Monday, August 31, 2009

Hot And Cold Mama

"You -- Change your mind -- Like a girl changes clothes..."

So sings one of Great Satan's pop treasures in the dancefloor essential "Hot and Cold"

The complexities, chaos and confusion of a bipolar frienemy are quite de luxe.

Rodina Mat' Zovyot or Mama Russia has always been a lot like hanging with a bipolar GF -- seems it's like everything is really really great or everything really really sucks.

Sir Winnie penned a line or two himself about Collectivist Russia back in the day:

“I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma: but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interests.”

This is significant. As the daemoneoconic Dr Robert Kagan points out in "Return of History" -- the worlds largest (nearly a dozen time zones!) autocrazy lives in a tough hood.

Nuke powered cats in China, Land of the Pure and NoKo not to mention a history of nigh constant invasion have resulted in a crunk and disorderly member of what could be called the "Axis of Egos"

"Indeed, modern Russia's quest for respect is so intense that it's ensured that it's warped the world view of citizens and policymakers alike, casting everything in 19th-century terms, with winners and losers and enemies in different uniforms. Whether it's planting a flag on the bottom of the sea to claim the North Pole or squeezing the Americans out of a base in Kyrgyzstan, Moscow still sees diplomacy as a zero-sum game where every international engagement—even supposedly friendly ones like the Eurovision Song Contest—becomes a litmus test for Russian pride and power.

"This helps explain Russia's friendships with anti-American regimes in Venezuela, Syria, and Iran. Today's Russia is willing to pal up with anyone, it seems, as long as it bolsters Moscow's credentials as a leader of a "multipolar world."

No battleground is more emotionally charged for contemporary Russians than the lands of their lost empire. In April 2005, on the eve of massive celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, Putin told Parliament that the fall of the Soviet Union was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century" and "a genuine tragedy for the Russian people." Millions of Russians found themselves citizens of different countries, Putin lamented, and the "disease" of separatism spread to Russia itself as Chechnya made a bid to break away. For Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the committee for foreign affairs in the Federation Council, the loss of the empire was as traumatic as a divorce.

"We are still in the process of separating from our former husbands and wives," he says. "The rows Russia is having with its neighbors are like scenes from a divorce—everyone is throwing dishes and breaking furniture." Think about this analogy and it's no surprise that Russians reserve a special resentment for America and Europe, the rich, new sugar daddies for whom their old partners left.

" More-subtle moves have included a proposal to create a regional development bank largely funded by Moscow and a customs union that would include Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. And Medvedev's proposal earlier this year to revive the near-moribund Collective Security Treaty Organization—a group of five post-Soviet states—by adding a military rapid reaction force, fit in with this goal as well.

So far, few of Medvedev's attempts to bring former Soviet satellites closer to Moscow have come to fruition. But Moscow is likely to view any setbacks not as evidence of the flaws in its aggressive foreign policy but rather the results of outsiders' determined plotting to undermine Russia's influence in its near abroad.

Indeed, given the deep-seated resentment that many Russians still harbor over Washington's supposed role in destroying their great country, it is hardly surprising that most see U.S. attempts to spread democracy in the former Soviet Union as a cynical front for Yankee imperialism.

Thus there was widespread support for Putin's crackdown on foreign-funded NGOs in the wake of the Orange Revolution in Kiev. Seen from the West, the restrictive new laws were a Kremlin-backed assault on free speech, but seen from Moscow, the clampdown on rights groups was a defensive act to rid Russia of foreign-funded fifth columns.

Most Russians now seem to believe that America is intent on pressing on with its attack, and they are determined not only to reverse the pro-Western tide of colored revolutions but to try to unseat and undermine pro-Western leaders in their backyard as best they can. "Unless we stop them, America will continue to crawl further with its bases toward Russia's borders," says United Russia Duma Deputy Sergei Markov, who is currently organizing a Kremlin-funded "Anti-Nato 2009" summer camp in Crimea, a majority-Russian part of Ukraine, designed to train young Russians to resist a NATO invasion.

Take all these factors into account and Russia's foreign policy starts to make a little more sense. Its top priority is keeping meddling foreigners from taking over any more of Russia's backyard. Even Kremlin policies directed far from Russia's borders can be tied back to this primal urge. Thus Russia has made itself a rallying point for anti-U.S. crackpots in Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, and Sudan not because it seriously thinks it can restore its status as a world player but because it hopes to forge a grand bargain with Washington over the former Soviet space.

Taken separately, none of these alliances make much sense—but they do if they allow Moscow to strike a deal with the Americans to act as a go-between with its pariah friends like Syria, for instance.

Consider how Russia recently used its friendship with Iran to Moscow's advantage. Back in 2007 Russia signed a deal to sell a powerful missile-defense system to Iran, but then, this summer, it allowed Israel to talk it out of actually delivering the system in exchange for Israel's promise to cut off help to Georgia's military.

Consider how Russia recently used its friendship with Iran to Moscow's advantage. Back in 2007 Russia signed a deal to sell a powerful missile-defense system to Iran, but then, this summer, it allowed Israel to talk it out of actually delivering the system in exchange for Israel's promise to cut off help to Georgia's military. It was exactly the kind of deal the Kremlin loves—a local victory over a sworn enemy gained by playing the global power game.

High-placed Russians deny such thinking; Sergei Karaganov, the chairman of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy of Russia, a state-funded advisory group, swears that "Russia will never spoil its relations with Iran." But he concedes that the Kremlin might be persuaded "to change its mind if America agrees to serious compromises and stops enlarging NATO to the east, stops the Cold War in Europe, and accepts a Russian sphere of influence."

That idea of a "sphere of influence"—or what Medvedev, a little more tactfully, calls a "zone of special interests"—is really a budget version of the old empire. The Kremlin seems to have bought its own rhetoric and to have convinced itself that Russia remains a great power—and deserves to be treated as such. "The world's problems cannot be solved without consulting Russia," says Gorbachev. But like it or not, he's wrong. Russia still has nukes and enormous energy reserves.

Yet it has little ability to project military power beyond its borders, and the Kremlin's saber rattling has pushed even erstwhile allies like Belarus and Ukraine into the arms of the West. In economic terms, Russia's GDP has recently grown close to Italy's in terms of size, thanks to high energy prices.. But shorn of natural resources, the rest of its economy remains mired in inefficiency and corruption.

The key question, as Russian power continues to shrink, is whether Moscow will ever be able to come to terms with the loss of its empire and acknowledge the right of its former colonies to make independent strategic choices. So far there have been few signs of an attempt to move beyond imperial thinking, with school curriculums and national holidays all continuing to emphasize the country's lost greatness. "Russia has been an empire for most of its history; we don't know how to act as a national state," says Margelov.

But rather than pining for the past, Russia would do well to look to Great Britain, another fallen empire, for lessons in how to stay relevant in a post-imperial world.

Britain ran into disaster in 1956 when it tried to assert itself militarily in its old imperial space by making a grab for the Suez Canal. Since then, London has contented itself with slowly building new constructive relationships with its neighbors, former colonies, and big powers like the U.S. The result might not be as grand or as satisfying as macho strutting and military adventures, but it has helped keep Britain at the center of world politics long after the sun set on its empire.

If Russia would realize that its best hope for influence is to engage rather than confront the rest of the world, it could start truly rebuilding its influence—and putting to rest the misunderstandings and suspicions that shaped the lives of Cold War generation.

Russia's leaders - "the scared men in the Kremlin," deeply insecure behind their aggressive bluster and suspicious of any internal political threat to their power. Russia is hostile to the West, because it is a "wounded giant" traumatized by catastrophic historical upheavals and far weaker than it likes to pretend. The nation "may blunder into war as it strives to build up a protective belt of satellite states outside its vulnerable borders."

Pic - Rodina Mat Zovyat