As NATO dialogue with Russia resumed, the Putin regime got a brutally cold slap in the face late last week when, after apparently thinking it had pulled the wool over NATO’s eyes on Georgia, Russia suddenly found two of its key NATO staffers accused of spying and booted out of the forum. It wasn’t the only wakeup call for the neo-Soviet dictatorship, nor the most humiliating one.
We doubt many will disagree with us if we suggest that one of the weirdest moments in modern Russian history came recently when Russia, after fuming that Ukraine had been stealing its gas and cutting of supplies, suddenly began fuming about the exact opposite, that Ukraine wasn’t receiving as much gas as Russia demanded it should do. We have a whole category in our sidebar devoted to instances of Russian hypocrisy, many of which defy belief, but this incident was so bizarre that it seemed a whole new vocabulary was needed to describe it.
And now it turns out that even Russia’s crazed dictator Vladimir Putin didn’t believe the things he himself was saying about it. Putin has gone eyeball to eyeball with Ukraine’s fiery PM Yulia Tymoshenko, and Putin has blinked.
Claiming that Russia “could have” imposed finds of $2 billion, Putin declared Russia wouldn’t impose any at all. He’d apparently like the world to believe he was acting out of the goodness of his heart.
It’s not quite that simple.
First, any argument that Russia might have against Ukraine Turkmenistan also has against Russia. No sooner had Putin made his threats several weeks ago about punishing Ukraine for not buying gas than Turkmenistan was complaining that Russia was doing exactly the same thing.
Second, Russia has been excoriated throughout Europe for taking actions in Ukraine which threatened European gas supplies, many of which transit through Ukraine. Russia has found itself utterly without allies and, mired in one of the worst economic disasters in modern memory, in no position to go on with such confrontations. The Kremlin recently announced it will need massive infusions of European loans in order to avoid a budgetary crisis that could bring down the government.
And finally, Russia is simply desperate for customers for its gas and oil. Demand for gas has dried up just the way demand for oil did, and that means prices are plummeting. Falling prices mean falling tax revenues for the Kremlin, hence budgetary crisis and the need for foreign loans, deficit spending and massive, draconian cuts in services delivered to already put-upon Russian peasants. Putin has, you can be sure, heard the “Putler!” chants out in Vladivostok, and he knows Russia can’t afford to lose a single source of revenue on the international energy markets.
So Putin caved. He crawled back to Tymoshenko and played nice. He couldn’t resist slipping in a crude, childish, venemous smear of the state of the Ukrainian economy (how would Russia react if America spoke this way about the relative barbarism of the Russian economy?), but he crawled back all the same.
Seems it’s a little bit tougher than Mr. Putin thought to be utterly alone in the world. His behavior strikes us as being similiar to the child who petulantly runs away from home only to discover the cold cruel world. The notion of a child govering the world’s largest land mass, nuclear weapons and worst economic crisis is truly terrifying.