ON AND ON. THE REACTION. I’ve been reading a lot of reactions and I believe they can be summarised as follows. To Russophobes it was confirmation of their line that Russia is a dictatorship, always has been and always will be. Russian liberals are disheartened, some to the point of despair. There are the beginnings of mockery and the re-appearance of political jokes. (Here’s bald and hairy). People like myself (I leave the classification to you, Dear Reader) are also disheartened and see The Decision as a failure of Putin’s imagination and confidence in the political system that he created. Many (probably most, in fact) Russians, however, support his return to the Presidency. And here I see several themes. A common one is that Medvedev was unsuccessful – a few are very condemnatory. They argue that he was unable to move “modernisation” forwards and failed to get much response from the West to his overtures. Another common theme is that Russia faces dangerous or difficult times ahead at home and abroad and that only Putin can be the timoneer. Some argue that with Putin at the top and Medvedev as PM, “modernisation” can be pushed through to the finish. Among these commentators we often see a conviction that stability and predictability take priority over everything else. And maybe that’s the clue. Russia had a pretty miserable time in the Twentieth Century and the Putin years do stand out as much better than anything then. Primum non nocere is engraved on Russian hearts. A quiet life is a lot better than the alternatives that Russia has lived, and died, through.
PUTIN V.2 AND THE WORLD. While there is a measure of uncertainty in the future from Russia’s point of view – the Middle East and the future of the Eurozone are two significant concerns – some factors since 2000 have changed in Russia’s favour. Washington is no longer so confident that it is the supreme power in the world. NATO expansion is likely dead. The “coloured revolutions” were a bust: we’re unlikely to see any more. As to the sunny European future so many of Russia’s neighbours thought was waiting for them, Latvia’s recent parliamentary elections offer a pointer. Riga had two great aims in the 1990s: NATO and EU membership and it achieved both; giving it, as it thought, both security and prosperity. But it has been very hard hit in the financial downturn and it is interesting that a Russian-friendly party did best in this election. I believe that the other states that thought their best future was one in which they turned their backs on Russia will be reconsidering. And not because of the so-called Russian threat but because of disappointed hopes in the “European option”. When a Pole reads that the leader of the British Labour Party admits that the last government “got it wrong” on border controls and he realises that Miliband is talking about Poles and other East Europeans, he realises that EU membership had subtleties that he didn’t understand before. Quite apart from being on the hook to bail out Greece & Co. Thus I would expect more cooperation and less hostility from Russia’s neighbours: not Russian hegemony but the sharp bite of reality.
SYRIA. This time around, having learned how NATO can expand such resolutions, Russia vetoed the UNSC resolution in Syria. It has been met with huffing and the usual attribution of ulterior motives. But it’s quite simple: Russia is a status quo power which would prefer no change because it fears it will not benefit (primum non nocere again). It doesn’t like NATO deciding national borders and who should rule them. It is sceptical of the sincerity of “humanitarian” motives. It feels it was burned by the Libya resolution which quickly morphed into a full-out overthrow of Khadafy. It wonders who’s next on the list. No so hard to predict.
GAS WARS. Neither Ukraine nor Belarus can afford to pay even the present discounted gas prices and both want to re-negotiate. A Ukrainian delegation is in Moscow now and Lukashenka claims that he has won a reduction in price. Meanwhile Ukrainian prosecutors demand a 7-year jail term for former PM Tymoshenko accusing her of “abuse of office” in negotiating the current contract. Moscow will extract something for reducing the price further: it long ago gave up selling energy to its neighbours for cheap prices in return for… well, what exactly?
THREATS. Those who will claim that Putin’s Russia is our enemy should bear in mind the threat assessment of the Security Council Head (and long-time FSB head) that terrorism, drugs and illegal migration are the leading threats. He observed, correctly, that these “non-traditional” threats require international cooperation. Indeed; they are most other countries’ leading threats too.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)