Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

What does Russia have to gain?

With the limiting/cutting off of the wealthy European markets for her products that any isolation / “new Cold War” would imply, her economy will end up even more screwed than it is already, further isolating the government from the people. Yes, cutting off energy supplies to Europe would, in the short term, cause a major global economic crash and untold suffering on a scale not seen for decades which would, in the short term, also help boost energy prices and allow Russia to get rich quick via other markets. But in the longer term? Europe will find other energy sources and recover – while Russia’s short term gain will end up as long-term loss, as her finite natural resources run low and the world’s wealthiest markets continue to shun her. As The Economist has noted, “America’s GDP is ten times bigger than Russia’s and it spends at least seven times more on defence. Russia’s economy would fall off a cliff if energy prices slumped and its population, racked by ill-health and inequality, is shrinking by up to 800,000 a year.” How can she keep going if markets are denied her?

Yes, the nationalistic boost will increase the government’s popularity in the short-term (just as it did during the early stages of the Chechen wars), but the current government’s already insanely popular and there aren’t any elections for years, so why bother? Anything short of total moral/military victory will make them seem weak in the eyes of a people they’ve stirred up into a populist frenzy. It’ll have precisely the opposite effect.

On top of that, the semi-paranoid claims that Western powers are encircling her to crush her will become a reality. The blind eye that’s been turned to Russia’s shoddy human rights record, corruption and lack of democracy will start to see once more, and the Western world will, no doubt, start to seriously aid opposition groups, potentially destabilising the current lot’s hold on power. Plus, of course, Russia’s own hypocrisy over the independence of Chechnya may start to become an issue – and cunning Western states may well start taking more of an interest in other national subgroups within the Russian Federation, bolstering their independence movements to destabilise the Kremlin. The Russian Federation, lest we forget, is a country built on conquest that has been held together largely through fear and oppression ever since the days of Ivan the Terrible. From Caucasian regions Ingushetia and Dagestan right through to Siberia (actually not a bad idea…), there are countless parts of Russia that could – with the right incentives and support – be persuaded to start heading the way of the Central Asian republics, and sever their ties to Moscow.

Some of these are more likely than others, of course – and none of this is to say that I don’t have a certain amount of sympathy with Russian accusations of Western hypocrisy (I don’t buy it completely by any means, but they have got a case, and they’ve been telling us for long enough…) – but still. Why? If it’s really just simple nationalism, aren’t nationalist supposed to want to do things in the best interest of their country? Isn’t the aim normally to make the mother/fatherland great once again? How does Russia expect to do that if she pisses off all her trade partners? Or are Russian claims of self-sufficiency justified? Are they genuinely planning a period of splendid isolation? Is that why they’re seemingly becoming so keen to tidy up any remaining border disputes?

It’s all very complex, very confusing. And I haven’t yet read one explanation that covers all the bases. (Hell, even this one leaves out tonnes of relevant stuff…) I was hoping to go into all of this in more detail on the radio last night, but for some reason never quite got the chance…


  1. The most stupid policy would be to not renew the 1997 partnership agreement and sanction Russia. Again, this conflict was started by Georgia though its attack on civilian areas of South Ossetia. Any sanctions against Russia, and refusal to renew the 1997 partnership agreement would be absolutely counter productive and make a settlement in the area very long in coming. Any settlement MUST include Russia. EU policy with regard to Russia must remain faithful to the spirit of the European project and Europe values and not be a US-proxy policy, as was “Kosovo independence.” Sanctioning Russia would run counter to European values, but what the US wants, the US gets, European values be damned!

    What? Are EU Member States now going to make visas for Russians hard to get, make its harder for Russian students to study in Europe, and cultural and political exchanges between Russia and the EU? All in support of the un-democratic Saakashvili regime?

    Also – there is a prospect that Europe is running counter to its own European Security Strategy if it takes punitive actions against Russia.

    What does Russia have to gain? Security, and that’s what all nations of this Earth want. A question: Why is “what Russia wants” so suspect to you?
    The real question should be what does America want in this part of the world.

    Also what is good for Kosovo is good for South Ossetia. The EU should consider separating South Ossetia from Georgia. This is again Europe following “American interests” right off that preverbal cliff, and it is also time to break the chains that tie Europe to America! Europe could have had a nice partnership with Russia if it had not been for American activities in Europe, including these goofy missiles in Poland, Kosovo “independence” and now US support for the Saakashvili regime!

    It is time to make the Atlantic ocean a little wider!

  2. Are you Putin in disguise?

    I mean, seriously… You buy all this pro-Moscow propaganda without questioning ANY of it? I’m moderately sympathetic to the Kremlin here – they’ve acted like idiots, but I can see how they may have thought that they a) didn’t have much choice, and b) would get away with it – but really?

    I’m not suspicious of Russia’s motives, I just don’t understand them. If it’s security, as you say, they’ve taken precisely the wrong course. Because if the US missile defence shield wasn’t aimed at Russia, it sure is now. If NATO wasn’t teaming up against Russia, likewise. Even countries, like Germany, who have until now been hugely pro-Moscow are getting cold feet and thinking maybe it wasn’t such a great idea. Far from scaring Georgia and Ukraine back into the Russian sphere of influence, they’ve been pushed further away – and the Central Asian republics also look to be getting a tad uncomfortable.

    Russia’s just pissed everyone off – it’s not a good way to get secure.

    The Ossetia / Kosovo argument makes no sense unless Russia’s prepared to give Chechnya immediate independence.

    Blaming America is just populist nonsense. Yes, they were involved, but Britain and the Netherlands both have at least as much (if not more) invested in Georgia than the Americans do – not to mention the rest of the EU’s money going into the various pipleine projects there. And on top of that, America’s precise level of involvement in making Georgia think they could get away with it is just as unclear as Russia’s involvement with the Ossetian paramilitaries in the run-up to the Georgian invasion.

    As for the “Georgia started it” line – yes, technically they did (and they were certainly at least as idiotic in their actions as Russia has been). But you’d have to be living in a bubble reading only Kremlin-approved newspapers not to realise that it’s just a teeny bit more complex than that.

    Russia’s not the evil aggressor, but nor are they the innocent victim. And the same goes for Georgia, America, the EU – and even a good number of South Ossetians, by the sound of things. Everyone’s been acting stupidly – because everyone’s been acting selfishly without thinking of the consequences.

  3. It’s hard to identify what other markets Russia can exploit in the immediate future. They lack the infrastructure to deliver effectively to China and they haven’t the liquid gas vessels either.

  4. I don’t really have much to add, but I’d just like to say that your and Craig Murray’s blogging on this has easily been some of the best and most knowledgeable around.

  5. Pingback: Sovereignty out the window? « The 8th Circle

  6. Russia is showing classic symptoms of a power much reduced in status, but which hasn’t come to terms with this. Think of the peculiar kind of wounded pride the UK had in the 1960s and 1970s – once the largest empire on Earth, now getting bailed out by the IMF. There was also the same sense that ‘we are different from Europe’, partly due to being apparently rejected by the heart of Europe, but partly due to a sense that we still had our own sphere of influence that transcended the continent. We see echos of this mentality today in the BNP, UKIP and the right wing of the Conservative party, and more generally in the continued belief in British (and above all English) exceptionalism.

    With this is mind, Russia’s actions don’t seem quite so mindless. They’re still misguided, but you see why they’re doing them, from the point-of-view of their distorted ideology. (The same could be said of the equally misguided Dubya adminstration.) In the Caucasus for instance, Russia is choosing to hold onto as much territory as possible, even at the expense of international relations. (I say ‘hold onto’, because Moscow’s power never really left these places when the USSR collapsed.) Why hold onto such places, you might ask? Because in the Russian view, giving up territory is a definite, material loss, whereas international relations are ephemeral and fickle – caving into Western demands on one area would only give a temporary respite, and then Westerners would find something else to complain about. Russian fears about NATO per se might be paranoid, but let’s face it, there are certain things which the West, particularly the US, wants to export to the world, such as liberal democracy and the ability to sell Western goods in these countries, in a manner and tempo which authoritarian regimes are rightly afraid of.

    Short version: Russia isn’t starting a new Cold War in their own eyes. (In any case, they blame the West for starting the first Cold War – of course, Stalin’s infamous paranoia didn’t help.) They are trying to maintain a status they feel they deserve and to prevent further ‘humiliation’. They retain a 19th-century view of what it means to be a great power (this is not just a slur – I suspect a strategist from 150 years ago would find modern Russian actions to be right and proper), because the psychological leap required to embrace the ‘European’ way of doing things is still too big.

  7. Pingback: The limitations of the EU in the “new Cold War” | Nosemonkey’s EUtopia

  8. Firstly, no supplies are going to be cut off, however much the BBC likes to talk it up. It is just ridiculous. Germany and Russia already have a strategic energy agreement (unoffcially of course) and the Germans are not going to bend to to rabid rhetoric of Mr. Miliband and the US.

    Quoting the Economist is like asking a pirate if he likes robbing people. It has some of the worst coverage of Russia in the mainstream press (i.e. Edward Lucas).

    NATO is encircling Russia. Turkey provides military assistance along with the US to Azerbadjan who this year is spending more on weapons than on anything else in its budget. If Europe want to see another armenian genocide, then just keep on arming Azerbaidjan (after all, they did try to kill off a lot of Armenians again in 1988, so it is not that unlikely). NATO is no longer a defensive organization. It has gone to war (Serbia) without UN approval and is thus an offensive organization. It is actively courting the Ukraine who has a substantial russian population, not to mention over 70% of Ukranians don’t want to be in NATO. The US pulled out of the ABM treaty, the US still stores nuclear weapons on european soil and provides rotating air defense for the Baltics. And all this without mentioning missile defense.

    As for the West meddling in the RF, well they have form all over the former Yugoslavia. And how will the West ‘support’ these groups? Are you suggesting that they should sponsor terrorism again? BTW, Ingushetians are quite happy within the RF, lumping everyone in the caucasus together with the Chechens is just plain wrong. How is it Dudayev screwed up a deal with Moscow when Tartarstan, which was also pushing for independence, managed to negotiate a deal in May(?) of 1994 that leaves it withing the RF?

    You are also completely wrong about the ‘stans. They are NOT heading towards the West. They are playing one side off against the other and will lean where the wind blows. Even then, they are still geographically neighbors with Russia. BTW, Kyrgyzstan has just officially asked the US to leave Manas airbase, a strategically important base for USAF tankers to refuel NATO aircraft over/near Afghanistan – it will make the logistics for NATO much more difficult. Not to mention that NATO cannot win in Afghanistan without Russian support, who have a major influence in the north of the country and have the largest ‘diplomatic’ presence in Kabul. The Kazakhs will have their own pipeline directly to top dollar paying China whilst Russia is building a branch line to Daquing from its pipeline to the Pacific.

    Russia has been telling NATO and the euro-atlants to stop pushing them for quite some time now. There was going to be no NATO expansion, but they changed their mind. The euro-atlants sponsored coups in neighboring states (sorry ‘revolutions’ in Georgia and the Ukraine – following the Serbian model), it paid for tens of millions of dollars of weaponry to be sold to Georgia and even at one point (the US) bought iranian gas to supply Georgia.

    Russia is not ‘pissing off all its trade partners’. Are you one of those people who says ‘international community’ when you mean ‘the West’??? Russia has small but growing trade with Asia, in particular the two growing giants China and India. It also has very good relations with most of the South American states. There is an economic world outside the West. That is what globalization is about. You can’t just cut a major country out of the economy without some major repercussions.

    If the ‘West’ is all about law and order, then why the hell is the Ukraine in the WTO and not Russia? Is it less corrupt? No, it was a prize for the ‘Orange Revolution’. Why the hell are Bulgaria and Romania in the EU? Because they are not corrupt to the core? No, because the Brits and the Frogs wanted it. F**k the Acquis Communautaire. What has Russia got out of the EU?

    Each attempt to reach a strategic agreement is blocked by the Poles or the Balts for whatever reason they feel like for that particular day. Is this really good for the EU, to keep Russia waiting, having to listen to new demands from paranoid new member states. Even big multinational companies such as IBM in Poland are demanding new job candidates to speak Russia? Now why would IBM do this if Russia is of no relevance?

    What of the following question: If (hypothetically) the West did impose sanctions, would they also threaten other countries (India, China, LatAm etc.) also with sanctions a la Cuban sanctions??? Do you think this would be good for the world economy when the western economies are stagnating, brought on by the credit crunch? There is NO free ride, or easy solution.

    BTW, the Russian objection to missile defense is very simple. The US has an overwhelming conventional advantage in precision weapons plus stealth bombers and the such. Most of Russia’s missiles are silo based and can thus be easily targetted by GPS bombs launched by B2, hence at a stroke wiping out the large part of Russia’s deterrence (and I mean real missiles that will function as opposed to the numbers on paper). ‘Missile defense’ allows NATO to mop up the ICBM’s that have been missed (such as mobile missiles).

    This undermines the whole MAD strategy. It destroys Russia’s ‘second strike’ ability. It makes the argument possible that NATO/US/West can win a limited nuclear war, i.e. First Strike with a good chance of success.

    Regardless of whether the EU would go along with such insanity (even one nuke in the EU would be a major disaster), it provides for a real and substantiated potential threat. No MAD, no trust. Simple.

    As for Georgia, you are completely right. It is more complex. Saakashvili has the opposition beaten up violently by his ‘riot police’, shuts down the independent media, carries out illegal (as in against the UN mandate) uav flights over both the Abos and Ossies to gather intelligence that will be used for war, and to cap it all off, launches a massive artillery barrage, at night, against a civilian center. People have been indicted on war crimes for much less than that (Milan Martic, RSK for firing FROG missiles at Zagreb in 1995). But he’s our bastard, right???

  9. Blixa – you may well be right on that front. I need to get more up to speed on Russian/Chinese trade, methinks. China was always unlikely to support Russia openly when Moscow’s supporting breakaway republics (what with the whole Tibet / Taiwan things going on), but the Chinese certainly don’t seem to have many qualms with trading with people with whom they disagree, and also seem to be pretty good at popping up infrastructure in ridiculously fast timescales… (This is the trouble with Russia – it’s so damned big it’s hard to keep track of it all…)

    Septicisle – ta, boss!

    Colin – yep, I’ve been pondering down similar lines. Was vaguely pondering a Marxian teleological take on Russia over the last ten years (she jumped from Feudalism to (a form of) Communism in 1917 without first passing through capitalism or socialism; early stages of capitalism were often associated – by Marxist historians, at least – with a rise of nationalism; so Russia’s now catching up with the shift in modes of production that she was arguably starting to go through a century ago before war and the Mansheviks/Bolsheviks got in the way. Which makes her at roughly the stage the Netherlands were at back in the late 16th century…)

    Aleks – again, please respond to what I’ve actually written, not what you THINK I’ve written with your assumption that I’m a brainwashed anti-Russian maniac.

    Just one example from your latest response – did I say that the Central Asian republics were heading towards the West? No. I said they’d severed their ties to Moscow. I admit this could be a bit confusing, as by that I meant that they’d become independent, but still. “Independence” and “heading towards the West” are blatantly not synonymous – otherwise how to explain Belarus?

    Seriously, this is getting tedious. Drop your preconceptions of what us filthy decadent Westerners think, and read what I’ve actually written before going off on one. Pretty please? It would make responses to your substantive points a lot easier. As it is, your apparent obsession with correcting what you perceive to be my bias and ignorance means that you replies are getting too long to reply to point by point. (If you DO want some people who buy the standard anti-Moscow line hook, line and sinker, I can give you the addresses of a fair few blogs that are foaming at the mouth over the whole thing. This really isn’t one of them.)

  10. Am I not a filthy, decadent westerner? :)

    I was surprised by your comment about ‘severing ties’ (some way from ‘independence’) and tried to figure out what you mean. Hence, they’d have to look west for new friends and to sell their energy, though I do take your point, I will make more effort to check, drink less coffee and go to bed earlier. Belarus is explained by what I said for the ‘stans, but instead of playing of east with west, playing off east with its own strategic need (pipelines), and that Belarus is at least a minimal buffer to the encroachment of NATO, and at most the final frontier (apart from the Ukraine), quite the diplomatic balancing act that would make ballerinas cry.

    I don’t know what your bias is as you have written more than a few times that you are in the process of forming some sort of view (a form of brain storming), and for ignorance – how could I possibly know? The Economist is well… I happen to know a number of people from the Caucasus, Ingushetia (did my dissertation on Chechnya) included so found your comments and a few others to be fairly odd to say the least.

    Russia certainly does have a number of legitimate concerns, but these all seem to be explained and wrapped up as ‘paranoia’. Hardly fair me thinks, but it is all part of international argy-bargy.

    Sure, I may be a little bit passionate, but who isn’t? It is apparent in your writing too.

    I’m certainly not interested in people who buy the “anti-Moscow line hook”? I’m not religious (i.e. ‘preaching to the converted’). We seem to agree that it is a lot more complex, but I see (from both sides) the West getting away with outrageous behavior and then hyperventilating whenever it gets a bit of competition in the arena.