Russia is Back
Back in May 2001, Jeffery Tayler, of the Atlantic, wrote an Article titled "Russia is Finished." In which he chronicled the downfall of Russia since the collapse of communism. Its political corruption, its weak economy, its demographic problems, the problems in Chechnya. It seemed, back then, that Russia might be shoved into geopolitical obscurity.
How things can change in just six years. Russia is once again flexing its muscles. Under the leadership of the uncrowned tsar, Vladimir Putin, Russia has emerged as a powerful nation that wants to be treated as a powerful nation. The country is awash in oil money, and President Putin has announced a 200 billion dollar military buildup. The question is, who is that military going to be aimed at? As far as Russia is concerned Iran and the other Muslim nations are no threat to them. After all, Russia supplies them with weapons and, in the case of Iran, nuclear material. It's highly unlikely that the European Union is planning a Napoleonic style offensive on Russia, and Putin has turned China into his best friend. So once again, who is this military build up targeting? There is only one answer. He's targeting the U.S.
The truth is this is probably music to the ears of most Russians. Russia wants to be taken seriously and if they have to threaten a new cold war that is just fine with them. Most like President Putin, who wants to create a non communist(Putin is no ideologue) Soviet Union. The Russians, for possessing so much territory, have always had claustrophobia. They need to push their borders outward or, at the very least, reduce the nations on their borders to vassalage, if they can.
If there is a second cold war it could be called the second war of miscommunication. Russia can't be convinced that a missile shield designed to thwart Iranian designs isn't secretly aimed at them. Are they planning to use nuclear weapons as a threat? That's the only reason I can think of for them being so angry at a missile shield, they consider missiles pointed at Europe and the States a major part of their military(who's restarting the cold war again?) So being the old paranoid Russia that we've come to know and love, they react to the United States defending itself from a rogue terrorist state(a rogue terrorist state that Russia is helping to become a nuclear threat. Maybe Putin ought to think of that when he shrieks that we're putting a missile shield so close to home.)
Russia has it's problems however. Its economy is reliant on raw materials, mostly crude oil. If the price of crude oil were to fall, or if the United States were to import less and start drilling for oil in America the Russian coffers wouldn't be so full. The next problem is demographic, there simply aren't enough Russians. It's gotten to the point that the Russian government has taken to paying women to have children. If Russias population continues to shrink they won't have anyone to fly those bombers and buzz American airspace. There's also the political problem. Putin is constitutionally barred from serving a third term and has insisted time and again that he won't try to do so. However it's no secret that he likes power and likes exercising it. Since he has been President he has increased to powers of his office, made Russia even less democratic than it was, and basically made himself Tsar Vlad.
He has only two options, the first is to change to constitution to give himself another term(think Hugo Chavez) or to step down and hand pick a successor, and try to run things from behind the scene. If he tries the latter he will most likely be disappointed. Leaders who try that find that their successors insist on being their own man. Regardless of the problems that Russia has today, and no matter what problems it faces in the future for the time being Russia is once again a strategic problem for the United States and that isn't going to change any time soon.
The Russian Bear Awakes
PARIS – As Washington and Moscow exchange increasingly angry accusations and rebukes these recent weeks, it is hard to avoid a sense of Cold War déjà vu. Last Tuesday, Russia launched with great fanfare a new RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missile that it claimed could penetrate new US anti-missile defenses. President Vladimir Putin warned the Bush Administration’s plans to deploy anti-missile radars and missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland would turn Europe into a "powder keg."
Moscow accused the Bush Administration of violating international law, following double standards, and being a major violator of human rights. After crushing the life out of Chechnya, Russia was hardly in any position to lecture the US about human rights. Washington fired back, accusing Putin of extinguishing democracy, silencing political opponents, and bullying his neighbors. The US, with 150,000 troops in Iraq, even had the nerve to accuse Russia of "meddling" in the Mideast. The American pot was calling the Russian kettle black.
Behind the barrages of invective, what’s really going on is that Russia is finally returning to being Russia, as this writer has long predicted it would. Russia the lap dog is gone. The Russian bear has awakened from a hibernation of two decades and is both hungry and ill-tempered. In the 1980’s, the reforming Mikhail Gorbachev sought to humanize and modernize the crumbling Soviet Union. Gorbachev ended his nation’s confrontation with the west and sought accommodation with Washington – far too much, claimed Russian critics. Gorbachev’s well-intentioned efforts failed. The once mighty Soviet Union collapsed, leaving bankruptcy and massive social suffering in its wake.
Boris Yeltsin, Gorbachev’s successor, allowed criminals and shady financers to plunder Russia. In a story that has yet to be fully revealed, his shaky, financially destitute government was propped up by billions in secret US payments. Washington more or less managed to buy up Russia’s government. In an outrageous, shameful act, the Yeltsin Kremlin even sold the Pentagon the crown xxxels of Russia’s military technology. Everything and almost everyone was for sale. During this period of weakness and corruption, bankrupt Russia allowed the US pretty much a free hand around the world, particularly in the Mideast. Russia’s defense spending plummeted. Washington hailed Moscow’s "cooperation."
In 1999, the KGB, renamed FSB and SVR, staged a palace coup. Former FSB director Vladimir Putin became Russia’s new leader. President Putin and his hard men set about re-nationalizing Russia’s industrial and resource assets, crushing the robber barons, and restoring Kremlin political control over the nation. Ironically, George Bush’s invasion of Iraq caused worldwide oil prices to surge, bringing Putin’s "new Russia" a huge financial windfall. Russia, which exports more oil than Saudi Arabia, is flush with cash from its current oil, gas, and mineral bonanza, which has revitalized the nation’s defense budget.
Putin long made clear his desire to rebuild the Soviet Union – minus communism – and restore his nation as a world power. This means asserting Russia’s historic interests in Eastern Europe and the Mideast, using energy exports to advance foreign policy, and increasingly standing up to the United States. There is nothing sinister about this development. The last 20 years of Russian history were an anomaly, rather like the feeble Kerensky government just prior to the 1917 revolution. Russia is off its knees and back on its feet. The days of Moscow’s unnatural accommodation with Washington are past.
The US has become too used to Moscow as a compliant vassal. Washington will now have to resume treating the Russians as a great power with legitimate international interests. The first step is reversing the Bush Administration’s contemptuous and dangerously reckless repudiation of major arms control treaties with Moscow. The White House’s provocative plan to build anti-missile systems and open military bases in Eastern Europe should be cancelled. Pushing NATO all the way east to Russia’s borders has been another dangerous provocation.
Infuriating and humiliating Moscow in order to create a preposterous, technologically iffy anti-missile defenses against missiles and warheads which Iran does not even possess is the latest folly of the Bush Administration’s ideological crusaders. The US is going to have to eventually share some of its world power with a renascent Russia and surging China. Treating both great powers with dignity and respect is a good way to start.
The West Lost Russia
In contrast to the purported global warming, Russian-Western relations are undergoing a real cooling. The mounting frigidity in the relationship was symbolized in Moscow's surprise rush to the Arctic. The aim of this expedition was to gather scientific evidence to support a legal territorial claim to the Lomonosov Ridge. But this was just one salvo in a summer flurry that underscored a new, resurgent Russia. Others include:
• A diplomatic offensive across the Middle East and Asia that included hints of forming a natural gas cartel.
• President Vladimir Putin's moves to withdraw from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe.
• The resumption of long-range strategic bomber flights that will patrol areas bordering European and U.S. airspace.
• An announcement to expand the Navy's global presence, including basing once again some of its forces in the Mediterranean Sea.
• The militarization of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as members and Iran, India, Pakistan and Mongolia as observers.
In short, Russia is back as a global player, and it is no longer a starry-eyed admirer of the United States. These are the bitter fruits of the West's -- and in particular the United States' -- mistaken policies toward Russia since the end of the Cold War. Instead of treating Moscow magnanimously, as historian Richard Pipes once urged, the West declared victory.
Unlike the victory in World War II over Nazi Germany, however, no Marshall Plan was forthcoming. Instead, the West promised but did not deliver timely economic assistance in the early 1990s. It also backed a disastrous and broadly unpopular privatization and economic reform program. Worst of all, it alienated the entire Russian elite by expanding NATO to include Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and the Baltic states. Further rounds of expansion may very well bring Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance. The NATO and European Union expansion, which did not include a substantive role for Russia, effectively locked Moscow out of a Western orbit that the Kremlin thought it was joining.
Early on, U.S. President Bill Clinton wondered aloud to his top Russia hand, Undersecretary of State Strobe Talbott, about how long they could continue to shove things down Moscow's throat. U.S. President George W. Bush followed Clinton's lead by declaring initially that Russia was no longer a major player in global affairs or a major focus of U.S. foreign policy. Shortly thereafter, Bush announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the expansion of NATO closer to Russia's borders. Now Moscow's bitter disappointment with the West has taken the form of harsh anti-Americanism. It has also translated into a burning desire among the Russian elite and public to finally show the West that it would regret its policies once Russia "got up from its knees." That time has surely come.
Some analysts warned that this would be the inevitable result of NATO expansion and other flawed U.S. and Western policies. Only a partnership with Russia and a firm policy of drawing it into the West would prevent Moscow's turn to the East. This also would have prevented the revival of traditional Russian suspicion -- if not outright antagonism -- toward the West. Finally, a closer cooperation with Russia may have prevented Moscow's disenchantment with democracy, which it has interpreted as being no more than an insidious and cynical Western ploy to weaken Russia. The cost of NATO expansion is that Russia has been lost in the medium term -- and perhaps in the long term as well -- as a powerful, committed democracy and Western ally. Moreover, the West has pushed Russia closer to China and Iran.
If these are the costs of NATO expansion, what are the advantages? Few, if any. The alliance received from its new member states: a few thousand additional troops that are stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, a three-jet Latvian air force and five Estonian nurses. Compare these benefits to Russia's vast military and intelligence resources and experience -- particularly in Afghanistan. Moreover, Moscow has helped to track down global jihadists, prevent the proliferation of weapons and materials of mass destruction and reconstruct Afghanistan. As a true ally, Russia could contribute much more to the Western alliance than the small new NATO members. All opinion polls now show that a plurality or majority of Russians regard the United States as the greatest threat to Russia and the world. Putin has repeatedly decried the U.S. impetus for a "unipolar" international structure -- which is to say, global hegemony.
The Russian elite's consensus is even harsher. Alexander Solzhenitsyn recently said the United States seeks to encircle and weaken Russia. This statement is highly symbolic, coming from the esteemed writer who once took refuge in the United States as a political refugee from the Soviet state. It also underscores how cold U.S.-Russian relations have become. One hopes the next U.S. administration will not repeat Clinton and Bush's mistakes of insulting and underestimating Moscow. Even in the best of circumstances, the next U.S. president and his or her Western allies will face the daunting task of piercing through the unfortunate and unforgiving perceptual lens through which resurgent Moscow views the West, especially Washington.
The year Russia flexed its diplomatic muscle
This was the year that Vladimir Putin bared his chest for the world. Pictures of the Russian president fishing shirtless in Siberia with his biceps bulging, were distributed by the Kremlin with a clear message: a tough leader for a tough country. In 2006, a resurgent Russia asserted itself principally through the energy markets by demanding higher prices for its oil and gas and threatening to cut off those refusing to pay. This year, Moscow has flexed its muscles over a much broader front, challenging the US and the European Union over issues ranging from missile defence and Kosovo to election observers.
This approach has generated growing criticism in the EU and the US. But within Russia, a dose of foreign policy nationalism has gone down very well, boosting Mr Putin's popularity, contributing to his party's triumph in this month's parliamentary elections. The Russian leader is now well placed to manage next year's presidential poll, after nominating Dmitry Medvedev as his successor and having Mr Medvedev name Mr Putin as his future prime minister. Mr Putin set the tone early in the year with a widely reported speech in Munich in which he attacked the US, saying: "The US has overstepped its borders in all spheres - economic, political and humanitarian, and has imposed itself on other states... Local and regional wars did not get fewer, the number of people who died did notget smaller but increased. We see no kind of restraint - a hyperinflated use of force." Given conditions in Iraq, his claims were not wholly unreasonable. But his tone reminded many observers of the rhetoric of the cold war. The Russian president was deliberately antagonising and provoking his western counterparts. His words have been accompanied by action, notably in the field of military security. The Kremlin is furious at Washington's plans to install anti-missile defence bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Russian officials reject American arguments that the missiles, an element in a global shield against "rogue" states, will not and could not be aimed at Russia or Russian missiles. In the Kremlin's view, the US claims are disingenuous, as any missile base could easily be expanded at a future date. Russian officials also see the plans as a political provocation - an extension of western power into Moscow's former sphere of influence. Officials argue that having failed to stand up to the west over Nato expansion and raised more effective questions about EU enlargement, Russia must not give any more ground. Under former president Boris Yeltsin, who died this year, an impoverished Russia robbed of its self-confidence often grumbled at the west but was too weak to respond. Under Mr Putin it is reacting by attacking some of the core east-west security agreements struck during the cold war. This month, Russia is pulling out of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty - an agreement limiting troop deployments in Europe - on the ground that it was never ratified by western countries.
Moscow is also questioning the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, which restricts the stationing of medium-range missiles, on the grounds that ownership of such weapons is no longer the preserve of the US and Russia. The arguments are at an early stage but could complicate discussions over an even more significant agreement - the Start treaty, controlling long-range weapons, which expires next year. Russian officials argue that there is nothing unreasonable in their actions, adding that it was Washington that first abrogated an arms control treaty when, in 2001, it pulled out of the 1972 Anti- Ballistic Missile Treaty so that it could develop the missile shield. Russian analysts also point out that in practical terms, Moscow's military power is a fraction of the US's. Even after recent increases, Russia's defence budget is about 5 per cent of the US's and will struggle to finance even the renewal of ageing Soviet-era arsenals, let alone fund a significant expansion.
The missiles dispute has developed in line with other east-west, arguments, notably over Kosovo, where the diplomatic conflict is coming to a head. Moscow has stood by its traditional ally, Serbia, and backed Belgrade in its refusal to contemplate Kosovo's independence. Russia this summer prevented a US-led bid to secure United Nations approval for an independence plan and has promised to maintain its veto. The likely result is a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo, supported by the US and most EU members, though not the whole Union. Russia is responding by encouraging separatists in the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and in Moldova. But how far Moscow intends to go is still unclear. Russia has also been embroiled in arguments with its neighbours, notably Estonia where the clumsy dismantling of a Soviet-period war memorial provoked demonstrations by local ethnic Russians, a wave of protest from Moscow and cyberattacks on Estonian government websites. Georgia has accused Russia of interference in its affairs, including an alleged missile attack on an official outpost. In Ukraine, aides to Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-west president, have complained about Russian political backing for separatist parties.
Meanwhile, Kremlin officials have ruthlessly pursued their main domestic aim - to remain in power after next March's presidential election. Russia has brushed off international criticisms of the parliamentary election and its failure to grant early access to monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Last week, Mr Putin named Mr Medvedev, chairman of Gazprom and a first deputy prime minister, as his chosen successor. Mr Medvedev, a relatively pro-western liberal who owes most of his career to Mr Putin, is viewed favourably by investors. But the endorsement of the taciturn lawyer is also seen as proof of Mr Putin's determination to maintain a hold of the levers of power after he steps down. Mr Medvedev more or less confirmed this by declaring that he would appoint Mr Putin as prime minister if, as seems certain, he is elected president, to ensure political and economic continuity. Elsewhere in the region, parliamentary elections in Ukraine resulted in a strong showing for Yulia Tymoshenko, the maverick former prime minister. But prolonged in-fighting involving Ms Tymoshenko, Mr Yushchenko, and Viktor Yanukovich, the prime minister, have delayed the formation of a government. In Georgia, president Mikheil Saakashvili responded to demonstrations and calls for his resignation with a state of emergency and the announcement of a snap presidential election on January 5.
Further west, Polish voters unexpectedly ended two years of rule by its combative prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the conservative Law and Justice party. The country rejected his divisive tactics and his clumsy handling of foreign affairs in favour of the conciliatory policies offered by Donald Tusk, leader of the liberal Civic Platform and the new prime minister. In south-east Europe, Romania and Bulgaria rejoiced at joining the EU in January but have since been beset by criticisms from Brussels about their shortcomings in running the public administration and the courts and in fighting corruption. But their difficulties pale in comparison with the challenges facing most of the former Yugoslavia, where there are renewed fears of violence in Kosovo and in Bosnia. The EU is trying to ease tensions by engaging governments in talks on association agreements that are designed to lead to future membership.
Almost everywhere in the region, energy remains high on the agenda. With oil prices hovering below $100 a barrel, energy-importing countries are concerned about securing supplies - and reducing their reliance on Russia, the largest oil and gas supplier. The year has seen increased competition for hydrocarbon resources and government moves to strengthen control. In Russia, Gazprom, the state-controlled energy group, started the year by wresting control of the big Sakhalin-2 gas project from Shell, the Anglo-Dutch group, and its Japanese partners and paying $7.5bn for a 50 per cent-plusone- share stake. In Kazakhstan, the administration is now embroiled in talks with Italy's Eni over the future of the huge Kashagan oilfield. Elsewhere, Chinese investors are competing for access to central Asian resources with Russian and western companies. The unexpected death of Turkmenistan's leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, has led to a flurry of interest in hiscountry, with foreign companies seeking investment projects.
Meanwhile, among the consuming nations of the EU, there are efforts to reduce dependence on Russian-supplied fuels by developing alternative routes, including the Nabucco gas pipeline, which would run from the Caspian region to central Europe via Turkey. But Gazprom has responded with its own plans, notably South Stream, a pipeline that would run from Russia under the Black Sea via the Balkans to central Europe, and Nord Stream, the controversial Baltic Sea pipeline. Financing will be an issue for all these projects. Across the region, economies have grown at unprecedented rates in the past few years, generating rising living standards in most countries, even if tens of millions still struggle with poverty. In a recent annual economic survey, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development forecast an average increase in gross domestic product for the region in 2007 of 7 per cent - the highest ever. It predicts a slow down next year to about 6 per cent. Officials are watching the impact of the global financial turmoil and decelerating growth in the US but so far do not see any significant overall effects. Others are less sanguine, including the International Monetary Fund, which has warned of the risks to countries with high current account deficits, such as the Baltic states, Romania and Bulgaria.
Foreign investment is running at record levels, with the EBRD forecasting an inflow of $76bn for 2007. The lion's share is going to central and south-east Europe, with the republics of the former Soviet Union attracting far less. While investors are increasingly willing to assume the risks involved in putting money deep into Russia and other ex-Soviet states, they still feel more comfortable in present and prospective EU member states. However, the region has a long way to go before achieving living standards comparable to those in western Europe. It was only last year that average incomes finally exceeded 1989 levels. And some countries have still to pass that statistical milestone, including Russia (which should do so this year), Ukraine and Georgia. Within countries there are sharp differences between wealthy cities, such as Prague, Kiev and Moscow, and the impoverished provinces. Similar gaps exist between resource-rich regions, such as western Siberia, and poor ones such as the troubled northern Caucasus.