Opinion

The Great Debate

Putin’s new ‘values pact’

Now that Russia President Vladimir Putin has swallowed Crimea, the question becomes: What if the peninsula doesn’t satisfy his appetite for new Russian territory? What if the only thing that will satiate his hunger for power is the goulash known as eastern Ukraine? Or does he then move on to Moldova, and then on and on?

Indeed, while the world watched the protests in Kiev and the Sochi Olympics last month, the Moldovan territory of Gagauzia quietly held a referendum about whether or not to join Russia if the rest of the country opts for stronger ties to the European Union. Its citizens, just like those in Crimea, have argued that they would be economically better off on Putin’s planet, rather than as meager satellites in the Western solar system.

The prospect of joining Russia, of course, sounds far better on paper than in reality. The promise of benefits is likely to evaporate when robust Western sanctions throw Russia’s economy into a steeper downturn. The ruble has already lost almost 9 percent of its value this year against the dollar. Many have argued (myself included) that very soon Putin won’t be able to survive the international blowback.

But what if Putin’s grand plan is more than just presiding over the re-united Russian territories? What if his long-term strategy is creating a new global conservative bloc, building an iteration of the Cold War that pits decadent, neo-colonial Western democracies against everyone else?

By beating the anti-West drum and turning the sanctions policy on its head, Putin seeks to mold Russians into an ever more obedient, patriotic public — forced to give up many of their post-Soviet amenities for the sake of glorifying mother Russia.

Putin’s anti-Olympic creed

The Putin era in Russia, now in its 15th year, has given birth to the ongoing diplomatic challenge of reading what’s going on behind the Kremlin leader’s steely eyes.

President George W. Bush famously perceived something trustworthy and sympathetic in President Vladimir Putin in 2001, while former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in his new memoir, recalls seeing “a stone-cold killer.” But there is no doubt what was preoccupying the Russian president during the closing ceremonies in Sochi on Sunday: the upheaval underway 250 miles to the west, the distance to the border between Russia and Ukraine — where Viktor Yanukovich’s government had just been toppled.

The grassroots revolution has yet to be color-coded, and its outcome is far from clear.  Thursday, Yanukovich announced from Moscow that he was still president of the country he had fled, and the Russian air force went to combat alert along the Ukrainian border. Early Friday, Ukrainian officials claimed that Russian soldiers had seized two airfields in Crimea and condemned Russia for committing an act of occupation.

Putin’s Occupation Olympics

The upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi has naturally led to a critical look at the host country’s human rights record, with particular focus on issues such as the treatment of gays and journalists.

Yet in a less-noticed offense, Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the Olympics to advance his violations of international law — namely, as a tool for expanding Russia’s control over the occupied Georgian territory of Abkhazia. Despite the conquest of a neighboring nation — an action almost unheard of since World War Two and banned by the U.N. Charter — the international community has scarcely protested.

Russia has used the proximity of the Olympics to solidify its latest conquest. The main town of Abkhazia, Sukhumi, is a short drive from Sochi. Much of the materials for the massive Olympic construction projects — rock and cement — are taken from Abkhazia. Russia has quartered thousands of construction workers for the Games in Sukhumi, further blurring the lines between Georgian territory and Russia proper.

from The Great Debate UK:

Save Georgia’s Peace Mission

lsheets2Lawrence Sheets is Caucasus Project Director of the International Crisis Group. The opinions expressed are his own.

The truce that ended last summer's war between Russia and Georgia may be more or less holding for now, but the structures keeping the peace are crumbling due to Russian pressure and Western acquiescence.

Last August, Moscow and Tbilisi fought a short but vicious war over South Ossetia, a region of less than 50,000 people that Moscow now recognizes as an independent state but which the rest of the world regards as part of Georgia. Intense diplomacy was crucial in ending the fighting, as European Union mediation, under the French Presidency, helped compel Russia to put its pen to a truce agreement.

NATO and Russia

geadBy Gareth Evans, President, and Alain Délétroz Vice President (Europe) of the International Crisis Group. Any views expressed are the authors’ alone.

The biggest unresolved challenge facing the NATO countries’ leaders when they meet on the Rhine this week is how to manage the organization’s relationship with Russia. Nobody wants to relive the Cold War, but habits of mind from that era persist on both sides, continuing to influence behaviour and inhibiting the clean break from the past that would be in everyone’s interest.

Russia’s invasion of Georgian territory last year seemed to confirm every latent NATO fear about the aggressive resurgence of the beast-from-the-east which the organization was formed sixty years ago to counter. And it is hard to argue that Moscow’s response to the situation in South Ossetia was not an indefensible overreaction, whatever judgment one makes about President Saakashvili’s contribution to the course of events. But what was missing from nearly all the Western reaction was any thoughtful reflection on what its own leaders’ contribution might have been, over the years since the USSR collapsed, to Russia’s newly assertive posture.

from Global News Journal:

Russia-Ukraine row: up close and personal

Could it be that the gas dispute between Moscow and Kiev broke out because Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin felt personally slighted by his Ukrainian opposite number, Yulia Tymoshenko?
It may seem far-fetched that two countries would risk leaving half of Europe without gas over something so apparently petty. But a look at the sequence of events that led up to this crisis suggests there just might be something in it.

Rewind back to Oct. 2, and Tymoshenko is meeting Putin at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow. It is a lodge in forested parkland where, as a rule, he only invites people on whom he wants to make a good impression.

The portents were not good. Tymoshenko, often called the "Gas Princess" for the gas business she used to run in eastern Ukraine, has been a driving force behind Kiev’s push to integrate with the West and once wrote an article in a U.S. journal saying Russia had “imperial designs” on its neighbours.

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