THE “THIRD TURN”. If we look back over the last couple of decades, we see that the Western image of post communist Russia has gone through two major turns. In the 90s Russia was a sort of younger brother whom we would mould and usher into the light of democracy. That didn’t work out very well: that’s when Russians began to associate the word “democracy” with theft and poverty. Then Russia became “resurgent” and “assertive”, or, in other words, it stopped declining away. The obsession with containing and thwarting Russia made Russians come to associate “democracy” with geopolitics. I think that a third turn is underway and, for that, I would thank Saakashvili in part. NATO expansion is now somewhat of an embarrassment (as is “democratic” Georgia); the “coloured revolutions” are being revealed as grounded in fantasy; Russia has not collapsed (and how many predictions were there of the inevitable coming failure of the “Putin system”?). Added to which, when, year after year, you’ve cried wolf that Russia is about to take over a neighbour and it doesn’t happen, your credibility turns to credulity. We are beginning a third (and I think much more realistic) phase of seeing Russia as an ordinary power with which one does ordinary business – sometimes rancorous, but business based on facts. The anti-Russia diehards have not gone away, but they are losing their audience. I give a lot of the credit for this change to Paris (and I do think that a key event was Kouchner’s visit to the Ossetian refugees; that experience inoculated Paris against swallowing Tbilisi’s story whole). Berlin has also played an important realistic role as, of course, has Obama’s “reset”. More recently, the Russian reaction to Kaczynski’s death seems to be ending the instinctive Polish opposition to all things Russian. Thus we see the gradual draining away of the core axiom that “Putin wants a new Russian Empire” and the corollary ideological perspective that everything Moscow does is really about that: Russian gas pipelines are really threats; Medvedev’s proposals on security and financial systems are really designed to “split the Western alliance” and the other manifestations of seeing what you believe rather than believing what you see. Here are a few straws in the wind from the past week. (For former examples of Westerners seeing only what they wanted to see in Russia, I recommend Malia’s Russia Under Western Eyes which starts with Voltaire’s imaginary ideally-governed Russia or Foglesong’s The American Mission and the ‘Evil Empire’ which details a century of American obsessions about a Russia seen as a disappointingly stubborn and backwards twin brother.)
SPEAKING OF REALISM. The US State Department has finally designated Doku Umarov, the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, as a terrorist.
ST PETERSBURG SPEECH. Medvedev’s speech is another must-read for those who want to understand what he thinks he’s been hired to do: “a policy that can be summed up by one short word – modernisation”. Putin was the man to stop the rot and Medvedev the man to take it to the next stage: same plan, same team, different phases. I believe the program was derailed a bit by two external events that seized the attention of the government: the South Ossetia war and the global financial crisis. But Russia has reasonably well recovered – the IMF, for example, in its April 2010 estimates (and they put Russia’s number up in June) predicted a higher growth rate over 5 years for Russia than for anyone else in the G8. So it is time to work on qualitative growth.
GAS WARS. I am not going to attempt to summarise the drearily familiar ritual. Money disputes, Gazprom cuts supplies to Belarus, Lukashenka stops transit to the West. It seems that it is over. As another indication of the “third turn”, Western coverage of the issue has been relaxed and Kiev offered to take up the transit slack.
KYRGYZ REPUBLIC. It continues to calm down and refugees are returning. For what it’s worth, Uzbekistan’s President Karimov says that the violence was organised by “a third party” in an attempt to involve Uzbekistan. Former President Bakiyev’s son Maksim, whom Bishkek wants to put on trial, is in the UK and has been granted “temporary political asylum”. His father is in Belarus and yesterday the Belarusan Prosecutor General’s Office said it found no grounds for extraditing him to Kyrgyzstan. I don’t know whether the overthrow of Askar Akayev five years ago (a former favourite of the West, by the way) really was a “colour revolution” (the progression from assertions of faked elections, through organised demonstrations with lots of outside involvement and lock step Western reporting, to NATO suddenly becoming the chief concern of the new government) or not; if so, it hasn’t had a very happy ending. Either.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)