March 22, 2008

Russia according to Vladimir Putin

"Russia demands more respect from and equality with Washington and a free hand in world politics. In key respects, Moscow’s new foreign policy grows out of the logic of its ever more autocratic and neo-imperial political structure.”


Two Thousand and Seven was the year that the Russians once again growled for attention. Like a bear returning from a long sleep after nearly two long decades, it first attracted this author’s attention in June with Putin using some stiff language while addressing Bush over the U.S. missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. Not long after, the Russians engaged in some in some good old-fashioned saber rattling by resuming the Soviet-era practice of sending strategic bombers on long-range flights well beyond its borders.

By October, Putin was cozying up with an old foe in Iran; proving that although Russia's relationship with its southern Persian neighbor has been rocky, both nations share a common passion, distrust for the west and the United States in particular. Here the Russians were even willing to weaken there own position with the decision to supply Iran with nuclear fuel. Said Steve Schippert, co-founder of the Center for Threat Awareness back in January, "the 11-shipment Russian supply underway of 80 tons of enriched uranium nuclear fuel for the Russian-built 1,000 megawatt light water reactor is a sweeping Iranian victory and troubling in several respects. From a strategic view flying by at 20,000 feet, it is indicative of Iran and Russia's deepening common alignment against the United States. It's an alignment – an allied partnership beyond nuclear cooperation - that also includes China."

Fast-forward 2008, in January a top Russian General made no secret that, Russian armed services would not dither to use nuclear weaponry in battle, and signaled a return to the May parading of tanks and missiles (not all cardboard!) through red square. Not to appear lax, in early February Tupolev bombers, this time four, having being launched from Russia’s Ukrainka base possibly violated Japans air space before flying over the USS Nimitz in the Pacific; not once but twice. Was this an act of military might? Hey, look we can do, or has it something to do with economics and trade.

Kim Zegfeld’s excellent piece makes the point that when, in 2006 he first suggested that, “neo-Soviet state was rising in Russia” he was viewed as some sort of crackpot. After all, the Russian economy was going strong and Putin was the strong-arm of the nation’s transition to democracy. But what democracy? In Zegfeld’s words, “ … within six months, both Andrei Kozlov and Anna Politkovskaya had been assassinated in Russia.”

Kozlov was the country’s leading reformer within the Kremlin walls, aggressively investigating corruption at the highest levels, while Politkovskaya was Russia’s leading domestic force for change outside the Kremlin, a journalist confronting the Kremlin on both foreign and domestic issues at every turn. Not long after, Russia’s most sensational foreign dissident, KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko, had been murdered by radioactive poisoning in London, “suddenly, it began to seem that friendly relations with the West and its values weren’t necessarily the Russia’s cup of tea.” Strikingly, Zegfeld has chronicled a list of over 200 Russian journalists who have died of “unnatural causes” since Putin came to power. Read the whole the article here.

Only last month a new report from the Strategic Studies Institute examining Russia’s foreign policy objectives in relation to U.S. policy summarized that, “East-West relations have noticeably deteriorated, and Russia’s behavior has become commensurately more self-assertive. Key arms control achievements are in jeopardy, and Russia claims to be facing an array of growing threats, most prominently from America. In fact, Russia demands more respect from and equality with Washington and a free hand in world politics. In key respects, Moscow’s new foreign policy grows out of the logic of its ever more autocratic and neo-imperial political structure.”

Within its borders, it also took measures to boost patriotism and point the nation on a more menacing path with the creation of a patriotic youth group "Nashi", which translates to “ours”, whose purpose is to inculcate nationalistic virtues in tune with Putin’s vision of a greater Russia. Also disturbing are reports that Mr. Putin has complimented the authors of a new manual for high school history teachers that encourages renewed pride in their country's past and instills a renewed sense of camaraderie. Sound familiar?

In addition, last month Putin appeared to confirm the inception of a new arms race by vowing to modernize Russia’s armed services in response to America’s European defense shield. I guess it came as no surprise, "HELLO", that some European leaders view Putin’s latest antics as a, “wake-up call from a tougher Russia.”

The Russians have merely flirted with the open society option and now return to a less than perfect centralized democratic system that in the longer term will only compromise stability. In other words, while the nation is vying to return to the stage as a world player they are shooting themselves in the foot. Not addressing the demographic challenges of life expectancy and falling birth rates for example, while stacking money on the military and moving away from democracy, will ultimately be there undoing.

Still scratching my head about Time and that person of the year award

Comments always appreciated...

17 comments:

Simmons said...

Great article. On the whole Time Person of the Year thing, I disagree. Last year he was extremely provocative and really was the coming out year for the new Russia. He may not have been greatest for world harmony, but that's not what the Person of the Year is about: see the Ahmadinejad nomination in 2006.

P.S. I have a Russia article coming out later today too. Just putting the finishing touches on it now.

American Interests.blog said...

simmons: Exactly, I do not agree with Time's award criteria. I'll look out for your article...

Karen said...

Really good post for a timeline on Russia, Otto. I remember thinking, after President Bush had the first meeting with Putin and claimed to have seen Putin's soul in his eye, "well, this won't end well." I think it was incredibly naive, though I do understand why he did it. He wanted to prove his openess to a relationship with Putin.

Europe is consistently guilty of turnings its head and looking the other way as trouble emerges. The rise of IslamoFascism, for example. Ignoring Putin's power grab is another. He continues to do away with competition and those who do not agree with his taking Russia back to the bad old days.

He is former KGB, which speakes volumes.

MK said...

I never forgot that either Karen, you don't just forget the old KGB ways and move on.

"Not addressing the demographic challenges of life expectancy and falling birth rates for example, while stacking money on the military and moving away from democracy, will ultimately be there undoing."

I certainly hope so, those commies have killed enough people i think. The only thing i'm worried about is how many will they take with them when they go down.

Jeff said...

As always very informative post, Otto. Putin has a lot of public support. I guess this is not to be totally unexpected in a nation with very little in historical experiences with Democracy. The strength of "institution" is just not there yet. Sad step back for Russia, but it appears that Russians support it. The Russian style of Democracy is just something we are stuck with for now.

Debbie said...

The Russian - Iran connection is what worries me most. When countries get into bed with each other via money, arms, etc., it's not good. We cannot expect Russia to be of any assistance when it comes time to do something about Iran's nuclear program.

Debbie Hamilton
Right Truth

Paul Champagne said...

Obviously right now, Russia as a country is not very relevant in world geo-politics.

I say we should, on occasion, let them win one. What the world doesn't need right now is for the Russian Bear to awaken from its' hibernation and start playing the same games it did back in the 70's and 80's. Make them feel important on occasion, and ride rough-shod over them when we need to.

The Liberal Lie The Conservative Truth said...

Excellent post as always. Putin is slowly and surley using his KGB roots to re-establish the Soviet Union while lying to the world that he is Democracy in the making.

I quote the words of those famous rock ambassadors of the sixties John Lennon and Paul McCartney whose wrote a song that describes the Russia planned by Putin...."Back in the USSR......"

Happy Easter my friend!

Donald Douglas said...

Happy Easter down under, Ottavio!

WomanHonorThyself said...

hiya Otto..and we thought after the cold war and collapse of communism..we were home free..How wrong we were!...p.s. holiday hugs!

David Schantz said...

I feel/fear the old U.S.S.R. is making a come back.
Great post.

Happy Easter.

BTW I've posted my first Question Of The Week since my return.

God Bless America, God Save The Republic.

MK said...

I'm not sure the Russians can be left alone to their own devices, together with China, they can cause a serious amount of mischief for the west, by doing things like aiding Iran and N. Korea and hobbling the already useless UN.

And we can't really punish them economically, anyone in Russia complains and the FSB/KGB will around real early in the morning to ensure the subjects are happy and love their emperor, er... sorry, i mean Putin.

American Interests.blog said...

Karen: I think the President was actually being sincere. Those three capitalized letters say it all…

mk: Hopefully it won’t get to that…

Jeff: Thanks, and Putin is doing much to engineer that support..

American Interests.blog said...

Debbie: Thanks for linking to this post. If anything the Russians are lubricating Iran’s nuclear progress …

Paul: Russia is merely vying to be relevant, through means I disapprove of. Doubt they will ever be as menacing, as they were in the 70’s, still dangerous though, only differently…

Liberal lie conservative truth: The old Beatles number aye…He is certainly up to something…

Thanks for the Easter wishes, Happy Easter!

American Interests.blog said...

Donald Douglas:

http://americanpowerblog.blogspot.com/

Thank-you Donald…

angel: At least we had two decades of respite, thanks for the hugs...

David Schantz: Thanks for the visit and Easter wishes. I'll be over to check your site soon...

mk: reciting the threats = China, iran, Russia, North Korea, the U.N. and emperor Putin...

Aurora said...

Otto, this is a great join-the-dots post. I've also been watching the actions of Putin. He's pretty quiet in some ways despite blowing off at the mouth and testing some limits, but he's actually amassed quite a lot of power with his share of the energy industry. Because we have so much grief right now from the Muslim world, some Putin is not always a serious consideration, but there may come a time when we wish we had paid more attention to him.
The figures of the number of Russians who have died of 'unnatural causes' is quite astonishing. I didn't realize it was that high. Yes, I don't think we know the half of what Putin is capable of.

American Interests.blog said...

Aurora: Indeed we do have much grief with the Muslim world. It presents a more immediate and tangible threat. But we need also not cast a blind eye to Putin and the likes of him. Not least for the de-stabilisation potential of a threatening Russia and the not so desirable alliances it has a propensity to form. Thanx for expressing your thoughts here...