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Editorial correspondence | Back to Politics | Back to the world news
TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Articles on Russia after 2008
What Europe got out of Russia
The mess the West got into
The West is wrong on Russia
Russia the peacekeeper
Summarizing Putin
Articles on Russia before 2008

  • (october 2008) What Europe got out of Russia. In one of its biggest diplomatic blunders of all times, Europe supported Georgia against Russian "aggression" in a misguided attempt at recreating the Cold War. (See The mess the West got into and The West is wrong on Russia).
    The results speak for themselves. Russia has signed an agreement to buy Uzbekistan's natural gas, a fact that will give Russia even more control on the exports from Central Asia to Europe. Russia has signed an agreement with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan that will de fact send all of the exports of these countries through Russia, precisely what Europe was trying to avoid. Under pressure from Russia, Kazakhstan announced that it will not build a planned oil terminal in Georgia. And now Russia is offering to buy all of Azerbaijan's natural gas (obviously not because Russia needs more natural gas that it already produces, but simply to acquire a de-facto monopoly on Central Asian exports to Europe).
    Not only has Russia proven that it is militarily stronger than Europe (it puts its soldiers where its mouth is, unlike Europe) but it is now proving to its neighbords that it is also the more reliable partner in business terms (it puts its money where its mouth is, and it does so very quickly, unlike the elephant of euro-bureaucracy).
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2008 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (august 2008) The mess the West got into. The West defended Georgia's attempt to regain the separatist enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Neither province wants to be part of Georgia, just like Kosovo did not want to be part of Serbia. Both provinces declared independence, just like Kosovo did. But the West decided that geopolitics should prevail over the right to self-determination and over common sense, so they sided with an impulsive and unpopular president of Georgia when he decided to attack civilian targets in a desperate attempt to regain the two breakaway provinces (See for example this article in the New York Times). Russia immediately came to the rescue of the threatened minorities and humiliated Georgia's army.
    If the West was right on Kosovo, it is hard to see how Russia would be wrong on Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The only reason that the West supported Georgia is that Georgia is a strong Western ally. History is on the side of the separatists. Abkhazia, on the Black Sea, used to a be a rich region because of tourism from Russia. They feel that they could have a viable independent state linked to Russia's economy. South Ossetia is a desperately poor and underpopulated mountainous region, but forcing the Ossetians to split in two (North Ossetia is part of Russia) is clearly ridiculous. The Ossetians are the descendants of the Scythian empire, and Ossetia used to be called Alania. South Ossetians simply want to be reunited with North Ossetians, i.e. with Russia proper. When Georgia became independent in 1991, its first post-Soviet president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, launched a ruthless campaign of ethnic cleansing in both regions, determined to create a sort of Georgian empire, and it was the Russian invasion of these regions that prevented a massacre. (See for example this article in the New York Review of Books).
    An even bigger problem looms at the horizon, with half of Ukraine populated by ethnic Russians and, in particular, the Crimea annexed by Ukraine against any historical or ethnic rationale (Crimea was given to Ukraine by a Ukrainian president of the Soviet Union when nobody imagined that Ukraine could some day be independent of Russia).
    The West would be wise to stop harassing the Russians, who are viewed here as the liberators and protectors, and to start asking Georgia to grant referendums to both breakaway provinces: let them choose whether they want to be either independent or part of Russia or part of Georgia. It is senseless to keep defending Georgia's "rights" against the will of the people. The West is acting like the old Soviet Union, while Russia is acting like the old USA (when it was defending the will of the people).
    The reasonable outcome of this dispute, and the best way to defuse the new Cold War before it even starts, is to offer Abkhazia vast autonomy within Georgia, to give Russia the South Ossetians so they can reunite with the other Ossetians, and to obtain in return Russia's "permission" to invite Georgia into NATO and the European Union. Ditto for Ukraine: give Russia what belongs to Russia (at least the Crimea) and in return ask for Russia to accept that Ukraine shall become a member of NATO and of the European Union. Most importantly, stop treating Russia as a threat and start treating it as an asset. There should be a path for Russia into NATO and into the European Union. If even Cyprus (a country in which only half of the people can vote) and Italy (a country ruled by the man who owns most of the media) qualify for membership in the European Union, what makes Russia unfit for Europe? And why can't NATO see the benefits of uniting the USA and the Russian armed forces in NATO? They will soon have to face the same challenges (e.g., China) and they already face the same enemy (radical Islam). Unite, not divide.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2007 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (august 2008) The West is wrong on Russia. It is appalling how incapable the West is of seeing the Russian point of view. We are rapidly moving towards a new Cold War, a new schism within the Christian world, because of the Western powers' colossal prejudice towards all things Russian.
    Western politicians and media keep issuing alarming warnings about Russia's power to shut down the flow of natural gas and even oil towards Europe. First of all, no Western European country depends on Russian oil. They wish. Unfortunately, they depend on the much more unreliable Islamic countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Secondly, only Germany and Italy truly depend on Russian natural gas. And natural gas does not represent a significant source of energy for Germany, that has 17 nuclear power plants (not operating at full capacity) plus two that are shut down. Therefore only Italy's energetic supply depends a lot on Russia's natural gas. Thirdly, though, it is not clear why Russia would cut back supplies to Western Europe. If Russia cuts back supplies, i am not sure what happens to prices, but Russia would certainly lose a colossal amount of money: what are its other sources of revenues? Russia does not sell cars, caterpillars, computers, airplanes, etc to the West. It just sells natural resources. The only countries that buy its "high-tech" products are the likes of Iran and North Korea, that account for less than 1% of its exports. So this is an unlikely threat. It's like Wallmart threatening to cut back on the supplies of toilet paper to California. California would just switch to paper napkins, while Wallmart would lose its biggest market. The real threat is that Russia could somehow upset (militarily) the entire system of gas/oil pipelines from Central Asia (not its own resources, but other countries' resources). Which might just happen if the West keeps provoking them. In the same situation, the Bush administration would have already bombed the pipeline that connects Kazakstan to Turkey. Putin is showing more restraint than Bush (Bush destroyed a country and overthrew its government simply on the suspicion that it may constitute a threat to the USA). However, a Russian military strike on a pipeline that connects Central Asia to Western Europe would definitely start a war. The Soviet Union never did anything that extreme even at the peak of the Cold War.
    Western public opinion views Russia as an unstable nuclear state. However, the history of the last century has showed that its leaders were remarkably responsible. They didn't use nuclear weapons when they lost a war (in Afghanistan). No nuclear secrets ever left Russia without the explicit approval of the leadership (and only once, towards China). On the other hand, USA president Nixon considered using nuclear weapons on Vietnam rather than losing, and the USA's nuclear secrets managed to reach Israel without any high-level USA approval.
    Most countries outside the West view Putin in a more favorable light than Bush. Bush is seen as stupid, incompetent, irresponsible and violent. Putin is viewed as competent and responsible, if not peaceful. Putin has obviously done a lot for Russia, including the most popular of his campaigns: getting rid of the widely-hated Western-supported business oligarchs. He also opened up the country to foreign investment. Most importantly, he has truly buried communism. (See Summarizing Putin). Putin has left Russia much better than he found it. Not many western leaders can claim the same achievement in their countries.
    The Western media depict Russia as a lawless country that adopted a state-run form of capitalism. However, data show that Russia has been a lot safer than the USA to invest your money. All investments in the currency, real estate or stock market of the USA have been losing money over the last few years. No major bubbles, no massive speculation, no credit crisis, solvent banks (unlike in the USA), budget surplus (unlike in the USA) and probably less government intervention than in the USA (where the government hands out billions of inflated contracts to the likes of Haliburton and Lockheed, and rescues mortgage companies that made bad loans). In fact, foreign investors are flocking to Russia. (See, for example, this article: "foreign investment in Russia grew 180% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2007").
    The Western public opinion is clearly biased against Russia. One just has to compare what the West did to Serbia and what Russia is doing to Georgia. In both cases a power bombed a country to protect a minority: the USA did it to Serbia when Serbia sent tanks into Kosovo, Russia did it to Georgia when Georgia sent tanks into Ossetia. But the Western public opinion views the former as legitimate and the latter as illegitimate. Note that Kosovo is the historical heartland of Serbia, so Milosevic had plenty of reasons for being so stubborn, whereas Ossetia has rarely been part of Georgia. And, by the way, Georgia has been itself part of Russia since 1801 and was independent only for three years over the 200 years before the fall of the USSR, and before that was mostly a Byzantine, Seljuk, Mongol, Ottoman and Persian province before it was "liberated" by Russia in 1801. Not to mention the fact that the most famous Russian leader, Stalin, was born in Georgia. So today's Georgia itself is an artificial entity carved out of Russia during the post-Soviet chaos, whereas Serbia was independent since 1878 and its history goes back to medieval times, with Kosovo always as its historical core. Nonetheless, the Western media are so adamant about defending Kosovo's rights to independence from Serbia's claims, while adamant about defending Georgia's claims on Ossetia. The double standard couldn't be more blatant.
    A Russian observer sees an obvious logic in this double standard: whatever hurts Russia. Taking Kosovo from Serbia weakens a Russian ally. Giving Georgia a piece of Ossetia weakens a Russian-speaking population. Defending Chechnya's right to secede weakens Russia. Defending Ukraine's rights to Crimea (a historical Russian land, that still harbors the Russian fleet) weakens Russia. Etc. The Western public opinion defends whatever weakens Russia, regardless of the logic. The West even recognized the independence of Belarus: when was there ever a Belarus state in history?
    Periodically, Western media describe Russia's increase in military spending, but they rarely mention that the USA spends about 12 times more. (See for example this diagram by the Economist) Russian citizens are painfully aware that the USA (and, even worse, NATO) spend a lot more in rearming themselves. NATO has 16 air carriers (11 by the USA, 2 by Britain, 1 by France, 1 by Italy, 1 by Spain) against Russia's... one (there are only 21 in the entire world). Russia can't even build new ones because the old Soviet shipyards are now part of another country, Ukraine, that (guess what) NATO want to promote to member. The paranoia of "encirclement" is not exaggerated: it is a fact. Nonetheless, the West keeps behaving as if it were the Russians who are being aggressive. It was big news when Russia announced that it wants to build six new air carriers within the next twenty (20) years. But Britain is already building two, France one and Italy one, all of which will be operational before the Russian ones.
    There just seems to be a stronger anti-Russian bias in the West than, say, an anti-Islamic bias. It might be the legacy of the Soviet Union: a primal fear that Russia wants to conquer Western Europe, and in any case it is not "one of us". Russia certainly has much to blame herself for not having integrated in the European world (see The paranoia of encirclement) but the West does not help by enacting strategies that are clearly designed to encircle and isolate Russia. The West basically told Russia that it will never become part of NATO and never become part of the European Union. Why is Ukraine or Georgia a natural candidate for membership in both organizations and Russia is not?
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2007 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (august 2008) Russia the peacekeeper. Russia has invaded Georgia. It may not mean to occupy the whole country, but it has sent a message that is loud and clear: hostile leaders must go, regardless of how many votes they obtained in a free democratic election.
    Russia had repeatedly warned the USA against installing missiles near its border and against expanding NATO eastward and against letting Kosovo declare independence from Serbia, all moves that Russia saw as reducing its power and prestige. Eventually Russia snapped. When Georgia tried to seize two provinces that had declared independence and allied themselves with Russia in opposition to the pro-Western president of Georgia, Russia decided that enough is enough and proceeded to teach that president a valuable lesson.
    In practice, Russia taught the same lesson to a much larger audience, that includes the whole of the Western world and all of its neighbors. Europe needs Russian gas. The USA needs Russia for its "war on terror". Therefore neither is in any position to fight or even seriously complain about any military action by Russia. Russia has been thumbing its nose at the USA on the issue of Iran: Iran trains and funds militias that kill USA soldiers in Iraq. Russia is the main military trading partner of Iran. The USA has been trying to stop Iran's nuclear program: Russia is the main supplier of nuclear technology to Iran. Russia has in fact sold Iran the very defensive system that will help Iran protect its nuclear facilities from any aerial attack. Georgia kept one of the largest contingents of troops in Iraq in order to please the USA and prove it can be a reliable ally: Russia invaded that very ally of the USA, that was also a strong candidate for membership in NATO.
    If this invasion goes well, it will boost Putin's confidence in two ways: by showing the whole world that nobody can intimidate Russia and by showing Russians that Russia's military apparatus is stronger than ever. It is hard to imagine that Georgia will remain an isolated case. Given that boost of confidence, it is instead likely that other countries will soon have to deal with Putin's will, and not only the countries on Russia's border.
    The invasion of Georgia is the direct consequence of the West's appeasement towards Russia's scientific annihilation of Chechnya, just like Hitler's invasion of Poland was a direct consequence of the West's tolerance of Hitler's annihilation of Czechoslovakia.
    The USA had repeatedly praised Georgia's free democratic election. That praise is not worth much: just the paper it was printed on.
    For Russia he biggest problem remains the same one that the country has had since the beginning of its history: it has a terrible reputation among its neighbors. Nobody wants to be ruled by the Russians. Even the Serbs, who were helped only by Russia, have now decided to join the European Union rather than get closer to Russia. Russia has always been an odd power. It saved the Christian world from the Ottomans. It saved Europe from both Napoleon and Hitler. But no nation has even felt grateful towards Russia. Needless to say, the invasion of Georgia is unlikely to change this mood.
    Russia is not capable of making its own case. Somehow it always projects an image of arrogance and contempt. This is one of the many cases in which it could easily have made a convincing argument that Georgia was wrong to attack South Ossetia, based on a simple precedent: Kosovo. If Kosovo is entitled to declare its independence from Serbia, why can't South Ossetia do the same? Basically, Russia could have painted Georgia's president Saakashvili as a sort of Milosevic. Instead it already looks like Russia will be viewed as a sort of Hitler. Russia could also make the case that it is time for the world to stop punishing today's Russia for the actions taken by the old Soviet Union. It was the Soviet Union that (in 1922) created a republic of Georgia that is an ethnic mess, just like later the Soviet Union created a republic of Ukraine that is an ethnic mass (in 1954 the Soviet Union even transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine, thereby taking away from Russia what Russia had heroically won from the Ottoman empire in 1856). When the Soviet Union collapsed, nobody thought of undoing the border decisions of the Soviet Union: the various republics simply took what they could, but that was not fair to Russia. Russia is also the Christian country with the largest Muslim population (about 20 million) and has recently succeeded in suppressing a Muslim rebellion (in Chechnya) of a size that no other Christian country ever witnessed: instead of relying on Russia's experience to deal with the Islamic world, the USA has largely ignored Russia when waging "its war on terror". Finally, Russia could make a case that it is being "encircled". It is Russia's foremost paranoia, but this time there might be some truth to it: Lithuania, Lavia, Estonia and most of the Eastern European countries have joined the European Union, and some of them even NATO; Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgizstan have been rocked by popular democratic revolutions that removed dictators who were friendly to Russia and replaced them with presidents who are hostile to Russia; the USA has invaded Afghanistan; a piece of Russia (Kalingrad) is completely surrounded by territory of the European Union; etc. All of these issues are very clear to Putin and to the Russian masses, that feel that they are being mistreated. The Russians just seem chronically incapable of "selling" these issues to the rest of the world.
    The bottom line is that both sides (the West and Russia) are losers. The West doesn't have a coherent strategy on what to do with people who ask for self-determination: Palestine and Kosovo get their own country, but Tibet and Chechnya remain part of the empire that occupies them, and it is not clear if the two breakaway provinces of Georgia qualify for independence like Palestine and Kosovo or if they qualify for political annihilation like Tibet and Chechnya. On the other side of the barricade, Russia quite simply is not making friends. Russians don't have a problem with formulating a coherent strategy because their strategy has always been based on national interest and not international law; but this attitude certainly does not endear Russia to its neighbors. Both the West and Russia come out of this crisis looking unappealing.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2007 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (may 2008) Summarizing Putin. Officially, Vladimir Putin had handed over power to the new Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev. Medvedev promptly gave him the job of prime minister, and everybody things that Putin is still the de facto ruler of Russia, i.e. a de facto czar. Many are afraid that this authoritarian regime is nothing but the old communist praxis updated to the age of globalization.
    When Westerners accuse Vladimir Putin of having persecuted liberals, democrats, journalists, and so forth, they forget to add the main victim of his eight years in power: Putin mainly managed to finish communism. If communist nostalgics could hope for a reveral of fortunes under his precedessor Yeltsin, there was no such possibility after Putin annihilated the very concept of communism by making it, quite simply, obsolete. (In october 2008 Russia's Supreme Court even ruled that the last czar, Nicholas II, should be rehabilitated as a victim of political persecution). After Putin there could certainly be another totalitarian age, but it is unthinkable that it would any form of communism. Putin's appointed successor, Dmitri Medvedev, will have to deal with a lot of pressing problems (the high rate of suicides, the suicidal passion for vodka, the eternal plague of corruption, the declining population, the pull for independence by the non-Russian republics) but not with the threat of a resurgence of communism.
    Another of Putin's rarely mentioned achievements is the rehabilitation of the Orthodox Church. Of course, Yeltsin and even Gorbachev before him had already liberalized religion, but it was under Putin that the Church became such a powerful force in Russian society. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the Church was destitute after seven decades of persecution: thousands of churches and monasteries laid in ruins. Russian patriarch Aleksy II led the Church through a formidable process of self-resurrection: thousands of churches and hundreds of monasteries reopened and were restored (notably the Christ the Savior Cathedral, that had been destroyed by Stalin in 1931 and rebuilt by Yeltsin). It could not have happened without Putin's approval and support (and with the warm support of Moskow's mayor Yuri Luzhkov). Those who paint Putin as simply a KGB leftover literally don't know what they are talking about.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2007 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    Articles on Russia before 2008
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