Skip to main content

A "faraway country"

The European chessboard has grown complicated. The hostile regime in Moscow is exploiting any opportunity to damage the cohesion of both the European Union and NATO. The Kremlin continues to spread black propaganda against any state that annoys it in some way. Indeed the perceived enemies of the Putin regime have often come under attack- whether in the realms of cyberspace, as Russian hackers launch attacks designed to shut down most of the apparatus of the modern state, or quite literally, with state sponsored assassination and physical intimidation of diplomats. The straight theft of foreign owned assets in Russia is also routine- as the latest twists in the campaign against BP in Russia makes quite plain.

It is not a surprise that polls in the UK now show that Putin's Russia is considered the greatest threat to the country after Al-Qaida and Iran. After all, Russia- unlike Iran- has actually used a nuclear weapon on the streets of London.

Other states are much more sanguine about the influence of Russia- but then the leaders of several European states have been the recipients of considerable Russian largess. The questionable relationship of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder with the Russian state has led many to conclude that Germany has been effectively penetrated by the Russian secret services. The reliability of several NATO states has also been questioned: Italy and Greece, for example, seem to have warmer relationships with Moscow than with most of their NATO partners. Some- especially in Washington- have grown to despair of much of what NATO is supposed to be working for.

Yet such despair is, I think, somewhat premature.

Firstly, the new member states of the EU and NATO are by no means the passengers that hey have been represented as being. Poland has shouldered a considerable burden in several NATO operations and the Baltic countries too have contributed in radar and cyber-defence and also, more seriously, in blood, with the deaths of their servicemen in NATO operations in Afghanistan. More to the point, the fact of their recently having escaped from the terrors of the Soviet Empire gives them unique insights into the mindset and the agenda of the former KGB (and other security service) officers- the siloviki- who largely comprise the ruling elite in Moscow.

Despite the confidence that the petro-wealth has created in Moscow consumers, the image that is most powerful is the sense of fear amongst the siloviki. They- even if the West does not- at least understand their own vulnerability. While they remain determined to impose their will upon as much of the former Soviet Empire as they can- by force, persuasion or bribery as necessary- they have found they have not been anything like as successful as they had hoped.

The creation of a pro-Western regime in Georgia was a direct challenge to the Kremlin, since the Russian army has intervened to maintain the frozen conflicts in two Georgian territories: South Ossetia and Abhazia. Despite substantial efforts to eject Mikheil Saakashvili, and despite several mis-steps from Tbilisi, Russia has not brought to heel the defiant Georgians. Meanwhile the radical liberal economic policies that Saakashvili has enacted has seen a gigantic improvement in the economic position of Georgia, despite the Russian boycott. Russia watches with impotent fury as Tbilisi maintains a strongly independent line.

Despite the heat of the relationship between Georgia and Moscow, the most annoying country for the siloviki is Ukraine.

For many Russians- and especially the siloviki-, the idea of Ukrainian independence is still an unpleasant shock. Russians see a continuation between the ancient state of Kiev and the Grand Duchy of Moscow. They do not understand the differences that have create a separate Ukrainian consciousness, preferring to regard these as of minor, even provincial significance.

What is happening in Ukraine now is becoming central to the whole future of Europe.

Unlike in Russia, the relatively even split of economic power between different economic groups has helped to ensure that the political system has remained pluralistic. While this has created corruption, it has also ensured that no one group can take control of the state. The upheavals of the orange revolution have created a democratic sensibility in adition to the economically inspired pluralism. The impact of this has been to pemit considerable freedom of speech and an increasingly open cultural scene. Ukraine is becoming known as a country with a considerable sense of humour. One particular butt of Ukrainian jokes are the Russians who permit themselves to be ruled by the authoritarian regime of the siloviki.

Ukraine then is emerging as a very European country.

Yet both NATO and the European Union have hesitated to embrace Ukraine as prospective member of either organisation. Indeed at the Bucharest summit in April, the German delegation were openly saying that NATO "should not offend Russia".

This is dangerous nonsense. Ukraine is not a Trojan horse for Russian influence in NATO, but it could prove to be the Trojan horse to demonstrate the power of Western values to the wavering Russians.

It is time to put Ukraine firmly on the road to EU an NATO membership. The UK should play a part in this by progressively easing travel restrictions on Ukraine- particularly in the lead up to the 2012 UEFA Soccer tournament that will be jointly staged by Ukraine and Poland.

The Ukrainian people have repeatedly made it clear that they wish to join with the rest of Europe. If Russia objects, then it only serves to underline the threat that the siloviki pose to free Ukraine. Ultimately, Russia too may choose to recover its European identity, but if it chooses to maintain its hostility, while at the same time collaborating with China to undermine attempts by the West to solve problems like Darfur and Zimbabwe, then it should be treated as an opponent, expelled from G-8 and lose its largely illusory role as a great power.

For the West, Ukraine is now a litmus test- and Ukrainian freedom should be none negotiable.


Anonymous said…
"The straight theft of foreign owned assets in Russia" - One could argue they are simply being stolen back. If the 'Loans for Shares' affair wasn't one of the greatest asset swindles in History I don't know what qualifies.

WRT To Ukraine they'd better get moving for Euro 2012 or the Poles will have to do it all.

Cicero said…
Sure, but the point is it was not BP that was involved. The people who were involved are those like Alfa who are trying to steal the business that BP has already paid billons to own. Meanwhile it is very widely held that Putin's personal wealth is around $40 billion. In other words far from Putin ending corruption, as he claims, he has exploted it to a level way beyond anything in the Yeltsin years.
Newmania said…
Good article C
Anonymous said…

Not that I agree with it but by that logic you could argue that you're entitled to keep stolen goods so long as you didn't do the actual stealing in the first place. I have serious doubts Putin would need to acquire $40 Billion US. He's comfortably set as a former Head of State anyway. As soon as he retires foreign companies will ask him to name his price just to sit on their board if they deal with Russia.

BP are big boys. They knew the risks five years ago and will still come out ahead even if they are booted out lock stock and barrel tomorrow. The beef they have is with the Oligarchs not the Russian Government. This is all about the Oligarchs frantically trying to secure a better negotiating hand vis a vis the Kremlin that's all.


Popular posts from this blog

Breaking the Brexit logjam

The fundamental problem of Brexit has not been that the UK voted to leave the European Union. The problem has been the fact that the vote was hijacked by ignorant, grandstanding fools who interpreted the vote as a will to sever all and every link between the UK and the European Union. That was then and is now a catastrophic policy. To default to WTO rules, when any member of the WTO could stop that policy was a recipe for the UK to be held hostage by any state with an act to grind against us. A crash out from the EU, without any structure to cope, was an act of recklessness that should disqualify anyone advocating it from any position of power whatsoever. That is now the most likely option because the Conservative leadership, abetted by the cowardly extremism of Corbyn, neither understood the scale of the crisis, now had any vision of how to tackle it.

Theresa May is a weak and hapless Prime Minster, and her problems started when she failed to realize that there was a compromise that w…

Trump and Brexit are the Pearl Harbor and the Fall of Singapore in Russia's Hybrid war against the West.

In December 1941, Imperial Japan launched a surprise attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor. After the subsequent declaration of war, within three days, the Japanese had sunk the British warships, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, and the rapid Japanese attack led to the surrender of Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941 and the fall of Singapore only two months after Pearl Harbor. These were the opening blows in the long war of the Pacific that cost over 30,000,000 lives and was only ended with the detonations above Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"History doesn't often repeat itself, but it rhymes" is an aphorism attributed to Mark Twain, and in a way it seems quite appropriate when we survey the current scene. 

In 1941, Imperial Japan, knowing its own weakness, chose a non-conventional form of war, the surprise attack. Since the end of his first Presidential term, Vladimir Putin, knowing Russia's weakness, has also chosen non-conventional ways to promote his domestic powe…

The American National nightmare becomes a global nightmare

It is a basic contention of this blog that Donald J Trump is not fit for office.

A crooked real estate developer with a dubious past and highly questionable finances. he has systematically lied his way into financial or other advantage. His personal qualities include vulgarity, sexual assault allegations and fraudulent statements on almost every subject. 

He lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes.

He has, of course, been under criminal investigation practically since before he took the oath of office. The indictment of some of closest advisers is just the beginning. His track record suggests that in due course there is no action he will not take, whether illegal or unconstitutional in order to derail his own inevitable impeachment and the indictments that must surely follow the successful investigation of Robert Mueller into his connections with Russia.

However, all of that is a matter for the American people. 

It is also a matter for the American people that Trump is cheating…