Wednesday, August 26, 2009


"Russia moved to bolster its ties with Mongolia yesterday, signing deals to mine uranium and manage the railways in the central Asian country.

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's president, signed a five-year agreement transferring to Russia management rights to Mongolia's railways".

Isabel Gorst, "Russia tightens Mongolian ties," The Financial Times, 26 August 2009.

One of the more reassuring aspects of Russian diplomacy in the Putin era (which has just celebrated its tenth anniversary this month), is its emphasis on the pre-Great War style of 'gage diplomacy'. The diplomacy favored by 'legalists', in which everything is up for grabs, everything is to be bargained for. Everything is subject to the proverbial quid pro quo. Et cetera, et cetera. Here we have no Anglo-American nonsense about 'Democracy', 'Human Rights', 'Freedom', et cetera. Instead we are back to the style of what the late Sir Harold Nicolson, called in his splendid biography of his pater (Lord Carnock) 'the Old Diplomacy'. In the case of the today's article in the Financial Times, it would appear that Moskva has stolen a march on Peking, in effect gaining control of the Mongolian Railway system. Among other things. An end-result that I for one have no difficulties with. Indeed, from my own perspective, I infinitely prefer Moskva lording it over Mongolia to Peking doing so. For the self-evident reason that Russia, is relatively weak, vis-`a-vis the 'West' (Western Europe and the Americans), and, in a certain sense, au fond, also part of the same. Neither is true for the PRC. From my perspective one of the great problems of International Diplomacy in the next twenty to fifty years is managing the potential, growing weakness of Matushka Russia. And, while I am not in the habit of making long-term prognostications (because usually they turn out to be nonsense), I do believe that many of the gloomier views of Russia's future (`a la Mr. Biden), do have an element of truth to it. As the American online journal, recently put it:

"Between economic inefficiency — which has only gotten worse since Soviet times — and wretched demographics, Russia faces a future that if anything is bleaker than its past. It sees itself as a country besieged by enemies without: the West, the Muslim world and China. It also sees itself as a country besieged by enemies within: only about three in four citizens are ethnic Russians, who are much older than the average citizen — and non-Russian birthrates are approximately double that of Russians."

Peter Zeihan, "Ten Years of Putin," 4th of August 2009, in

And, indeed this rather depressing future for Moskva may be the correct one. Then again perhaps it will not: history has an amusing way of playing little tricks. It was after all, the then German Imperial Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, who on the 7th of July 1914, said:

"Russia is the land of the future: whose great growth and colossal demands, dwell upon us as an ever more terrible nightmare."

Now did that prediction come true dear reader?


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