Premonition of ‘Cold War’. Reset Could Give Way to Isolation of Russia

Text of report by Russian Gazeta.ru news website, often critical of the government, on 26 October

[Editorial: "Premonition of ‘Cold War’. Reset Could Give Way to Isolation of Russia"]

The return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin faces Russia with the inevitability of a quest for a new foreign policy course and simultaneously sharply narrows the field for such a quest. With Putin’s clear imperialistic inclinations, the country objectively does not have military and economic opportunities for such a policy.

Republican John Boehner, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, has directly accused the Russian authorities and Vladimir Putin personally of a Soviet foreign policy course and nostalgia for the USSR, and called for the "reset" in relations with Moscow to be wound down until it resets its own foreign policy. This speech came as the reaction to the creation of a list of American officials for whom entry to Russia is banned, in response to the American "Magnitskiy list." State Department official representative Victoria Nuland – expressing the position of the Democratic administration of Barack Obama, which is more than loyal to Moscow – did not support Boehner’s ideas. Nuland noted that Washington and Moscow have spheres of mutual constructive cooperation. But the State Department representative also publicly expressed perplexity about the appearance of a Russian response to the "Magnitskiy list:" The Russian authorities have no grounds to ban American officials from entering Russia, other than a desire to take revenge for the sanctions against those involved in the scandalous case of the death in prison of the former Hermitage Capital Management lawyer.

But if there is no unity for the moment in the United States regarding the fate of the "reset," in Russia perfectly official voices are already starting to be heard about the end of it.

Dmitriy Rogozin, the Russian Federation’s permanent representative to NATO who was returned to domestic Russian politics personally by Putin, declared a few days ago that talks between Russia and the United States on missile defence have entered a total blind alley and Russia does not intend to make concessions to the detriment of its security anymore. Meanwhile it was the Obama administration that has rather made concessions, rejecting plans to station American interceptor missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland. Now it is being mercilessly criticized for this by the Republicans, who believe that Obama did not receive anything from Russia in exchange.

But the problem of Russia’s foreign policy course is much wider and more complicated than relations with America. It is completely obvious, for example, that Moscow will no longer succeed in playing "good" and "bad" cop, when President Medvedev has been sending the West some signals while Russia’s actions – which, as practice has shown, have always been dictated by Putin – were totally different.

Stories such as the public disagreements in the tandem on the UN Security Council’s Libyan resolution are by definition impossible after Putin’s return to the Kremlin.

After all, Medvedev the prime minister will not have even the legal possibility of taking part in designing the country’s foreign policy course.

It is possible that the contours of the new foreign policy course will take shape even ahead of the presidential elections in Russia, when Putin is to deliver a speech at the Munich Security Conference. One of his speeches at this conference has already caused a furor in the world, since it was unambiguously interpreted by the West as a call for a new "cold war." To some degree the programme to form a Eurasian Union out of several former Soviet republics set out by Putin in an article in the Izvestiya newspaper can be considered the new foreign policy idea. A union like this, according to Putin’s notion, could become a sort of political intermediary between China and the West. But China is too strong and independent a player, and it does not need intermediaries. Neither under the Medvedev presidency nor under the previous Putin presidencies has Russia been able to become any sort of influential and effective intermediary in resolving local conflicts, either. The mediation of the Russian Federation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia ended in war and the de facto annexation of these territories from Georgia – and in a political shock for both the West and the former union republics, not one of which has recognized the independence of these territories, fearing a repeat of a similar scenario in their countries. Neither have Russian mediation missions in the Middle East and on the Korean peninsula been crowned with success. On the other hand, the possibilities of a new Russian imperialism – to which Putin is, judging by previous experience, inclined – are extremely limited.

The army is equipped with outdated weapons, purchases of which both the Russian Defence Ministry and our main foreign buyers such as India are gradually rejecting. Now for Russian weapons sales markets in Arab countries where revolutions have overthrown the ruling authoritarian regimes are also lost. That is to say that the country is being deprived of significant earnings from one of the main articles of export revenues.

The global crisis has revealed the critical dependence of the Russian economy on the Western economic situation – not even talking about the fact that the money of the Russian elite is kept precisely in the West and not in Iran, Venezuela, or Syria, with the regimes of which Russia has tried to flirt in recent years, forming an anti-Western bloc. Neither will Russia succeed in acquiring new friends in the Muslim world, judging by the disposition of forces in the countries of the "Arab spring" and our authorities’ attitude to these events.

Putin’s return could drive Russia into neo-isolationism and sharply increase the probability of a new "cold war." And for the Putin team a victory in the presidential elections in the United States by a Republican candidate, whose administration would almost certainly move to tougher anti-Russian rhetoric, could be a political gift.

In this case foreign policy can be constructed according to the traditional scheme: Inside the country exploiting the old model of the hostile West, thus mobilizing the population; outside continuing mutually advantageous projects with selected foreign companies and if necessary buying loyal individual representatives of the Western elite for oil and gas money.

The question is only that in the case of an aggravation of world economic problems the financial resources for such a policy will dissolve before our eyes.

Source: Gazeta.ru website, Moscow, in Russian 26 Oct 11

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