Friday, February 26, 2010

Israeli 'Special Ops', and, International Relations: a comment

"BRUSSELS - The European Union condemned on Monday the use of fraudulent EU passports by the killers of a Palestinian militant in Dubai, showing its discontent with Israel without referring to it directly.

In a short statement that European diplomats said was intended as a rebuke to Israel, EU foreign ministers said that the assassination was "profoundly disturbing" and that its citizens' rights were violated.

Dubai has accused Israel of being behind the killing of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Israel has not denied or confirmed it played any role but its foreign minister, visiting Brussels, said there was nothing to link it to the killing.

"The EU strongly condemns the fact that those involved in this action (the killing) used fraudulent EU member states' passports and credit cards acquired through the theft of EU citizens' identities," ministers said after talks in Brussels.

"The EU welcomes the investigation by the Dubai authorities and calls on all countries to cooperate with it."

Diplomats said the statement was intended to put pressure on Israel, but no direct reference was made to it because there was no proof Israeli agents carried out the assassination.

The declaration is unlikely to have any long-term repercussions for EU-Israeli ties and Israeli officials have played down the possibility of a full-blown crisis.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip, said the EU statement lacked teeth and would tempt Israel to carry out "more crimes of this kind...."

Dubai authorities say they are virtually certain Israeli agents carried out the killing and have released the identities of 11 people who travelled on forged British, Irish, French and German passports to kill Mabhouh in a hotel.

Mabhouh was involved in smuggling weapons from Iran to the Gaza Strip, Hamas has said.

France and Germany have asked Israel for an explanation and President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke of France's "irrevocable condemnation of what is nothing less than an assassination" after talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris....

Six Britons with the same names as members of the alleged hit team live in Israel and say their identities were stolen.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband urged Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to cooperate with a British inquiry into British passports could have been forged for use by the assassins.

Lieberman, who met Miliband in Brussels, said in a statement there was no proof Israel was involved in the killing, and later told reporters: 'I think you have all seen too many James Bond movies.'"

Luke Baker, "Unhappy with Israel, EU condemns Dubai Killing," 22 February 2010, in>

"C'est pire qu'un crime, c'est une faute" [upon hearing of the murder of the Duc d'Enghien]. Antoine de la Meurthe, also attributed to Maurice de Talleyrand.

In a time of 'extra-ordinary renditions', now more or less openly done, if less than previously, as well as the semi-targeted killings done by American drones in among other places, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, one is a bit at sea in commenting in a negative way about the recent Israeli action. Of course, the Israelis themselves have a long track record of 'dealing' with 'extreme prejudice' with those they regard as out and out opponents of the Jewish State. As in the case of the assassinated Hamas operative, usually the individuals so targeted have blood on their hands. They are most definitely not 'innocents' in any sense of the word. And, I am sure that in the case of the murder that took place in Dubai, the victim was one is quite sure someone who deserves many, many years servitude as a galley slave. So, we are not dealing with issues of 'justice' or lack thereof. What we are dealing with is the impact of the Israeli action on the International system. Unfortunately, from that perspective it is rather difficult to view in a positive fashion what has occurred. Why is that? Well, for the simple reason, that unlike say the current regime of Mullahs in Persia(who have a long track record of targeted assassinations and terrorism well outside of its borders), Israel enjoys still, x amount of legitimacy in the world. It is not a rogue state `a la Iraq under Saddam Hussein, or Syria, Persia, North Korea, or Libya previously. And, unlike those states, it is dependent to a degree upon the indulgence of the civilized world for its current existence, and, indeed its International legitimacy. As a writer in the Financial Times pointed out this week:

"Some Israelis are clearly despairing at this series of diplomatic own goals. It is a development that is all the more puzzling given that Israel is fully aware of the dangers it faces from the international backlash. Many Israelis are convinced their country is the victim of a campaign of “delegitimisation” masterminded by Palestinian groups and anti-Israeli activists around the world....

Looming behind these is the fear that Israel will eventually be treated as a pariah state like apartheid-era South Africa, with all the consequences that might entail: no Israeli singers at the annual Eurovision song contest, no Jaffa oranges on European fruit platters and no European and American support for Israeli policies at the United Nations....

Yet Israel worries, rightly, that it is losing the sympathy of broad swathes of western public opinion . The careful nurturing of Israel’s diplomatic ties with allies is not the stuff of dramatic headlines. But it may serve the Jewish state’s long-term interests better than a dead Palestinian militant in a Dubai hotel room.

"Israel beset by diplomatic own goals." 24 February 2010, in

The bedrock of the realpolitik theory of international relations is the "Melian Dialogue", as reported in Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War, in which the Athenians responded to the Melians arguments by stating openly: "the strong do what they can, the weak suffer as they must". For quite awhile now, Israel has played at times the role of Athens in this dialogue. The assassination of this miserable Hamas operative is part and parcel of this type of behavior. So far, so good. What is less than good, is that: a) insofar as Israel is associated with and indeed dependent upon the good will of the West (Europe and America) as a whole, its mis-behavior reflects badly not just upon herself but also upon its patron (Europe) and benefactors (Europe). One can very well indeed, imagine that the regime of Mullahs in Teheran will regard Israel's behavior as giving it carte blanche to behave in a similar manner. As well as giving it another pretext to not negotiate with the West over the issue of its nuclear weapons programme; b) there may come a time, when both Europe and America will cease to be so indulgent of its wayward charge, if it insists upon behaving akin to an international outlaw. Perhaps the Israelis should keep in mind the fact that within less than fifteen years of the Melian dialogue, Athens was defeated, disarmed and occupied by a Spartan army of occupation. Plus ca change...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


"Haig soon became indispensable. He disciplined my anarchic tendencies and established coherence and procedure in an NSC Staff of talented prima donnas. By the end of the year I had made him formally my deputy. Over the course of Nixon's first term he acted as my partner, strong in crises, decisive in judgment, skillful in bureaucratic infighting, indefatigable in his labors. To be sure, nobody survives in the rough-and-tumble of White House politics - especially of the Nixon White House - without a good measure of ruthlessness. I could not help noticing that Haig was implacable in squeezing to the sidelines potential competitors for my attention....Yet this is no more than saying that I recognized Haig as formidable.....

So Haig became White House chief of Staff. It was fortunate for the nation. His strength and discipline preserved cohesion in the executive branch and helped the government to traverse Watergate without totally disintegrating. He furnished psychological ballast to a desperate President. He did so without catering to Nixon's every prejudice; he ensured that Nixon's preferences and orders would be screened by a governmental structure capable of advising the President in a mature way about the national interest....To be sure Watergate imposed some of these measures. The fact remains that Haig gave substance to a vague necessity and a sense of direction to a demoralized Administration. No internal reorganization could ever quite catch up with the rate of disintegration impelled by the seemingly endless revelations, crises, and investigations; still, Haig served his country well and honorably in its extremity."

Henry A. Kissinger, Years of Upheaval. November 1981, pp. 107-110.

I have never been an adherent of the idea of 'never speak ill of the dead'. Hence, this column. General Haig, was perhaps the first American Secretary of State, who I watched closely as a secondary school student. He was by no means my ideal, but was close to it. And, thus I was quite happy at his appointment. He seemed to be the very best man for the position given the fact that he was previously Assistant National Security Advisor, Army Vice-Chief of Staff, White House Chief of Staff, and finally Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. The last two posts in particular seemed to shine a very good glow upon General Haig. In the first position, he appeared to carry the country upon his shoulders as the Nixon Presidency collapsed due to the idiotic Watergate Scandal. In the second position, he very ably represented the USA in European capitals, when perhaps the USA was at the nadir of its global influence and power in the Ford and Carter years. With the Republican victory in the November 1980, General Haig's appointment appeared to be part and parcel of a restoration of American power and influence, as well as a restoration of the State Department as being at the centre of policy making. Well, as it turned out, General Haig's appointment was a mistake from start to finish. The reasons for this were several and I wish to highlight the most important of them: a) due to a heart operation after he retired from NATO, it appears that General Haig's ability to modulate his temper and personality had deteriorated greatly. Hence, the outbursts which the General became famous for during his time as Secretary of State. The fact that his outbursts appeared to be both pointless and petulant, did his reputation no good whatsoever; b) General Haig appears to have misunderstood the terms of his remit as Secretary of State in the Reagan Administration. As far as I can judge, General Haig appears to have thought or would have liked to think that his role in the new administration would be similar to that of his former boss, Dr. Henry Kissinger during the latter's term as Secretary. This of course was quite impossible. Not only during the Reagan Administration, but in any post-Watergate / post-Ford Administration. Due simply to the fact that Kissinger's public profile was so great in the 1973-1975 period, his that his nominal Chief, the President, appeared to be a cipher next to him. No President would ever wish to stage a repeat of that particular historical situation. And, no one has to date. The circumstances of Kissinger's time in office were quite unique. General Haig never quite understood this. The fact that on the surface at any rate, his own President, also appeared to be a cipher, completely ignorant of the basic elements of diplomacy and international politics, with almost no willingness to devote any effort to learning the same, appears to have reinforced General Haig's predisposition towards being what he famously referred to as 'the vicar of foreign policy'.Unfortunately, for General Haig, Mr. Reagan had an usually strong and able White House Chief of Staff, in the shape of Mr. James A. Baker III, who quickly took a measure of the General and saw that if left unchallenged, General Haig would quickly overshadow his own chief. Therefore, Mr. Baker commenced a campaign of leaks and pinpricks attacks on the Secretary of State which had the end result of eventually forcing the less than even tempered Secretary offering his resignation within six months of taking office. When this occurred once again in the Spring of 1982, the President quickly accepted it, and appointed George Schultz as his successor. A much more happy appointment. In retrospect, it appears that the only model of an ultra-successful Secretary of State, is that of the very same James A. Baker III under George Bush the Elder: someone who has the complete confidence of his chief and thus is unchallengeable in official Washington politics. It is not a question of whether or not this pattern is a 'good thing' or not. I myself much prefer the Kissingerian model of an all-powerful Secretary of State. Unfortunately, it is apparently a law of nature in contemporary official Washington that the Baker model be followed, if at all. General Haig, never had the confidence and perhaps never could have it of Mr. Reagan. The General never took in this fact and acted accordingly. He instead chose to ignore it, and, he reaped the consequences. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Friday, February 19, 2010


"Russia has signed a deal to set up a military base in the Georgian break-away region of Abkhazia.

The agreement, which will give Russia a permanent presence in the region on the Black Sea, has been declared invalid by NATO.

Officials from the region said the base will provide a home to at least 3,000 Russian land troops which are already stationed in Abkhazia. As it stands, the deal would enable Russia to station personnel in Abkhazia for a period of at least 49 years.

Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti quoted the official text of the document, which said the agreement allows Russia "to defend the sovereignty and safety of the republic jointly with the armed forces of Abkhazia."

Abkhazia and nearby South Ossetia broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s. Both regions were formally recognized as countries by Moscow after the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.

The deal was signed by defense chiefs as part of a formal "state visit" by Abkhazian leader Sergei Bagapsh.

"This agreement creates a foundation for the development of Abkhazia as an independent state", Russian President Dimitry Medvedev said at a signing ceremony in the Great Kremlin Palace.

The base is one of several that Russia aims to build in Abkhazia, with plans to eventually station airborne troops and naval facilities at other sites. Russian guards already patrol the borders of both breakaway regions.

NATO urged Russia to reverse the deal, saying it violates restrictions in an EU-mediated ceasefire agreement between the countries. It said that Moscow should not recognize the regions.

"We do not consider any agreements signed between the Russian Federation and the regions of Georgia as having any validity," said alliance spokeswoman Carmen Romero.

"The North Atlantic Council has condemned the decision by the Russian Federation to recognize the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and calls on it to revoke this decision."

Until now, only Nicaragua, Venezuela and the Pacific island of Nauru have joined Russia in recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia".

Deutsche Welle, "Russia under fire to build bases in Georgian Rebel territory," in

"In the international order, the role of power is greater and that of morality is less....The process of give-and-take must apply to challenges to the existing order. Those who profit most by that order can in the long run only hope to maintain it by making sufficient concessions to make it tolerable to those who profit by it least; and the responsibility for seeing that these changes take place as far a possible in an orderly way rests as much on the defenders as on the challengers."

E.H. Carr, The 20 Years' Crisis, 1919-1939: An introduction to the Study of International Relations (1939), pp. 168-169.

Whatever rationale is offered by the guiding lights of NATO for their decision to protest the Russian move, is all the same rather irrelevant. The fact of the matter is, that in this particular instance, there is no arguing with matushka Russia, and, to indulge in such at this particular time, when the West is trying to gain Moskva's co-operation over the stand-off in the nuclear negotiations with Persia is nonsensical at best. All of the protests in the world are not going to move Moskva one inch on this particular matter. Rightly or wrongly. There can and will be other areas where Moskva can be made reasonable by diplomatic demarches. The Georgian issue is not one of them unfortunately. To pretend otherwise simply shows signs of confusing wishes for reality. Dealing with Putin, et. al., is difficult enough without our indulging in sentimental gestures which lead to nothing. If the policy of 're-setting' Russio-American and Russio-West European relations mean anything, than it means putting to the side and indeed into the past the whole Georgian imbroglio. It is time to move on.

Monday, February 15, 2010


"Putin became acting President on the last day of 1999 and was elected in March. When he came to power, judging from the essay he wrote, he set himself four tasks: 1) to reverse the economic decline; 2) to reverse the disintegration of Russia; 3) to increase Russia’s influence in the world; and 4) to introduce a rule of law or, as I prefer to put it, a rule of rules. Then, economic indicators were trending down; Russia seemed to be literally breaking up (this fear often featured in his early speeches); most world capitals slighted it as a negligible and declining power; and the “rule” in Russia was that of corruption and incompetence. No one can deny that he has made great progress in these aims. The economy has turned around: here he had luck with high energy prices, but his policy did not squander the money. He has certainly restored central control – too much in my opinion – but no one now talks about the coming disintegration of Russia. Russia is taken much more seriously today although here the result is mixed. To those who will ever regard a weak Russia as a danger and a strong Russia as a threat, Putin’s effects have been wholly negative; but these people will never be pleased. Russia must now be taken more seriously (even though I think that Putin and his team sometimes overestimate its power and influence). But there has been little progress on the fourth aim. Nevertheless, few have been as successful at accomplishing their purpose as Putin and his team have. The team is still in place and is moving on the second half of the program.

Putin stopped the decline and it is Medvedev’s task, as he ceaselessly says, to “modernise” Russia. The economy may be improving, but it needs a new “modern” basis; the over centralisation of the Putin period should be relaxed; Russia has to improve its standing in the world so as to be seen as more of a problem-solver and less as a problem-causer (which, of course, requires a certain change of attitude in the rest of the world as well as a change in Russia’s behaviour); and finally the “rule of law” must replace “legal nihilism”. Medvedev will not see the resolution of these problems, but he will move them along. I am reminded of a remark made by Dr Leonid Abalkin about 15 years ago: reform will be in three stages, the first stage will take one year, the second five years and the third thirty years. The Putin team is popular in Russia today for a very good reason: it has delivered what governments are hired to do. Altogether, it has been quite a turnaround in the last ten years: no one would write “Russia is Finished” today; now conventional wisdom has moved to the “Russia resurgent” meme (but, note, Russia remains a problem!). The plain fact is that Russia is doing better than any of the final 12 members of the USSR and the ruling team has broad, real and persistent support firmly based on things that Russians can see happening around them. This, incidentally, is the principal reason why Russian elections are so unsurprising: Russians vote for more of the same and that means voting for the team’s pedestal party".

Patrick Armstrong, "Russian Federation Weekly Situation Report," 14 January 2010, in

"In a number of instances, these alarmist views of likely Russian policy are based, at least by inference, on assumptions of a historical nature. 'The Russians,' of is given to understand, have always been an aggressive and imperialistically inclined people; hence, it would be naive to assume them to be any different today. But this thesis, when applied to the problems of this age, rests on two basic faults. First, it lumps all the major Russian regimes past and present --- the monarchical regime of the several centuries preceding 1917 the Communist (largely Stalinist) regime of recent memory, and, the government of the present Russia --- under a common heading....Leaving aside these eighteenth and nineteenth-century incursions of Russia into Eastern and Central Europe, which were really parts of what Gibbon referred to as 'the contagion of the times,'and also leaving aside the wholly abnormal situations of what we might call the terrible Hitlerian-Stalinist period, the worst that can be said about earlier Russian foreign policies is that they reflected an undue sensitivity to the proximity or threatened proximity to the Russian borders of any other strong power and a tendency either to push these borders farther from the Russian heartland or to create protective zones just beyond them. But this oversensitivity, deplorable as it may have been, was the reflection of the nondemocratic character of the Russian regimes in question and their fear that rival power, unless held at a distance, might inflame the otherwise passive Russian masses."

George Frost Kennan, "The New Russia as a Neighbor," in At a Century's Ending: Reflections, 1982-1995 , (1996), pp. 322-323.

"I am convinced that if Emperor Alexander [III] had had a reign of twenty-six rather than thirteen year, his would have been one of the greatest reigns in the history of the Russian Empire. During the last years of his reign, after he had acquired experience, he realized that the unrest that had existed at the end of his father's reign had resulted from his father's wavering and not from Russia's desire for revolution. He realized that Russia wanted a quiet existence. As a result, his attitudes towards many questions were quite different at the end of his reign from those he had held at the beginning. One can put it in popular terms: he had become distinctly liberal. Had Emperor Alexander III lived on there would have been no war with Japan. We would have enjoyed peace that would have permitted us to move along the road of gradual liberalization, toward a life in which the state exists for the good of the people".

S. I. Witte, The Memoirs of Graf Witte, translated by Sydney Harcave
(this edition 1990, first written in 1909-1913), p. 175.

"In Russia, the ruling power, unlimited as it is, has an extreme fear of censure or of mere frankness...In the history of Russia, no one except the Emperor has fulfilled his role; the nobility, the clergy, all the classes of society have been found wanting. An oppressed people has always merited it suffering; tyranny is the work of nations. Either the civilized world will, before fifty year have passed, fall again under the yoke of the barbarians or Russia will undergo a revolution more terrible than the revolution whose effects are still felt in Western Europe."

Le Marquis de Custine, La Russe en 1839, (1843).

This year marks the tenths anniversary of the assumption of power of the current Russian premier, Vladimir Putin. What can one make of the state of Matushka Russia in the ten years that Grazhdanin Putin has ruled over it, as either President or Premier? Well, as the American commentator Mr. Armstrong points out, if nothing else, 'Putinism' has meant that the fears (or for some people 'hopes'?) that Russia would fall apart are no longer on the geopolitical calendar. All to the good, from my perspective of course. But, leaving personal biases aside, what else can we take away, looking back over the past ten years that Putin has ruled Russia? How successful has been Putin's achievements in the spheres of foreign policy? In terms of the first of these three categories, the picture is very much mixed, at best. Since, while Russia is widely acknowledged to be 'back' as a force in International Politics, virtually no one, sees her occupying the type of position that Putin, et. al., would like to see her occupy, id. est., as a worthy successor state to Sovietskaya Vlast. The best evidence of this being the fact that when the chips were down circa August 2008, only two countries (Belarus and Nicaragua?) followed Russia's lead in recognizing the independence of its two Kavkaz satraps, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Even its allies in the Shanghai Co-operation Council, failed to follow Moskva's lead. And, this example is not merely a one-off. Indeed, it would be true to say that in terms of its 'soft-power', Russia has not had so little of this sometimes precious commodity since say the aftermath of the Russian intervention in Hungary in 1849. Aside from the publics in the Central Asian states (as opposed to the elites), it would be true to say that Putin's Russia has almost no international currency outside of its borders (on the residual popularity of Matushka Russia in Central Asia, see: David Kerr, "Central Asia / Russian perspectives on China's emergence," in International Affairs, (January 2010), pp. 136-137).

The cynical or more 'realistic' among some may scoff at the saliency of 'soft-power', and comment `a la Iosif Vissarionovich, "how many divisions do the holders of 'soft-power' have"? Insofar as the leading holder of 'soft-power' in the world since the implosion of Sovietskaya Vlast is the USA, then one is tempted to retort: quite a lot. However the real issue is that unlike say either Stalin's or even Brezhnev Sovietskaya Vlast, Putin's Russia does not possess an erste-klasse military machine, capable of challenging the USA. Indeed, while the Russian military performed well enough in the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, no commentators would argue that the contemporary Russian army is within sight of being able to even imagine that it can challenge the USA. Indeed, it appears that while Russia still maintains a good overall position in the worldwide export market for armaments, this appears to be for the most part, in older, mostly Soviet-era equipment. A reflection of which is the recent order for up to four French ultra-modern warships by Moskva. Russia apparently not possessing in its fleet the caliber of the french proto-type (see: "France defends plans to sell warships to Russia," 9 February 2010 in Along similar lines, it appears that it is China, rather than Russia, which most worry for example the American military as a future challenger of the current American hegemonic position in the world. Russia is completely not thought of in these terms at all.

And, yet, the Putin-Medvedev regime, makes a point, and has made a consistent point, for reasons which appear to of the 'hurra-patriotismus' & Kvass-patriotism variety, rather than for any real strategic reasoning, to publicly challenge the American-centered international system. The most notorious occasion being Putin's speech to the Munich Security Forum in 2007. Objectively speaking, one may debate the relative merits and the truth or lack thereof in Grazhdanin Putin's comments on that occasion (see: The fact of the matter, is that such speeches and the tone which they are conveyed, does nothing, rien, zero, nihil, for Russian interests abroad and Russian foreign policy. The comparison to say Chinese behavior vis-`a-vis the Americans, until recently is quite striking. Under the rubric of China's 'peaceful rise', the leadership of the PRC, has muted as much as possible, any antagonism that it might have towards the American-centric International system. Even though, like Moskva, Peking feels some of the same internal pressures (whether real or imagined is a different issue altogether), to bang the patriotic drum on occasion. But, whereas the Putin-Medvedev regime bangs the drum on any occasion whatsoever, the PRC, has much more wisely decided (for the most part until recently) to refrain from openly antagonizing the USA. And, what is the upshot of these differing policies? That among the majority, not a huge majority, but, a majority none the less, of bien pensant commentators Moskva is widely (if wrongly) regarded as a sort of international menace of sorts. The recent words of the Financial Times', Philip Stephens, is rather indicative:

"The other day I heard Sergei Lavrov expounding on the merits of Moscow's plans for a new European security architecture. Sad to say, the Russian Foreign Minister was unconvincing. To listen to Mr. Lavrov preaching the politics of mutual trust and shared security is to imagine Mr. Cheney delivering a sermon on the inescapable virtues of multilaterialism,"

Philip Stephens, "Russia stirs a Cold War spat about European Security," 12 February 2010, in

And, by definition, Stephens and his like, are rather down on the list of Russophobic commentators these days. Which serves as an indication that while perhaps emotionally satifying for segments of the Russian public at home (although one wonders exactly which segment of the Russian public is so pleased and or enamoured by Putin's discourses on the evil nature of American hegemony of the international system?), as a diplomatic weapon, Putin's tactics are backfiring almost as soon as he loads and aims his pistol. The upshot is that on a good number of issues, where Moskva is not by any means 'in the wrong' (the quarrels between Kiev & Moskva over the pricing of natural gas in 2006 & 2007 being a prime example), it is almost automatically assumed by its near and far western neighbors that it is in fact so. The upshot of Russia's relative isolation from its natural, European partners and neighbors (remember Russia's isolation is 'relative' and not absolute), is an unnatural and increasingly dangerous dependence and reliance on a all but revanchist PRC. AS the British academic and commentator David Kerr has recently remarked:

"Russia is not yet in a prisoners dilemma here: it has demonstrated sufficient coherence and will to maintain itself as an independent strategic actor between East and West. The problem is the location of Russia in relation to the West as a system of values and aspirations for the future....It has its own strategic space, but it does not have an explanation of what it is trying to achieve here, other than through its European inheritance. Russians insist on a polycentric, not unicentric, idea of that inheritance; but, they are even more adamant that they are not in any sense Asian, except geographically. As China looms larger on its Asian frontiers, Russia may not only experience pressure on its sphere of autonomy, but may feel increasingly exposed trying to deal with China in a space that requires it to be detached from the West. In essence, China's rise will change the frontiers between East and West, and may force Russia to conclude that its belief that it could stand apart from the West was something of an illusion."

Catherine the Great once said: 'Russia is a European State'. Presently, one is tempted to add a caveat to the effect: 'let us hope that it lasts'. Currently, Russia is perhaps in the most isolated position in Europe that it has been since the late 17th century, if we abstract out the interregnums of the early Soviet period (1917-1922) and the tail end of the reign of Emperor Pavel Petrovich (1800-1801). With most if not all of its near, western neighbors acutely hostile to her. I am not arguing that this is a situation which Russia is necessarily to blame for in its entirety. What I am arguing is that the Putin regime, has not done very much to counter the negative tendencies which have emerged, diplomatically speaking in the past fifteen years or so. Similarly, I am not going to dismiss the fact that Russia does indeed, have cards, diplomatic cards to play. She still has relatively plausible relations with Germany in particular, but also to a lesser extent with Italia and France. Even the USA, is not entirely hostile to Russia under the successor administration to the egregious Bush regime. Nor am I going to counter the fact, that in the Bush years, especially the early Bush years, Putin did endeavor to align himself with American policy circa 2001-2002. And, was to a degree rebuffed for his pains. That being said, it still defies belief (or at the very least my belief) and understanding why Putin, et. al., chose to align Moskva so closely to the PRC. Especially when one does not need to be a historical determinist to see, the it is only, repeat only Peking which has any real revanchist designs on Russian territory. Not Poland, not Germany, not Georgia, not Ukraine, not Japan, not even the USA. But, one would scarcely guess this fundamental fact in Russia's geostrategic position, from the policy that the Putin regime has been following in say the last half-dozen years. Aside from an ingrained residue of 'Sovietism', what explains this bizarre failure to look facts in the face? Well, it appears on the surface at any rate primat der innenpolitik? Id est., the fear, one may indeed speak of an deep and ingrained fear, among the Putinesque elite who govern Russia, whether from its FSB-aligned, 'security' clan lead by Deputy Prime Minister Sechin, or it more 'liberal and international' clan lead by Finance Minister Kudrin, that any deep seated real, Western alignment, would have a potential, internal impact on Russian domestic politics. With the possibility that the neo-authoritarian structure that has been built up over the past ten years, being challenged by say a 'Democratic' Ukraine. Real or imagined. At this point, it would be more accurate to say 'imagined', especially since the so-called 'Russian' candidate has just won the Ukrainian Presidential poll. But, the point holds up none the less. And, what does the future hold? Without making any predictions, or endeavoring to pretend to read a crystal ball, my surmise is that either the Putin-Medvedev regime (and in terms of this duo, it is much more likely to be Medvedev rather than Putin) gradually liberalizes itself, and, at the same time, aligns itself in a pro-Western direction, or else the regime will gradually decompose and become more and more merely a shell of a once grossmacht. One which is ever so gradually infiltrated from the east by Peking. An evolution which I for one, think would be a horrible tragedy.