Vladimir Putin because of his hatred for Ukraine, Estonia, and Georgia has managed to leave Russia without any allies in the former Soviet space, a remarkable performance and one that means Moscow now must try to intimidate these countries to get its way or yield to others in ways many Russians would fine offensive. This is a remarkable performance, Vladimir Nadein points out in Yezhednevny Zhurnal, one that is almost unprecedented. “Even Hitler,” even when it was obvious that he was losing the war “retained allies up to the end of 1944. But Putin, after ten years of uninterrupted rule doesn’t have any.”
Instead of following “the first rule of ancient diplomacy: assemble around oneself more friends and thus destroy more quickly the coalition of enemies, Putin has pursued a policy that has offended and driven away Russia’s neighbors and not gained Russia many of the advantages it might have gotten had it not followed Putin’s lead. And as a result, with the possible exception of China, Belarus and Kazakhstan, about whose attitudes toward Russia there are still “some doubts,” “all other countries bordering us are clearly not disposed in our favor,” something that Nadein insists did not have to happen and that could be reversed with different policies.
“To deny this would be stupid,” the longtime journalist argues, and consequently, Putin and those around him have tried to suggest that this is the way things “ought to be” – “a kind of diplomatic variant of the Stalinist maxim according to which the class struggle sharpens as the country advances toward socialism.” But however that may be, “a diplomacy which leaves one’s country in such isolation deserves the very lowest grade.” And nowhere is this situation worse than with regard to Ukraine, a country in whose presidential elections Putin openly interfered and whose history he and those around him were openly, unnecessarily, and counterproductively offensive.
After detailing Putin’s comments in Bucharest about Ukraine as a state and his failure in the gas war, something which set more Ukrainians against Moscow and drove them ever closer to the Europeans, Nadein devotes most of his article to something few Russian commentators have discussed in such detail: Putin’s offensive approach to the Ukrainian terror famine. “It is difficult to think up something more offensive for any nation than the relationship that official Moscow [under Putin’s guidance] has taken toward this greatest of human misfortunes,” the death of millions of people through starvation caused by the policies of the Soviet state, the Moscow journalist says.
Not only did Dmitry Medvedev refuse to go to Kyiv for the commemoration of this tragedy, but he and the Moscow propaganda machine condemned the Ukrainians for “unleashing an anti-Russia psychosis” by insisting that the terror famine was a genocide, something Moscow says cannot be true because people of other nations and in other republics died as well. But that is a fundamentally fraudulent and offensive argument, Nadein says. “The terrible famine in the Don and in Kazakhstan in no way deprives the Terror Famine [in Ukraine] of features of a genocide. The Hitlerites methodically destroyed gypsies, but no one on that basis denies that they conducted a genocide against the Jews.”
And Putin’s and Moscow’s efforts to deny this by citing Western “authorities” who are not authorities and by talking about mistakes in the pictures in exhibitions, the journalist continues, are offensive on their face and do no credit to Russia and the Russians, whatever the prime minister and his entourage think. But there is a precedent for what Putin has done: “For many years in the Soviet Union, its officials denied the world recognized fact that the main victims at Baby Yar were Kyivan Jews. The censors [at that time] permitted only a single formula to describe what happened there: ‘Soviet citizens died.’” Nadein says that he “never understood” why Soviet officials thought that was something that brought them advantage. And he adds that he does not understand why Putin and his government are continuing a similar outrage against truth and against the feelings of Ukrainians and others who have suffered so much.
Nadein’s article is important on for three reasons. First, it links these unfortunate policies directly to Putin and thus opens the way for Medvedev and his successors to shift away from them. Second, it suggests that dialogue on some of these most neuralgic issues may be increasingly possible, regardless of what the Russian prime minister thinks. And third – and this may be its most important role – his article opens the way for a delinking of the Russia of today from the Soviet Union of the past, something Putin has never been willing to do but a step some Russian leader in the future will have to make if his country is to be surrounded by anything other than enemies or those to intimidated to be real friends.
Having held on to the Far East during the Russian Civil War and during the wild 1990s, Moscow is now “losing” that enormous region because of “the idiocy of bureaucrats” in the center who pay attention to it only when there is “a flood, earthquake, volcano eruption or visit by the president or prime minister,” a Russian commentator says.
In an article in Novaya Gazeta, Yekaterina Glikman argues that because of Moscow’s neglect in most cases and foolish actions in others, just about the only thing that the Russian Far East has “in common” with Moscow is “the Russian language” — and that is “too little to make one feel part of a single country.” This process, she says, is likely to accelerate when a new directive of the Federal Customs Service goes into force on March 30. That document, which has “the neutral title of ‘On measures of declaring particular types of control of goods,” is going to have anything but a neutral impact on Russia’s Pacific Rim. On that date, Moscow will require that all metal ores and products from the Far East go through the port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, a port lacking rail connections with the rest of the country, and not through the ports of Vladivostok, Nakhodka, Vanino and Pose’yet, all of which are railheads and through which such commodities been going.
That will mean that it will be necessary for Russian exporters to load such goods on boats, something that will add four to five days to the process, throw an increasing number of Russians in the ports that can no longer be used out of work, and add fuel to the fire to the two most recent Moscow actions that have sparked protests in the region. Those, of course, involved in the first instance Vladimir Putin’s decision to try to promote domestic wood processing by introducing prohibitive export quotas and in the second, the Russian prime minister’s desire to promote domestic car manufacturing by introducing prohibitive import quotas on foreign cars. These actions, Glikman continues, compromise the interests of Russia itself – they make the country a less attractive path for goods to flow between Europe and Asia – but they hit the interests of the population of the Russian Far East by reinforcing the view among people there that Moscow is not paying attention to the needs of that region.
The journalist goes on to describe a variety of Moscow-mandated actions by customs officials, most of which involve enormous delays and great costs that have “neutralized” the advantage that the Trans-Siberian railway would otherwise have as a basic “transportation corridor” between Europe and Asia. She notes that there is now just one country whose ports are more difficult for importers and exports to clear than Russia: “this is North Korea,” which of course has sought to cut itself off from the world in order to protect the particular social, economic and political system its leaders want. Appended to Glikman’s article are the comments of two people with a direct knowledge of these problems. Mikhail Shchukin, the director of the Union of Russian Ship Owners, says that “in the Far East, the entire economy is being destroyed before [his] eyes,” the result of policies that are infuriating an already angry population. And Mikhail Voytenko, the editor of an Internet publication on shipping, adds that what is going on in the ports of the Russian Far East now as a result of Moscow’s misguided and clearly thoughtless policies has created “a situation that [the great 19th century Russian satirist Saltykov-Shchedrin would envy.”
Obviously, even the actions that Moscow has taken so far are unlikely to provoke enough people in the Russian Far East to call for independence, but the increasing willingness of people in that region to hold that up that even as a distant threat shows just how explosive the situation there is becoming, exactly the opposite trend that the center has advertised and hoped for.