Vladimir Putin: Lonely and Weak

Anders Aslund, writing in the Moscow Times:

Russia’s relations with its neighbors are worse than ever, and this is particularly true among the former Soviet republics. On Oct. 9, the Commonwealth of Independent States held its annual summit in Chisinau. The Nezavisimaya Gazeta headline said it all: “Summit in 30 Minutes. CIS Leaders Had Nothing to Tell One Another.”

Georgia left the alliance on Aug. 18. Among the remaining 11 members, only six presidents arrived — from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan, while the host country, Moldova, temporarily has no president. Even the strongest proponent of multilateral cooperation in the post-Soviet region, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, chose to stay at home. Needless to say, nothing was accomplished.

To aggravate things further, President Dmitry Medvedev refused to meet Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko. Will Lukashenko attend another CIS meeting after that insult? Everybody left quickly after their half-hour meeting and even skipped the planned gala dinner. The CIS is Russia’s baby, and its failure is also Russia’s.

Each CIS country has its own complaints, but the four dominant concerns are: Russia’s lacking respect for its neighbors’ territorial integrity, gas policy, trade conflicts and financial issues. The Kremlin needs to fix each of these areas to restore Russia’s standing in the region.

On Aug. 26, 2008, the Kremlin dealt the most devastating blow to its reputation in the post-Soviet region by recognizing the sovereignty of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia violated its long-standing principles of respecting a nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity inscribed in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe convention, the CIS convention and multiple bilateral friendship treaties with CIS countries.

President Boris Yeltsin signed as many treaties as he could to reassure the former Soviet republics that Russia would respect their sovereignty. But when Vladimir Putin became president, he revised Yeltsin’s policy. He articulated this new policy quite clearly in his 2005 annual address when he said, “The collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical disaster of the century.”

Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the Russia-Georgia war confirmed that Russia had become a revisionist power in the region. Not one other CIS state has recognized Abkhazia or South Ossetia. The reason is that it could set a dangerous precedent and could ultimately threaten the sovereignty of CIS states as well. Several republics have large ethnic Russian populations and possess former Russian territories. The Kremlin needs to restore its respect for its neighbors’ territorial integrity to be able to improve its relations with them.

Russia’s gas policy toward its neighbors is just as damaging. It has been right in moving toward market-related prices, but prices offered to different CIS countries vary according to political conditions. After its unjustified cutoff of gas deliveries in January, Gazprom now finds itself in a severe crisis because its current and former customers consider it an unreliable supplier. Because of falling demand, its total output is likely to plummet by some 20 percent this year

For years, Gazprom has tried to monopolize gas supplies from Central Asia, but when European gas demand and prices dropped, Turkmenistan’s gas pipeline to Russia blew up just like two gas pipelines to Georgia a few years ago. Now, after the pipeline has been repaired, Gazprom refuses to accept the contracted volumes or pay the agreed-upon price. Therefore Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov did not go to the CIS summit. Instead, the Chinese are filling the gap by building a large gas pipeline to Turkmenistan. China will buy most of Turkmenistan’s gas exports, as it already does from Kazakhstan.

Gazprom needs to recognize that it faces a serious crisis in its relations with both customers and suppliers. Otherwise it will be treated as a rogue company. The most sensible thing to do would be to ratify the Energy Charter Treaty, but last summer Russia took the opposite step: It suspended its signature for this important pact.

The greatest failure of the CIS is not to have established a free trade area. All the CIS countries, except Turkmenistan, signed a multilateral free trade agreement in 1994, but Russia has never ratified it. Instead, most CIS countries have concluded bilateral free trade agreements. Although they have been ratified, they lack legal teeth. Whenever one country wants to undertake protectionist measures against another, it does so with impunity because detailed rules, arbitration and penalty mechanisms are missing. As a consequence, trade within the CIS is often interrupted. Whenever a successful exporter captures another market, it is blocked through quotas, tariffs or outright prohibition.

There is a clear resolution to this problem: World Trade Organization accession for all. The WTO has the requisite rules, arbitration and penalties. Five CIS countries have become members of the WTO, but Russia has failed to do so. In June, Russia was very close to accession, but Putin surprised everybody, including his own Cabinet, by stating that Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan would enter the WTO as a customs union. WTO Secretary-General Pascal Lamy said this was impossible. Only when Russia and the other CIS countries join the WTO can free trade arrangements within the commonwealth become meaningful.

The global financial crisis offered the Kremlin a new chance to rebuild relations with its CIS neighbors. With its large reserves, Russia could offer substantial financial assistance to Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova. But Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova are complaining that Russia has failed to deliver what it promised. Once again Lukashenko and Putin have ended up in public mudslinging. Instead, China is quietly providing larger financial support to Belarus and Moldova.

Thus, the Kremlin is spoiling its relations with its neighbors in a seemingly mindless fashion. In the East, Central Asia is turning to China to expand trade and receive financing. In the West, the EU’s Eastern Partnership has pulled Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, and Moldova closer to Europe. For the time being, Russia seems to have decent relations with only Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Russia has solidified its reputation as an unreliable and unpredictable partner. It is finding itself increasingly lonely, and in global affairs the lonely are weak. Russia should have an interest in improving its tarnished international reputation. It urgently needs to form a new, constructive and respectful policy toward its post-Soviet neighbors. Perhaps Medvedev and Putin should take a page from Yeltsin’s CIS playbook.

29 responses to “Vladimir Putin: Lonely and Weak

  1. I applaud Georgia for leaving CIS and standing up to Russian bullies. Very brave from little Georgia to stand up to Russia. Saakashvili is also extremely brave leader, finally a leader who is not afraid to call Putin and Putin’s russia what it really is.

  2. Wasn’t Georgia kicked out of CIS for invading S. Ossetia and Abckazia.

  3. http://www.daymohk.info/cgi-bin/orsi3/index.cgi?id=38995;section=3

    Last night terroristic russian occupation soldiers and pro-russian dagestani police-traitors kill seven innocent young dagestani civilians and declare them as “rebels”,as always. Very soon the heroic “JAMAAT SHARIAT” will strike back again!!! ALLAH IS GREAT!!!

  4. > Very soon the heroic “JAMAAT SHARIAT” will strike back again!!! ALLAH IS GREAT!!!

    Of course, when they do strike and are killed, you will again decalre that they are “innocent young dagestani civilians” and call for more strikes from new “innocent young dagestani civilians “. And so on. Endless game of Islamic shaheedism.

    • Well Michael, the Russian security forces do have a habit of killing innocent men, women, and children.

      Look at all those they killed in Chechnya, or all the young girls raped and butchered by Russian “volunteers” in Abkhazia.

      Its an old Russian tradition stretching way back.

    • While I do believe some would do that, the bottom line is that the Russians do have the right to fight back and eliminate JS. Unfortunately, their considerable lack of control regarding collateral damage has a tendency of eliminating that need.

    • Oh so Russia never killed innocent women, man and chilren in Chechnya? Pick category Chechnya on LR and you will see what kind of horror Russia has caused in Chechnya. “Innocent cvillians” why quotes? Russia has killed thuosands of INNOCENT CIVILLIANS in Northern Caucasus idiot.

    • LOL. Russia is fighting “islam” terrorists yet provided Iran with nuclear capabilities and armes Hamaz and Hezbollah please!

  5. Kate your comment, “re:Russia is fighting “islam” terrorists yet provided Iran with nuclear capabilities and armes Hamaz and Hezbollah please!” is spot on!

    Now if you ask any same person about it they will tell you that it defies all sane logic. Only a Stolychnaya diseased/warped mind would hatch such gibberish scenario, and believe it.

    If thugs like you and Putler run RuSSia, no wonder it is in such a decaying mess. God help the poor Russian citizen from your fascist barbarism!

  6. you pro-russian scum in this blog (several people),the “Jamaat Shariat” will continue to kill your russian friends untill all russians in Dagestan are dead. You will see it,you rats

    • This is probably a stone in my garden? Salman, if you’re really a Muslim, then at least once in your life read the Koran – believe me: you learn many new things!

  7. salman, I don’t really know who you are quarrelling with. Most people on this blog are critical of the Russian occupation of the North Caucasus. I personally support the idea of an independent, Islamic North Caucasus federation, and several other commenters here agree on this issue. So I don’t really see the point or the target of your childish rants.

    • Hi A,

      I believe that salman is reffering to michael tal; michal tal is a kremlin propagandist that repeats the kremlin line and the kremlin disinformation. There are many normal people that leave many little known historical facts, in their comments on this website, about the secular uncivilized barbarians in the kremlin.


  8. Turtler // October 31, 2009 at 4:26 pm | Reply

    While I do believe some would do that, the bottom line is that the Russians do have the right to fight back and eliminate JS. Unfortunately, their considerable lack of control regarding collateral damage has a tendency of eliminating that need.

    Michael Tal // October 31, 2009 at 10:45 am | Reply

    > Very soon the heroic “JAMAAT SHARIAT” will strike back again!!! ALLAH IS GREAT!!!

    Of course, when they do strike and are killed, you will again decalre that they are “innocent young dagestani civilians” and call for more strikes from new “innocent young dagestani civilians “. And so on. Endless game of Islamic shaheedism.

    so these criminals are not pro-russian? There are a plenty of pro-russian propagandists in this blog,you should read the comments of guys like Turtler and Michael Tal more careful

  9. Michael Tal is indeed an apologist for Russian occupation of the Caucasus, but everybody tends to make fun of him on this blog. And judging from his other comments, Turtler isn’t “pro-Russian” at all, he is just critical of the methods and agenda of the Islamist insurgents in the North Caucasus (I may not agree with that point of view, since I don’t believe totalitarian regimes can be defeated through peaceful means, but that doesn’t make him a “Russophile”)

  10. A.!!!

    yesterday seven innocent young men were brutally slaughtered and declared as “fighters”! Today civilians confirmed these reports. The “Jamaat Shariat” is always acknowledging their losses on their website,they never hide their losses,visit their website and you will see it! Did you ever lose relatives slaughtered by a criminal regime! I am a muslim and deeply pro-american,but i have one big problem with you: YOUR IGONRANCE!!! WHY? Look,i will explain. The USA is HUGE! Between yourself and the rest of the world are two gigantic oceans. No one will ever be able to invade the USA on California-Beach. You will never see russian soldiers looting and killing in New York,LA, Dallas,Phoenix etc…. You are simply free people,all skin colours,all religions,all ethnic groups,everyone is free in the USA! But you simply don´t know,what kind of nightmare is going on in Dagestan and elsewhere in the russian colonial empire! It´s a bloody mess,much more brutal than in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The methods by the russians and the criminal pro-russian local elites are much more brutal than the tactics of the Taliban! Should i send you thousands of reports and videos?? You cann see them all over You Tube etc.., i am simply tired of it! The western press is always reporting “in reference to russian sources” and most of you guys believe it! For people like us,who are being killed and tortured every day,these pro-russian lies in the western media area a BRUTAL MENTAL STRESS,you simply cannot imagine! Please do not wonder,that young people turn to radical Islam! There is no other output for them! You call the “Jamaat Shariat” Islamists? why Islamists? The actual commander in chief is Umalat Magomedov (Amir Al-Bara). He was a professor before joining the Jamaat in 2002! He joined the Jamaat after his wife was abducted and raped by drunken russian soldiers during a visit to a market in Chechnya! Think about the russian crimes before complaining and regretting,that organizations like the “Jamaat Shariat” are existing! The “Jamaat Shariat” was founded in 2002,after the russian and pro-russian dagestani soldiers,policemen and FSB-troops started to harass the chechen refugees and the dagestani population in the chechen-dagestani border region! This overall terror against the civilians was the reason,why some young guys founded the Jamaat! Today the Jamaat is powerful as never before and has tenthousands of supporters! You cannot stop the freedom-spirit of people! Terror will never succeed!

    • Again salman, I don’t really understand who you’re arguing with. What do you mean by “you”? I’m not American, and I come from a country that was repeatedly invaded by Russia as well, and hundreds of thousands of my countrymen were killed or deported to Siberia. And as I said before, I support the idea of independence for the North Caucasus and I agree with the methods used by the insurgents, since, as I said, a brutal occupation can only be countered with violence. And I am aware of the atrocities commited by the Russians and their minions in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan. I also have nothing against Islam, quite the contrary, I have a lot of respect for Islam. So I don’t understand what you’re problem is. I think you’re arguing with the wrong people. With a few exceptions, most people on this blog are against Russian imperialism.

    • In Chechnya and Dagestan, in the police working people who was born in Chechnya and Dagestan.

  11. United Nations faults Russia’s on human rights

    MOSCOW (AP) — From Russia’s North Caucasus to the streets of Moscow, those who find themselves at odds with authorities can wind up as targets of deadly violence. So increasingly, some are working quietly or have abandoned their efforts altogether.

    Meanwhile a spate of killings has forced Memorial, one of Russia’s leading human rights organizations, and the crusading newspaper Novaya Gazeta, to pull out of the Russian region of Chechnya. Young people are now thinking twice before volunteering to work with rights groups, said Lev Ponomaryov, director of the group For Human Rights.

    Perhaps the report’s harshest criticism was aimed at the Russian justice system in Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus region.


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