Reuniting Europe

Edward Lucas, a prominent analyst, says that Russia is pushing the USA out of Europe, trying to set up a condominium in the old continent between itself and countries such as France, Germany, Italy, to the detriment of Eastern Europe.

Recently another knowledgeable specialist, Ariel Cohen, said that there is “little appetite” these days in the Western world to monitor Russia’s covert operations vis-a-vis the EU.

Obama may want to ‘reset’ his country’s relations with Russia, it would appear, however, that the new US administration is somewhat naive and unprepared to rein in an ever-more assertive Russia.

What about the EU? Herman Van Rompuy is mooted to become the EU president. It looks like he was a good choice to deal with Belgium’s internal difficulties, but is he capable of standing up to Putin?

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  1. I do understand that people tend to employ old categories (like “cold war”) when describing and assessing new situation. It reassures them. And it is fashionable.

    But comparing contemporary Russia – West relations to the Cold War which we experienced after the WWII is really crazy. Not least because contemporary Russia does not have moral, political, military, diplomatic or economic potential comparable to that of the Soviet Union.

    In fact, contemporary Russia is something like Saudi Arabia (“wealthy” country with natural resources) with nuclear weapons and messianist complex. Nothing less, nothing more.

    Let’s do some analysis. I do not want to repeat the mistake of Lucas and others who pretend to read Putin’s and Medvedev’s mind. I do admit that I do not know their INTENTIONS – whether they are “agressive”, or “assertive” or “peaceful” or whatever. I will only shortly assess the capacities of the state (society) the command.

    Cold War was not a simple “military confrontation” as Mr. Lucas puts it. One should not forget that the CW was about ideological confrontation. You had two big social systems, complex models of society, worldviews and visions. Both of them were (at the beginning of the confrontation) able to attract and motivate big crowds of people and nations. Read some history books. In fact, both ideologies were quite strong and both sides felt ideologically insecure even on domestic front (remember McCarthyism on one side and Stalinism on the other). There were marxist in the West (marxism was still quite attractive) and liberal democrats in the East (hidden in the dissent).
    Contemporary Russia has no ideology it could sell to the world (or do you know some “putinist” parties in Western Europe?). In fact, Russia has no ideology for itself (“Putinism” is not an ideology).

    Believe it or not, Soviet Union had (at least shortly after the end of the WWII) some moral credit for defeating Hitler on the eastern front. Later on, some Third World countries appreciated Soviet help during decolonization. But contemporary Russia? It is (again) only a weird, often uncomprehensible state on Europe’s margin. For most people in the Third World (especially the younger generation), Russia is as remote as Canada.

    Huge disaster. Balkan? Lost (do you remember Russian brief occupation of Pristina airport in 2000? That was their last attempt to influence the course of things. After that, they could only observe). Near abroad? Lost. Russia is very good in making enemies. Even Belarus turned away from Kremlin! Slavic nations? Lost. In the 19th century, there was a romantic ideology of “pan-slavism” flourishing in Slavic societies. Today, Slavic nations are the premiants of “atlanticism” and some of them can not hide their rusofobia. Western Europe? Germany or France are probably few remaining countries who treat Russia seriously. Probably out of habit, nostalgia or respect towards a former member of 19th century European concert of powers. The EU as a whole? It tends to adopts policies which (probably) are not intended to be anti-Russian, but which do not serve Russian (economic and political) interests. See the energy policy. The world? Lost! Who are Russia’s allies? Who responded to her pleas and recognized Abchazia and S. Osetia? Venezuela and Nicaragua. Oh, what a powerful aliance!! Caucasus? Losing! Turks are on a diplomatic offensive there. In fact, it may be them (not Russians) who mediate the peace in the Nagorno Karabach conflict. Russians keep few small patches of land (Abchazia and S. Osetia).

    Growing Russian influence? Where?! I see no growing influence! One millitary victory over a small country (Georgia) does not make you more influential! Ask Americans how the quick military victories in Iraq and Afghanistan made them “more influential”.
    In fact, many Russian allies in the region became even more “nervous” after the Georgian war. The war was quite costly for Russia in diplomatic terms…

    Nuclear weapons. Few more toys useful for a small scale and quick conflict like Georgia. Here I agree with Lucas.

    Russia is a behemoth dependent on revenues from oil and gas. Nothing more. Comparable to Saudi Arabia and other “rich” countries of the Third World. Some people argue that Russia has some kind of “oil (gas) weapon”. I would say that oil and gas are not Russia’s weapons. They are burdens. To be more precise, the dependence on oil/gas revenues is a heavy burden. Russia’s “oil weapon” is as “dangerous” as Saudi Arabia’s oil weapon. It was used once or twice in the 70s. Did it yield any political results? No. Moreover, Russia is vulnerable to the “transit weapon”. In fact, was the latest Russia-Ukraine dispute an instance of Russia firing her “gas weapon” or Ukraine firing her “transit weapon”?
    Is Russia a challenger to Europe in the field of economy or finance?? No way! Russia is a wealthy country, but with huge structural problem.
    “The use of Russian money in Western policies”? What? Where? This is a pure conspiracy theory by Mr. Lucas. It reminds me “Fahrenheit 9/11” and M. Moore’s theory about “the use of Saudi money in American policy”.

    To sum up my argument:
    The metaphor of “new cold war” is inappropriate, because the military, ideological, economic and other resources of contemporary Russia are not even comparable to that of the USSR. The argument about “growing Russian influence” is a non-sense. I did not assess Kremlin’s intentions, but regarding the hard data and the results of the policies, Russia looses on all fronts. Russia probably wants to be more influential, but it is not influential. I do not remember any real success of Russian policy. Definitely, Obama is not naive because THIS is the right time to negotiate with Russia.

  2. Well said, Vit.

    Furthermore – beyond being stuck in traditional rivalry and inability to think in terms other than win-lose – the thing that irritates commentators like Edward Cohen is the lack of definite access for Western financial interests to Russian resources.

    The Europe/USA alliance has never had a problem dealing with corrupt, non-democratic governments prone to using violence to suppress threats – governments that purportedly don’t share common values, governments that are far, far worse than any reasonable interpretation of the current Russian government. There is even no real problem with local billionaires – so long as the rules of the game remain clear, fairly constant and barriers are non-existent. The only time a problem arises is when one of those governments puts up a barrier, or attempts to encroach on the market of the corporate interests based in the Europe/USA. Then, suddenly, a tolerable, if a bit faulted, government becomes an evil threat to all that is sweet, decent and good in the world.

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