Sunday, January 01, 2006

Beware of Dreaming

In Yezhednevnyi Zhurnal, Alexander Golts listens to the heavy tread of Russia's oil and gas empire (my tr.):
Beware of dreaming: dreams sometimes come true. In the last few years the author of these lines has repeatedly criticized Russian foreign policy for its amorphousness, uncertainty, absence of a clearly expressed strategy - in general, with all its deficiencies, typical of the policy of a state that is simply unable to take shape with an essence and goals of its own.

But now, on the border of 2005-2006, without any directive documents, our foreign policy is becoming plain and clear. It has acquired obvious goals, and clear methods for their realization. But this brings no joy whatsoever. It’s completely obvious that in Putin’s eyes the Russia of the future is in no way a democratic state, integrated into the community of modern civilized countries. No, it’s a "raw material super-power" [syr’evaya sverkhderzhava].

At the recent session of the United Nations Security Council, Putin was utterly frank. He talked about how Russia must be a world leader and trendsetter in the energy sector. Also, Putin makes it very clear that what is involved is something far more than the mere business of buying and selling. He talks very meaningfully about something he calls “energy security on a planetary scale”: “By its very essence, a steady power supply is one of the conditions of international stability as a whole. A balanced and uniform guarantee of energy is undoubtedly one of the factors of global security.”

Indeed, the President’s aides have creatively developed Chubais’s idea of the "liberal empire". The head of RAO UES (Unified Energy System) merely had in mind the fact that Russia, being the sole supplier of energy to the countries of the CIS, can have a determining effect on their policy. But now what is being discussed is the fact that Russia will supply with oil and gas almost the entire world (Western Europe, China and Japan) and thereby regain the power and influence of the Soviet Union. In the course of his trips abroad, Putin is solely preoccupied with the promotion throughout the world of his natural gas empire. And it is very logical that the Russian President is seriously offering leading posts in this empire to well-known politicians like former German Chancellor Schroeder and retired U.S. Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans. And the gas scandal with the Ukraine is the first attempt to force neighbouring states to "respect" Russia as a gas and oil wet-nurse.

Putin obviously realizes that there is a certain ambiguity in the idea of the transformation of the country into a raw-material super-power. However one camouflages it, however much one hides behind the fine-looking formulations, the essence is obvious: Russia has finally said goodbye to its repeatedly proclaimed intentions of "overtaking and outdistancing" the economically developed states in the field of high technology and industrial development. But the boss of the Kremlin is really not at all enamoured of the role of head of a "banana republic" that is wholly dependent on buyers. No, Putin wants to appear in a dialogue with the world’s leading states as an equal.

And therefore the claims to energy leadership must be confirmed, one the one hand, by a constant strengthening of Russia’s nuclear potential, and on the other - by demonstrative support for the most odious regimes, like those of Iran or North Korea. At every available opportunity, Putin reminds his listeners both of the “Topol-M” missile regiment deployed in the Tatishchev division in the environs of Saratov, and of the successful testing of the new missile for submarines, and, most importantly, of the new warheads which are capable of overcoming the American antimissile system. With the same persistence Moscow demonstrates its sympathy for rogue states. The signal sent to the West is obvious. Russia is ready to be a reliable supplier of raw material, but even the Russian partners must be reconciled with the fact that in our country there is a very specific kind of democracy - with a parliament which rubber-stamps the laws that come from the Kremlin, with a television which only broadcasts information in strictly measured doses, with courts which are ready to send to prison anyone who risks offending the President. And Putin requires that the other world leaders pretend that what is happening in Russia is normal, something called "sovereign democracy". But if the West does not agree with such a game, then Moscow can start to arm the pariah state, having protected itself from possible pressure of force with the aid of its nuclear shield.
Golts foresees a situation in which by 2008, Putin will have assumed leadership of Gazprom, and Russia will be led by those who lead the country’s energy industry. He has some reservations about this prognosis, however: in spite of its G8 presidency, in the year to come Russia may find itself treated as a “second-class” partner in the group, excluded from the main deliberations of the G7. Some serious international problems may arise:
Punishing Ukraine by means of energy prices will inevitably become one source of such problems. No matter how many statements Gazprom makes about its readiness to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine, the inescapable fact is that 80 percent of the fuel supplied to Western Europe fuel is pumped through that country. Therefore, if a compromise is not found, there are only two ways out. The first is to be reconciled with the fact that Ukraine will be stealing gas, and to transfer the legal proceedings to the International Court of Justice, which will be an obvious demonstration of weakness. The second is to conclude an agreement with Western Europe that it will acquires gas at the intersection of the Russia-Ukraine border, and to pump only the gas that the Europeans have paid for. But then buyers are already condemning themselves to shortages, and this somewhat undermines the image of Russia as a reliable supplier of energy resources and guarantor of "energy security."

Russia’s most loyal friend and ally (the Belorussian batka) may play a dirty trick. At the height of the attempts to punish the Ukraine, Lukashenko demonstrated obvious respect to the Kremlin. He brought a report to Putin’s Sochi dacha and, as soon as he obtained the Russian President’s favorable agreement, announced that the next elections of himself would be put back to May. It is clear that the results of these elections will be recognized by no one except Russia. But, having done this, Moscow will be doomed to put itself in opposition to the OSCE and the Council of Europe.

And this will happen at precisely the moment when Russia is due to assume the presidency of the Council of Europe. The experts do not rule out the possibility that Russia may instead even lose its membership in the Council of Europe. On a formal pretext - because, because it still has not abolished capital punishment. Indeed, this resolution will reveal a general irritation with the Kremlin’s attitude towards the rights and freedoms of its own citizens, and those of foreign countries.

Furthermore, in 2006, one way or another, the Iranian nuclear crisis must be resolved. Thus far nothing points to the likelihood that Teheran will make some compromise. It has just firmly rejected a proposal to enrich the fuel for its reactors in Russia (then Iran would not be able to obtain the materials necessary for the production of nuclear weapons). Russia’s attempts to take a regime of this kind under its protection may cause serious division in the "Eight".

Finally, although this is not too probable, the price of oil and gas may fall. Then of the great raw material empire will remain only Lukashenko’s allies, who will not be able to run anywhere, because no one needs them.

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