Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Muddying the Waters

A report in the Guardian focuses on the threat to Britain’s energy security posed by the Kremlin’s new policies. Though much has already been written in the Western press about the impending Sakhalin-2 takeover by Gazprom, which now looks like a reality, and the trumped-up environmental accusations against BP (which are part of an ongoing attempt by the Russian government to seize back assets that were handed over to foreign energy companies when prices were low), the implications for Britain’s domestic natural gas supply are serious, and the article goes into some of the details.

This appears to be just one more area in which Russia is consciously and deliberately positioning itself against Europe. As the Kremlin launches its new round of “public relations offensives”, most recently in the press conference given by Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov in London yesterday, observers continue to be puzzled by the obvious contradictions in Russian foreign policy. While Peskov complained about “damage to Russia’s reputation” over the Litvinenko affair, and expressed horror and a sense of being “taken aback by the willingness to point the finger at Russia”, his government continued to do all in its power to encourage such damage and finger-pointing - threatening western media and journalists with lawsuits, using using legal pretexts to cover what is really the expropriation of private resources in the energy sector, encouraging Iran in its nuclear ambitions, blocking Western initiatives at the UN, and so on.

It may be that there is a power struggle in the Kremlin, and that the contradictions and dichotomies in official Russian policy towards its neighbours and the rest of the world are currently reflecting that struggle - but there is also a growing impression that what we are witnessing is a carefully orchestrated series of moves and counter-moves, whose primary aim is to confuse and darken the view. As Edward Lucas wrote recently:

But the only thing that is really certain is that we do not know the truth. Russia’s security services are masters in the art of maskirovka” [camouflage]. Whether the aim is to manipulate opinion in Russia or abroad, or to intimidate critics, or something else, enough false clues will be strewn that we are unlikely to see what is really going on until it is too late.

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