Putler’s Policies Leave Russia Friendless in Post-Soviet Space

Paul Goble reports:

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.

25 responses to “Putler’s Policies Leave Russia Friendless in Post-Soviet Space

  1. “with the possible exception of China, Belarus and Kazakhstan”

    Nicaragua,Venezuela, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, “Abkazia and South Ossetia”, Gaza Strip.

    More or less.

  2. To Robert: Oh, what a bunch of truly “wonderful and loyal” friends your rushka has.

  3. I don’t know about China – they are playing all sides of the aisle. They give very sound advice to US about currency; they colonize Russian Far East, and they are playing the role of primary negotiator in 6-party talks with North Korea exceptionally well.

    And now that Brzezynsky and Kissenger are courting Chinese leaders, while Clinton told them that human rights are not so high on US agenda – they don’t need to pretend to be Russia-friendly any more. I wouldn’t be surprised if Zabaikalye and Vladivostok become Chinese protectorate in our lifetime…

  4. AGAIN AND AGAIN: Russia’s only two allies ALWAYS were Russian Army and Russian Navy © Emperor Alexander III. They haven’t let it down on 08.08.08, either.

    LA RUSSOPHOBE RESPONDS:

    Oh really? Didn’t let it down? Then why is Saakashvili still in power?

    What about when Napoleon marched into Moscow?

    How about when Germany took 100,000 prisoners and the Tsar fell?

    How about what Hitler leveled Stalingrad and soon the USSR was no more?

    Your knowledge of your own history explains why Russia has collapsed three times in the past century. Your ignorance is truly breathtaking.

    • Did it let down on 10.25.1917? :)

    • LR:

      I wonder which Russian Army was the “Russia’s only ally” during the Russian Civil War (the second-most lethal war in Russia’s entire history)…

      But quoting a tsar suggests the Russia’s “only ally” that “didn’t let down” at the time were the Whites (aka losers). The other Russian Army had the Russia’s tsar shot.
      :)

      • Lets see, the “great Russian army & navy” also lost the Crimean war, surely they let the side down a bit when despite overwhelming superiority in numbers they got hammered by the British & French at the Alma, Inkerman, and Sebastapol.

  5. Eugene keeps repeating this quote without realizing that it proves how hopeless Russian situation is.

    Let’s see – the quote is from Alexandr III. Reigned in 1881-1994. At the same time Japan was ruled by the Meiji emperor – also in favor of military solutions; only much more successful than Alexandr. By the time of his death in 1912, Japan had undergone a political, social, and industrial revolution at home and emerged as one of the great powers on the world stage. One of military victories was in Russo-Japanese war.

    Today Japan is still a world power. It’s constitution has significant restrictions on the military. Its power comes from brands like Toyota and Panasonic. And Russia still has only two allies – it’s army that’s falling apart and its decaying Navy. In short – Upper Volta with missiles

    • I don’t think Alex the IIIrd reigned until 1994 :)

      And the Russian Navy was always a joke (for example, see Soviet naval victories during WWII – it’s will be a short list, maybe the biggest “victory” was the sinking of 3 huge passanger and hospital ships and thus killing 20,000 wounded and refugees during the Operation Hannibal in 1945 – and then people think Titanic was a big disaster).

  6. Hello Robert,

    Abkazia and South Ossetia are not countries, just Russian military conquests now forced to learn the Russian language much to the discontent of the locals.

    Gaza is not a country, just a locality run by terrorists.

    Turkmenistan supplies Russia with gas at a lucrative price. That is about it.

    Nicaragua and Venezuela do not mind offering a little vocal support to Russia every now and then to vex the US, but they will not permit Russian military bases in their countries. I guess they heard about Russia and its glorious army.

    Syria and Iran love Russia for their weapons and technology. But Iran would not hesistate to nuke Russia should it continue to harm its religious bretheren.

    Zimbabwe and N. Korea would scream praise to any boorish drunk were it to do them any good financially.

    Some friends: dictators, sadists, morons, and fanatics. I would love to see them attempting to humour one another at a dinner party.

    Gary Marshall

    • They would always bring Italy’s Berlusconi around, he likes to “joke” along while with Putin (about killing journalists and such).

      Oh, and I forget one more Russian ally: Cuba.

  7. 2Felix: Today Japan is NOT a world power because its territory (Okinawa) is still occupied by foreign troops. But okay, please tell me what allies did Yeltsin’s dismembered and humiliated Russia have as of 12.31.1999?
    2LR: Do you actually mean that the Red Army LOST the Battle of Stalingrad and Hitler defeated the Soviet Union? :-) It’s an interesting version of Russian history indeed!

    • And the Russians still occupy the northern islands of Japan, whats your point Eugene?

      As for Stalingrad, the Red Army won yes, but only at horrific cost (disproportionally carried by ethnic minorities such as Georgians & central asians one might add).

    • Actually Okinawa is not occupied since 1972 (when the control of the island was officially reverted to Japan).

      However, Russia still occupies Japan’s Northern Territories – and after all of 17,000 Japanese islanders were ethnically cleansed in 1945.

    • We are there at Okinawa at the invitation 0f the Japanese government, and you think that alone makes Japan, the second-largest economy in the world, any less of a world power than the Russian Crime Federation? Let’s see, Japan, a world leader in technology, versus Russia, whose infrastructure is so bad that it is put to shame by many Latin American nations? Also, Russia has nukes and Japan doesn’t, so what? It’s the only thing that really differentiates Russia from Ethiopia or El Salvador.

  8. 2Andrew: My point is that a country whose territory is occupied by foreign troops cannot be a world power.

    As to Stalingrad: why don’t you count the losses of Hitler’s allies (Rumania and Italy) in that battle? And when you speak of “disproportional” burden of losses borne by Georgians… I can only laugh at that because Marshal Bargamyan (an ethnic Armenian, BTW) wrote in his memoirs that any Red Army regiment was battleworthy only if manned by 90% of Great Russians).

    • Whereas Zhukov claimed it was the ethnic minorities that made victory possible.

      Do you deny the fact that over 40% of the Red Army in WW2 were NOT ethnicly Russian, despite the fact that the USSR was 75% Russian at the time?
      Some historians put the % of ethnic minorities even higher.

      Just look up the list of Red Army divisions in WW2, nearly half are “Ethnic Divisions”

    • “Today Japan is NOT a world power because its territory (Okinawa) is still occupied by foreign troops.”

      So, Eugene, that makes China not a world power either since Taiwan is still not reunited with the mainland.

      You can do better than that.

      • You can do better than that.

        No, he can’t. Arguing with him is pointless. Pointing out that russophiles don’t have intelligent arguments is useful.
        I would add this phrase (“Today Japan is NOT a world power because its territory (Okinawa) is still occupied by foreign troops”.) to the collection of priceless quotes found here!

  9. As for “Bargamyan (an ethnic Armenian, BTW) wrote in his memoirs that any Red Army regiment was battleworthy only if manned by 90% of Great Russians).”

    That would explain why the Red Army of 1941, which was 90% “Great Russians” folded like a house of cards during Barbarossa, and made the greatest mass surrenders in history.

    The lines at Moscow were held by troops from the Caucasus, central asia, and the far east.

    Not by “great Russians”

  10. “with the possible exception of China, Belarus and Kazakhstan”

    Nicaragua,Venezuela, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, “Abkazia and South Ossetia”, Gaza Strip.

    More or less.

    You forgot Kyrgyzstan. Putin won a Pyrrhic victory by kicking the Americans out. That is his one big victory this year.

  11. Felix is right. Japan is not a world power according to Russia’s definition. Japan does not have nuclear weapons. Russia does. So does North Korea. I digress. Putin is so stupid he believes that superpower are countries which possess military might. He should understand that real superpowers are those that have economic might. Japan’s economy cleans Russia’s clock. Therefore Japan in every sense but militarily is a superpower, while Russia is a straw chicken in every sense except militarily.

  12. Actually, aside from the nukes, the Japanes could wipe the floor with the Russians militarily.
    They have a much better equipped Navy & Air Force than most people realise.
    But Kolchak is entirely correct, the strength of a real superpower is in its economy & social institutions, both of which put Russia squarely in the “Zimababwe with nukes” category.

  13. Sorry, that should have been “Zimbabwe with nukes”

    Links to data about JSDF Maritime & Air force
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan_Air_Self_Defence_Force
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan_Maritime_Self-Defense_Force

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