Opinion

John Lloyd

The coalition of the reluctant

John Lloyd
Apr 17, 2014 15:07 UTC

Russia is currently winning the Game of Empire. It has taken Crimea and it is closing in on Eastern Ukraine. Whether or not more will be invaded, no one can tell.

We are not accustomed to leaders of great states who go for broke. Meet a leader of a great state who is going for broke. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, a man of history.

In the Soviet Union, the balance of terror left space for small wars that were “in the national interest.” National interest included invading Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 to remind the citizens that they were Communists. The West backed dictators in Latin America, Africa and elsewhere to remind them that they were anti-Communists.

The balance of terror between Russia and the West still exists. It has moved from the background to the anxious foreground in the last two months. A national interest war, absent from big country politics for 40 years, now brews on the border of Russia and Ukraine.

Russia is rearranging its neighborhood and there is no prospect of a coherent response from West. It is complicated. France has arms contracts; Britain likes the Russian money that flows into London, and Germany and Italy get about a third of their gas from Russia’s state-owned Gazprom.

Russia’s imperialism vs globalization

John Lloyd
Mar 21, 2014 18:17 UTC

In the sanctions against Russia announced this week by the U.S. and the European Union we begin to see the outline of a titanic struggle. It is one between imperialism and globalization. The Western states have been reminded that imperialism is alive and well, even rampant, and threatens the vision for a more global world economy.

“Russia can be an empire with Ukraine,” said a senior Russian banker earlier this month in an off-the-record briefing. “Without it, it cannot. Simple.” Having Ukraine does not mean possessing it. It is enough for Ukraine to be closely linked to Russia, run by leaders who understand and acquiesce in that necessity. The large failure underlying Russia President Vladimir Putin’s great success in seizing Crimea is that he has propelled much of the rest of Ukraine away from Russia and guaranteed instability; or worse.

The targeting through sanctions of the Russian political and financial elite, including their favored bank, Bank Rossiya, described by a Russian fund manager as “a pocket bank and special purpose vehicle” for the Kremlin elite, has one goal in mind. That is, to drive a wedge between Putin’s imperial strategy and the Russian political and financial aristocracy who have homes in France, yachts moored off Tuscany, children in British private schools and businesses that depend on global markets.

Will the anaconda strike again?

John Lloyd
Mar 19, 2014 18:11 UTC

Ukraine is now a pile of dry straw, waiting for Vladimir Putin to decide whether he will douse it with gasoline and set it alight, or leave it dry and trembling in the wind.

Putin has Crimea and no one will fight him for it. In his speech on Tuesday, when he announced his decision to draw Crimea into the bosom of Mother Russia, he casually told the West not to worry, there will be no more land grabs — “no one needs a divided Ukraine,” he said.

Now many are invoking the Sudetenland crisis of 1938 — where the then-British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain earned transient glory and eternal obloquy for agreeing with Adolf Hitler that the region, existing along the Czech side of the Czech-German border with a large majority of German inhabitants, should be ceded to a then-resurgent Germany. Chamberlain’s concession seemed to avoid a war. On the agreement, signed under duress by the Czech President Edward Benes, troops occupied the German areas, and later, the rest of Czech territory.

The retreat of the Eastern partnership

John Lloyd
Mar 12, 2014 14:23 UTC

The Russian bear must be left with meat after its early spring hunt. The hard part is: how much?

The veteran strategist Edward Luttwak argues for a “re-engineering” of Ukraine that would hand Crimea and the Eastern regions to Russia, saving the Western rump for Europe. This would, writes Luttwak, “offer the promise of stability at last, with the major disadvantage of legitimizing Putin’s use of force.”

Unprincipled as it is, a capitulation to Russia may be what the hesitant European Union, rife with part-submerged splits, will settle for.

The coming Slav crash

John Lloyd
Mar 7, 2014 21:37 UTC

Ukraine is not the only crisis to emerge from the former Soviet Union. It’s the most immediate and most immediately dangerous. But beyond the stunning images of boiling demonstrations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, there is a less vivid but as potentially destabilizing danger growing greater by the week. It is the threat of a Slav crash.

The three Slav republics of the former Soviet Union are Russia, with more than 140 million people, Ukraine, with around 47 million, and Belarus, with nearly 10 million. These made up some three quarters of the USSR’s population and were (apart from the tiny Baltic states) the richest regions.

But now they are faltering; Ukraine most obviously. Sergei Voloboev, head of emerging markets at Credit Suisse, said in London this week that the country has a current account deficit of nearly 10 percent and a fiscal deficit of 7.5 percent.

The claims for Russian imperialism

John Lloyd
Mar 4, 2014 19:28 UTC

The more or less liberal, democratic, capitalist countries that make up seven of the Group of Eight (G8) have condemned Russia and are discussing boycotting the June G8 meeting in Sochi. There is even talk of expelling Russia from the group.

This western government consensus against Russia’s actions is based on evidence that prompted the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power to say that it is “hard to avoid concluding that Russia does not want peace and does not want a diplomatic solution.”

It is time, since this is what news media in democracies do, to question that consensus. Let’s consider the case for what’s being called Russian neo-imperialism.

In Ukraine, a choice of civilizations

John Lloyd
Oct 16, 2013 17:57 UTC

KIEV — In 1993, the late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington proposed that “the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations.” His theorythat the world was divided into potentially warring civilizations — and later, his book on the topic — have been denounced by legions of critics, mainly on the liberal side. But it had and has retained one group of unlikely fans: Russian nationalists.

They saw in his definition of “Slavic-Orthodox culture” (including much of the former Soviet Union and reaching deep into East-Central Europe) a confirmation, albeit from a surprising quarter, of their own view of the world. That is, that Russia is and must remain the central and organizing power of a collection of states that history, religion and culture had predisposed to unity, and to a distinctly separate identity from a West that would devour them behind a front of “spreading democracy.”

President Vladimir Putin of Russia is an ardent Huntington-ite. His much quoted view that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century signaled a deeply felt loss of a world in which Russia ruled not so much by force but by cultural and political leadership. In such a view, the nations that comprise that civilization are less important than the civilization itself. For a Slavic-Orthodox state to shift to the West would not be a choice, but a betrayal of the bloc’s essence.

The coming clash of civilizations over gay rights

John Lloyd
Aug 12, 2013 20:54 UTC

Supporters of gay rights have been protesting in Western cities this past week, picketing in front of Russian embassies and consulates. They’re protesting the passing of a law in the Russian parliament that bans “homosexual propaganda” directed at under 18-year olds — which if interpreted strictly, bans all public demonstrations and much public and private discussion on the issue.

Not so long ago how a country’s administration handled its ‘homosexual problem’ would be thought of as its business. Many still think that way. But most Western democracies don’t. They haven’t just adopted legislation that enjoins equality of treatment for all, irrespective of sexuality. They have taken seriously, for the most part, the claims made by gay organizations for many years: that discrimination against gay men and women is an affront to civil liberties, and that when some states pursue discriminatory policies, those who do not should make their disapproval clear. Gay rights are now part of the world’s clash of cultures.

This is presently true most clearly in the United States and the U.K., not because they have been ahead of the pack in equality — they have lagged a bit behind Canada and the Scandinavian states, ever the pioneers in such matters — but because they have had, and still have, the most contentious relations with Russia.

Where is Russia headed?

John Lloyd
Jul 24, 2013 12:20 UTC

Masha Lipman, one of the great chroniclers of Russian politics, told a story at a conference I attended outside of Moscow earlier this week. It was about two scholars who, in a recent discussion about the history of Russia and the Soviet Union, fell into a savage argument. One saw the end of the Soviet Union as a tragedy, the other as a release from tyranny. So radical and bitter was the disagreement that they came to blows, an unheard of event in the generally decorous world of Russian academia. 

Lipman also noted that, in a discussion in the Duma (parliament), several deputies called for the abolition of the country’s Independence Day on June 12, established in 1990. One suggested moving the date to whenever National Day took place in the 10th century, when “Rus” was first formed — in Kiev, now the capital of Ukraine — a none too subtle way of saying that Russia was once a Slavic empire, and could be again.

Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, might agree with the deputies. It would be surprising if he did not — he is, after all, the same man who said in 2005 that the end of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.

Russia’s reckoning

John Lloyd
May 7, 2013 18:05 UTC

Russia is now in a hard, even dangerous, place. A series of shocks are coming, and it is not well placed to weather them. It has, to be sure, little debt: Vladimir Putin’s administration is proud that the state has borrowed little and has built up a multibillion-ruble national reserve fund. Yet even that is ending, and the basics of the economy are weak. The former Marxists among Russia’s ruling class will know that the economic base determines the political and social superstructure. It is not looking good for them.

What’s worse, Russia isn’t a major player in the global economy. According to Eurostat figures, it has 2.4 percent of world gross domestic product, slightly under that of India; and 2.6 percent of world trade, slightly more than India has. It’s important, especially to Europe, in one significant economic aspect: It ships very large amounts of energy: 63 percent of European Union imports from Russia is oil, a further 9 percent is natural gas, with a further 3 per cent for coal. Icy Russia heats Europe. In return, Russia has, for the past decade, been enriched, as a once impoverished nation, which defaulted in 1998, surged to a lifestyle that supports a burgeoning middle class.

But oil and natural gas prices are falling now, and don’t look like they will rise again soon: “Over the coming few years,” writes Forbes commentator Bill Conerly, “look for oil prices to decline at least below $80 a barrel and quite possibly more” because of increased production. Gas prices are worse: The once-mighty Gazprom, which had dictated prices and terms to those it supplied, has been forced to discount and saw its profits fall last year by $6.5 billion, or 15 percent. The warnings, inside and out of the country, that it was dangerously dependent on fossil fuels for its newfound wealth and strength are coming home to roost. Russia may face recession.

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