What is Going on in Russia? A Quick Update
A quick update on our last blog entry focusing on current trends on Russian foreign policy. In particular we would like to present for our readers, a recent study of Moskva’s Foreign policy, by the leading German institute dealing with Slavic Europe: the Research Centre for East European Studies, in Bremen. The study titled ‘Trends in Russian Foreign Policy’ (www.res.ethz.ch). In essence, similar to my own analysis, the study emphasizes the pragmatic and indeed, one may say, opportunistic, nature of Russian policy abroad, especially vis-`a-vis the United States, Western Europe and China. As per the study, it is the specifics of the immediate international scene, id est, the International weakness of the United States, due to its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as its unpopularity abroad, which are viewed as providing a ‘free hand’, for Russian policy
abroad. As per the study’s author, while “Russia’s position on the International stage is not strong….the Kremlin wants to have a say in shaping global politics”. It is due to the changed nature of the international scene, that this Russian wish, can now perhaps become to a degree reality:
“From the Russian point of view, the world has changed fundamentally since the botched US invasion of Iraq. From this perspective, the US is obviously not capable of handling major crises alone. On the contrary, the actions of the Bush administration have only further aggravated the conflicts in the Middle East. The EU, on the other hand, is not able to derive political clout from its economic weight, according to [the] Russian view….In the context of this new, multipolar, crisis-rattled world order, Russia perceives an opportunity to shape the course of International politics---and the Putin administration is now actively demanding the right to do so….The main priority is the consolidation of Russia’s position in the ‘near abroad’, i.e., its ability to influence developments in the CIS states---including the option of a confrontation with Georgia or Moldova. At the same time, when it comes to Europe and East Asia, Russia opts for a policy of close cooperation. Moscow aims for cooperation as a way of advancing its own political and economic interests, but avoids definitive commitments and seeks to secure maneuvering space in both directions. In its dealing with the US, Russia acts in a consciously independent manner and demands to be treated as an equal partner”.
As per the above analysis, the news wires (if not necessarily the Western Press) are full of the latest commotions coming from the looming confrontation between Moskva and the Republic of Georgia (see http://en.rian.ru/trend/conflict). While nominally the dispute is over the arrest of five (now four) Russian servicemen, by the Georgian authorities, earlier this week, in fact the conflict has been spiraling for quite awhile. The Saakashvili Regime, from its very nature, is inimical to, and hated by Russia. It is in essence, rightly or wrongly as a Trojan horse for American and West European interests in the ‘Kafkaz’ [Caucasus] region. With his open aspirations of joining NATO, and the EU, as well as his open backing for the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, in 2004, Saakashvili is seen as ‘the enemy’ by Moskva. For months the Kremlin has more and more raised the pressures on Tbilisi, first banning wine and then other types of Georgian imports. Second, using the prospective ‘Independence’ referendum, in November, by the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia, to put more pressure on Saakashvili (for the background to this dispute from a Russian, albeit ‘non-official’ perspective see: Dmitry Babich, ‘Russia and Georgia: Ignorance on both sides’ in www.Russianprofile.org/2006/9/294483).
With the arrests of the Russian servicemen, Moskva has attempted to take the rising tensions with Georgia to another level entirely. It has recalled its Ambassador, and both official and un-official levels of disapproval of Georgia are emanating more and more from the Russian Capital. The debate in the Russian Duma, for what it is worth, saw all political tendencies joining in denouncing Tbilisi and demanding that in the words of the Deputy Speaker Yury Volkov: ‘diplomatic and economic sanctions, including the freezing of bank accounts, and suspending of business contracts’. Outside of the Duma, there have been small demonstrations in front of the Duma, as well as similar harsh words with the Kremlin aligned, head of the political think tank, Institute for Political Studies saying openly that: ‘a war was looming’, due to Saakashvili’s belligerence vis-`a-vis Russian interests. And, while the Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, attempted to play down the likelihood, of military conflict, it would appear that Moskva would not be entirely displeased if one were to erupt, due to Georgian clumsiness. In short, look for a possible, Russian ‘preventative’ military action, `a la the American rationale for the current war in Iraq, if Tbilisi overplays its anti-Russian card.