Putin Fails, and then he Fails Again

Vladimir Ryzhkov, writing in the Moscow Times:

Russia’s foreign policy failures are snowballing at such a rate that they threaten a second geopolitical collapse on a par with the disintegration of the Soviet Union 20 years ago.

What makes this tragedy so comic is that our leaders are essentially running backward into the future and calling it progress. At the same time, they shake their fists and foam at the mouth as they rant about Russia’s greatness, claim that it is “getting up from its knees” and endlessly repeat myths about its “new successes” and “historical initiatives.” By running backward, Russia inevitably stumbles and falls, while its clumsy foreign policy initiatives become the laughing stock of the world.

The Kremlin was not able to exploit its huge reserves that it accumulated after eight years of an oil boom by turning its economic power into political clout in the global arena. On the contrary, Russia’s global standing has worsened across the board.

Russia’s leaders have managed to alienate even its strongest allies. The alliance with Belarus is crumbling before our eyes as Kremlin leaders attempt to punish Minsk for years of foot-dragging over the sale of Belarus’ largest enterprises to Russia’s inefficient and nontransparent monopolies, for delaying plans to introduce a unified currency and establish other political and economic institutions intended to strengthen ties between the two states. Russia reacted with “milk and meat wars,” and Minsk responded in kind by refusing to attend a Collective Security Treaty Organization summit even while it was supposed to hold the rotating chairmanship of the organization — an embarrassing, if not humiliating, snub to President Dmitry Medvedev. What’s more, Belarus has joined the Eastern Partnership offered by the European Union and has actively diversified its foreign policy.

Armenia, which is hemmed in on all sides by closed borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey, suffered greatly during the days of the Russia-Georgia war last August. This quickly drove Yerevan to intensify its dialogue with Turkey over prospects for opening their common border that has been closed for decades, and, like Belarus, to join the EU’s Eastern Partnership.

Russia has also burned bridges with Turkmenistan. Throughout the recent economic boom years, Turkmenistan pumped gas to Russia to compensate for its growing deficiency, thereby helping to save the reputation of Gazprom — and thus Russia — as a reliable supplier of gas to Europe. But Moscow’s gas war with Kiev forced the EU to cut back sharply on purchases of Russian gas. This led to a drop in gas prices, and once that happened Moscow unceremoniously reneged on its contractual obligations to purchase gas from Turkmenistan. In early April, Russia shut the valve on the pipeline that imported Turkmen gas. This was the alleged cause of a major explosion in Turkmenistan — and a major explosion in Russian-Turkmen relations as well. The result is that Turkmenistan is now searching for more reliable commodity markets, has offered to join the Nabucco project as a gas supplier, is ready to discuss the Trans-Caspian pipeline project and has already given the Chinese access to its gas fields. A gas pipeline to China is also under construction.

Moscow was entirely alone in its decision to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Besides Nicaragua, not a single country followed Russia’s example. Russia has even managed to sever ties with Georgia — a country with a Russian Orthodox population that has always enjoyed warm relations with Moscow — for the highly questionable goal of wanting to maintain two microscopic puppet-satellite states in one of the most explosive regions of the world. If the Kremlin’s goals were to achieve international isolation and disdain and to increase the threat of a military conflict in the Caucasus, it was very successful.

Russia’s unnecessarily antagonistic actions toward Ukraine have turned the otherwise “brotherly relationship” into a hostile one. In the 1990s, when Ukraine also had trouble paying for its imports of Russian gas, the shortfall was simply added to its external debt, which it later paid back. Today, Moscow’s actions have helped consolidate Ukrainian society around an anti-Russia platform, prompting Kiev to seek membership in the EU and NATO. It also pushed Ukraine toward formulating a new national idea that is based on a rejection of the historical fraternity between our two nations.

The EU also drew its conclusions about Russia’s unreliability after the latest battle in January of the endless succession of gas wars, which resulted in more than 20 European countries being left without heat in bitterly cold temperatures after Russia cut off gas shipments that had already been purchased. Consequently, the EU reduced its purchases of Russian gas, made headway on developing the Nabucco pipeline, including allocating increased funding for the project, and stepped up the development of projects to import gas from Africa and the Middle East. The EU also invited Ukraine to join an alliance for purchasing gas from countries other than Russia. Both South Stream and Nord Stream have experienced setbacks that may complicate the future development of these pipeline projects. In short, this is the lowest point in the 16 years of EU-Russian relations.

Meanwhile, Russia’s relationship with NATO is also becoming increasingly adversarial. Azerbaijan is distancing itself from Russia and aligning itself more with the West. Moscow gave financial aid to Kyrgyzstan to push Bishkek to close the U.S. military base at Manas. But in the end, the Americans were allowed to stay after they increased the rental payments and renamed the base as a “transit center.” Despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow for the July summit, no “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations has taken place. In fact, they remain unchanged, as is evidenced by Vice President Joe Biden’s recent visits to Kiev and Tbilisi and by the sharp comments toward Russian that he made in his interview with The Wall Street Journal a week ago.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s attempt to restore Russia’s influence over the former Soviet republics has failed miserably. Moscow’s standing in the region is weaker now than it was even eight years ago, when Putin took over the presidency from Boris Yeltsin. This is a direct result of Putin’s failed policies during his two terms as president — the inability to modernize the economy, the systemic destruction of the country’s democracy, the sharp rise in corruption and the increase in the monopoly control of key industries under his state capitalism model. If you add to all of this a countless string of inept foreign policy disasters, it is easy to understand why Russia’s neighbors have turned their backs on Moscow and are looking to Western military, economic and political institutions for support and cooperation.

11 responses to “Putin Fails, and then he Fails Again

  1. In the British writers Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s 1990s novel “Good Omens”, they portray a 17th century witch who writes prophesies which no one reads, the basic problem being that all her prophesies come true. People in Gaiman’s and Pratchett’s story prefer for some reason those oracles whose nonsensical ramblings all turn out to be useless dross and made-up carp. It must feel to Russian writers like Ryzhkov that they are living in Gaiman’s and Pratchett’s surreal imaginary world, where writing the truth either gets you killed — and the witch is executed in the story — or you’re just ignored.

  2. Armenia’s example is one of most telling. It has been dependent on Russian largess for years. However, it realized that other countries that stiff Russia (Belarus and Kyrgiz are prime examples) have it much better.

    So, Armenia awarded Georgian president Saakashvili its highest honor – Order of Honor. Even Lukashenko didn’t get that far… although he is close. Official Belarussian foreign ministry directive calls to “respect Georgian laws when traveling in Abkhazia and South Osetia”.

    Russia may be rising from its knees, only nobody outside noticed it!

  3. Putin looks good for an exit as the head of Russia by the end of 2009. The financial crisis that struck the world last year is continuing. Economic conditions the world over are worsening, not improving. I expect a number of bank failures to occur in Russia sometime in October. That should spur Putin’s quick exit.

    Gary Marshall

    • If Putin exits, it will be like Ludendorf’s in October, 1918: with a fake beard, under an assumed name and a fake passport on a train for Stockholm. And that was only after egging Ebert on to declare the republic and form a civilian government — which Ludendorf then, safely in Swedish exile, blamed for losing the war. This seems very much to be in Putin’s political toolkit. Herr Medvedev, watch your back.

  4. Yep, Russia and Nicaragua recognise the breakaway republics, but of the two, only Russia met with them in July 2008 and agreed they could become part of the Russian Federation (This is published in Regnum online.. even though Bagpush of Abkhazia publically says it has never been discussed).
    So.. the russians invaded georgia to defend republics it had just said could become part of russia! talk about lucky coincidences!
    and yes, i am always surprised to see its still there
    http://www.regnum.ru/english/1027897.html

    • Less than a month before the war, kind of incriminating isn’t it.

      Of course the funny thing is that Byeloruss recently declared the “Union State” dead.

    • Interestingly, while the South Ossetians hope for union with (Russian-ruled) North Ossetia, the Abkhazians are having second thoughts about Moscow. If Tbilisi could get its act together, it would negotiate some settlement with an increasingly willing Abkhazia, ranging from either a confederation, dual-republic or just plain complete separation but with close mutual cooperation on regional and economic issues. The two peoples have much more in common than not, and a relieved West would happily pour development aid into both, leaving the Ossetians to contemplate the joys of being ruled the feudal, authoritarian banana republic that is Russia:

      http://www.rferl.org/content/A_Year_After_The_War_South_Ossetia_And_Abkhazia_Seek_Different_Paths/1794249.html

  5. On the news last night I seen the Rooskie Submarines with the broken skin fragments and missing and some hanging off. They were on their way past the US East coast on to Cuba. Tattered “X” Flag on the mast. Enough humiliation so Roosha sent Two Subs, in case one had to be towed or rescued. I would not want the floating nuclear waste dump docking anywhere outside of Neo Savokian Roosha.

  6. He’s just failed in Turkey today.

    He’s been failing “again and again” since the year 1999. That’s kinda right, but I’ve got a question to put to you – WHEN HIS FINAL FAIL COULD BE EXPECTED? I’m running out of time.

    There’s no justice in the world anymore.

  7. The Gangster Boss of Neo Savokian Roosha
    is failing miserably in Turkey.

    Turkey says sticks to Nabucco gas pipeline
    Turkey will stand by its commitments for the Nabucco pipeline project that will transport Caspian gas to central Europe despite alternative pipeline projects, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said on Friday.

    The Italian mafi-clown Berlusconi pipeline deal claim “exaggerated”: Turkey

    http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSTRE5761EA20090807

  8. If reality opposes ones wishes, then just create a fantasy. Berlusconi is learning much from the Putin.

    Gary Marshall

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