries that are developing their relations on the basis of mutual confidence. I hope this visit will in turn give a new character to our relations." Russia praised Turkey's diplomatic initiatives in the region. Medvedev commended Turkey's actions during the Russian-Georgian war last summer and Turkey's subsequent proposal for the establishment of a Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform (CSCP). The Russian president said the Georgia crisis had shown their ability to deal with such problems on their own without the involvement of outside powers, meaning Washington. Turkey had proposed the CSCP, bypassing Washington and not seeking transatlantic consensus on Russia. Since then, Turkey has indicated its intent to follow a more independent foreign policy.

Russia aims to use its economic resources to counter the growing NATO encirclement, made more severe by Washington's decision to place missile and radar bases in Poland and the Czech Republic aimed at Moscow. To date the Obama administration has indicated it will continue the Bush "missile defense" policy. Washington also just agreed to place US Patriot missiles in Poland, clearly not aimed at Germany, but at Russia. Following Gul's visit, Medvedev will go to Turkey to follow up the issues with concrete cooperation proposals. The Turkish-Russian cooperation is a further indication of how the once overwhelming US influence in Eurasia has been eroded by the events of recent US foreign policy in the region. Washington is waking up to find it is now confronted with Sir Halford Mackinder's "worst nightmare". Mackinder, the "father" of 20th century British geopolitics, stressed the importance of Britain (and after 1945, the US) preventing strategic cooperation among the great powers of Eurasia.

F William Engdahl is author of A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order (Pluto Press) and Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation ( ). His new book, Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order (Third Millennium Press) is doe for release in late spring 2009. He may be reached via his website: .


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Dear reader,

Arevordi will be taking a sabbatical to tend to personal matters. New blog commentaries will henceforth be posted on an irregular basis. The comments board however will continue to be moderated on a regular basis.

The last 20 years or so has also helped me see Russia as the last front against scourges of Westernization, Globalism, American expansionism, Zionism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. I have also come to see Russia as the last hope humanity has for the preservation of classical western civilization, Apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state. This realization compelled me to create this blog in 2010. Immediately, this blog became one of the very few voices in the vastness of cyberia that dared to preach about the dangers of Globalism and the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, and the only voice preaching the strategic importance of Armenia remaining within Russia's orbit. From about 2010 to 2015 I did monthly, at times weekly, commentaries about Russian-Armenian relations and Eurasian geopolitics in general. It was very difficult as I had no assistance in this endeavor. The time I put into this blog therefore came at the expense of work and family. But a powerful feeling inside me urged me to keep going; and I did.

When Armenia finally joined the EEU and integrated its armed forces into Russia's military structures a couple of years ago, I finally felt a deep sense of satisfaction and relaxation, as if a very heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt that my personal mission was accomplished. I therefore felt I could take a step back, as I really needed the rest. Simply put: I have lived to see the institutionalization of Russian-Armenian alliance. Also, I feel more confident now that Armenians are collectively recognizing the strategic importance of Armenia's ties with Russia. Moreover, I feel satisfied knowing that, at least on a subatomic level, I had a hand in the outcome. As a result, I feel a strong sense of mission accomplished. I therefore no longer have the urge to continue as in the past. In other words, the motivational force that had propelled me in previous years has been gradually dissipating because I feel that this blog has lived to see the realization of its stated goal. Going forward, I do not want to write merely for the sake of writing. Also, I do not want to say something if I have nothing important to say. I feel like I have said everything I needed to say. Henceforth, I will post seasonal commentaries about topics I find important. I will however continue moderating the blog's comments section on a regular basis; ultimately because I'm interested in what my readers have to say and also because it's through readers here that I am at times made aware of interesting developments.

To limit clutter in the comments section, I kindly ask all participants of this blog to please keep comments coherent and strictly relevant to the featured topic of discussion. Moreover, please realize that when there are several anonymous visitors posting comments simultaneously, it becomes very confusing (not to mention extremely annoying) trying to figure out who is who and who said what.Therefore, if you are here to engage in conversation, make an observation, express an idea or simply attack me, I ask you to at least use a moniker to identify yourself. Moreover, please appreciate the fact that I have put an enormous amount of information into this blog. In my opinion, most of my blog commentaries and articles, some going back ten-plus years, are in varying degrees relevant to this day and will remain so for a long time to come. Articles in this blog can therefore be revisited by longtime readers and new comers alike. I therefore ask the reader to treat this blog as a depository of important information relating to Eurasian geopolitics, Russian-Armenian relations and humanity's historic fight against the evils of Globalism and Westernization.

Thank you as always for reading.