Kremlin Burning Bridges With Every Neighbor

By Vladimir Ryzhkov

The Moscow Times
Aug 4 2009

Russia’s foreign policy failures are snowballing at such a rate
that they threaten a second geopolitical collapse on a par with the
disintegration of the Soviet Union 20 years ago.

What makes this tragedy so comic is that our leaders are essentially
running backward into the future and calling it progress. At the
same time, they shake their fists and foam at the mouth as they rant
about Russia’s greatness, claim that it is "getting up from its knees"
and endlessly repeat myths about its "new successes" and "historical
initiatives." By running backward, Russia inevitably stumbles and
falls, while its clumsy foreign policy initiatives become the laughing
stock of the world.

The Kremlin was not able to exploit its huge reserves that it
accumulated after eight years of an oil boom by turning its economic
power into political clout in the global arena. On the contrary,
Russia’s global standing has worsened across the board.

Russia’s leaders have managed to alienate even its strongest
allies. The alliance with Belarus is crumbling before our eyes as
Kremlin leaders attempt to punish Minsk for years of foot-dragging over
the sale of Belarus’ largest enterprises to Russia’s inefficient and
nontransparent monopolies, for delaying plans to introduce a unified
currency and establish other political and economic institutions
intended to strengthen ties between the two states. Russia reacted
with "milk and meat wars," and Minsk responded in kind by refusing to
attend a Collective Security Treaty Organization summit even while it
was supposed to hold the rotating chairmanship of the organization
— an embarrassing, if not humiliating, snub to President Dmitry
Medvedev. What’s more, Belarus has joined the Eastern Partnership
offered by the European Union and has actively diversified its
foreign policy.

Armenia, which is hemmed in on all sides by closed borders with
Azerbaijan and Turkey, suffered greatly during the days of the
Russia-Georgia war last August. This quickly drove Yerevan to
intensify its dialogue with Turkey over prospects for opening their
common border that has been closed for decades, and, like Belarus,
to join the EU’s Eastern Partnership.

Russia has also burned bridges with Turkmenistan. Throughout the
recent economic boom years, Turkmenistan pumped gas to Russia to
compensate for its growing deficiency, thereby helping to save the
reputation of Gazprom — and thus Russia — as a reliable supplier of
gas to Europe. But Moscow’s gas war with Kiev forced the EU to cut
back sharply on purchases of Russian gas. This led to a drop in gas
prices, and once that happened Moscow unceremoniously reneged on its
contractual obligations to purchase gas from Turkmenistan. In early
April, Russia shut the valve on the pipeline that imported Turkmen
gas. This was the alleged cause of a major explosion in Turkmenistan —
and a major explosion in Russian-Turkmen relations as well. The result
is that Turkmenistan is now searching for more reliable commodity
markets, has offered to join the Nabucco project as a gas supplier,
is ready to discuss the Trans-Caspian pipeline project and has already
given the Chinese access to its gas fields. A gas pipeline to China
is also under construction.

Moscow was entirely alone in its decision to recognize the independence
of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Besides Nicaragua, not a single country
followed Russia’s example. Russia has even managed to sever ties with
Georgia — a country with a Russian Orthodox population that has always
enjoyed warm relations with Moscow — for the highly questionable goal
of wanting to maintain two microscopic puppet-satellite states in one
of the most explosive regions of the world. If the Kremlin’s goals
were to achieve international isolation and disdain and to increase the
threat of a military conflict in the Caucasus, it was very successful.

Russia’s unnecessarily antagonistic actions toward Ukraine have
turned the otherwise "brotherly relationship" into a hostile one. In
the 1990s, when Ukraine also had trouble paying for its imports of
Russian gas, the shortfall was simply added to its external debt, which
it later paid back. Today, Moscow’s actions have helped consolidate
Ukrainian society around an anti-Russia platform, prompting Kiev to
seek membership in the EU and NATO. It also pushed Ukraine toward
formulating a new national idea that is based on a rejection of the
historical fraternity between our two nations.

The EU also drew its conclusions about Russia’s unreliability after
the latest battle in January of the endless succession of gas wars,
which resulted in more than 20 European countries being left without
heat in bitterly cold temperatures after Russia cut off gas shipments
that had already been purchased. Consequently, the EU reduced its
purchases of Russian gas, made headway on developing the Nabucco
pipeline, including allocating increased funding for the project, and
stepped up the development of projects to import gas from Africa and
the Middle East. The EU also invited Ukraine to join an alliance for
purchasing gas from countries other than Russia. Both South Stream
and Nord Stream have experienced setbacks that may complicate the
future development of these pipeline projects. In short, this is the
lowest point in the 16 years of EU-Russian relations.

Meanwhile, Russia’s relationship with NATO is also becoming
increasingly adversarial. Azerbaijan is distancing itself from
Russia and aligning itself more with the West. Moscow gave financial
aid to Kyrgyzstan to push Bishkek to close the U.S. military base
at Manas. But in the end, the Americans were allowed to stay after
they increased the rental payments and renamed the base as a "transit
center." Despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow for the
July summit, no "reset" in U.S.-Russian relations has taken place. In
fact, they remain unchanged, as is evidenced by Vice President Joe
Biden’s recent visits to Kiev and Tbilisi and by the sharp comments
toward Russian that he made in his interview with The Wall Street
Journal a week ago.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s attempt to restore Russia’s influence
over the former Soviet republics has failed miserably. Moscow’s
standing in the region is weaker now than it was even eight years
ago, when Putin took over the presidency from Boris Yeltsin. This
is a direct result of Putin’s failed policies during his two terms
as president — the inability to modernize the economy, the systemic
destruction of the country’s democracy, the sharp rise in corruption
and the increase in the monopoly control of key industries under
his state capitalism model. If you add to all of this a countless
string of inept foreign policy disasters, it is easy to understand why
Russia’s neighbors have turned their backs on Moscow and are looking
to Western military, economic and political institutions for support
and cooperation.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a State Duma deputy from 1993 to 2007, hosts a
political talk show on Ekho Moskvy.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS