Monday, April 02, 2007


Game over for Russia and the temptation of Putin

Since the revolution, way back in 1917, there has been a divide between Russia and the west that has sometimes yawned so wide it has erupted in war, and other times sparked arms races worth billions of US Dollars. All the while maintaining the idea that the West would, for any excuse, attack Russia, and Russia would, of course, at any excuse attack America.
One only had to look at the wars going on in Asia and Africa to understand from one side or the other, that the enemy was clearly out there and they intended to dominate the world.
From the Russian side, before the fall of the USSR, Nato was the greatest threat, with missiles pointed at all major Russian cities, and Nato countries forming a ring of agression around Russia it was no wonder that the Kremlin sought buffer states to distance itself from the aggressor. The Kemlin often, under various leaders, offered to disband the Warsaw Pact (the countries that stood at arms with Russia) but this was declined, mostly by America who could not afford to lose it's very lucrative arms trade with all the terrified and spellbound nations of the world.
Once the USSR fell, the threat no longer existed.
This "peace" should have brought about huge social payoff. All the money that had been poured into defending everyone from the USSR should have been able to go into education, health care, welfare, better lives for all. The US defence industry should have crumbled.
Yet Nato continued to exist. Added to this was the America Missile Defence Shield - at first thought to protect the "free world" from the USSR. This expensive plan would be sunk if there were no real threat, specially to America.
Luckily Al-Qaeda materialised to fill the shoes of the arch foe, North Korea put its hand up, and Iran joined the club. The game was on again.
With the US-backed destabilisation of Muslim states around Russia - which started with Afghanistan and allowed fundamentalist Muslims to rise to power, gave them weapons and training in terrorism, Russia can see the erosion of its power, and control over lucractive oil states and sources of water and fossil fuels.
This might be offset if only the threat from the west would go away. But it has not. Those states that acted as a buffer to the Soviet Union are now under Nato's flag. Instead of Russia's enemy being disappated, it has simply loomed larger.
To add insult to injury Chekezlovakia has now agreed to host part of the missile defence shield.
This shield is not a threat to Russia in any way because before it even got off the ground the Russian military had the missiles to beat it. But it still poses a huge strategic threat to Russia's allies, China, North Korea and Iran, Cuba.
Russia is now caught between the weapons of europe on its doorstep and the rising power of China to the South, with an aggressive and recalcitrant US to the east. As the noose begins to tighten it seems Putin has taken some hard decisions.
Washington has allowed the Kremlin to see the plans for the missile shield. And suddenly there is an air of change about Red Square. People are talking about being a part of the shield itself.
It's almost as if Russia had a muliple Personality Disorder, not quite sure if it is European or asian. The recent oil troubles with the Euro market could so easily be solved if Russia just turned its back on Europe and built the southern pipeline China has been begging for. It seemed to be doing that when it seized Yukos Oil and its assets. It doesn't need the western market with China's insatiable thirst for oil. Yet instead it has decided to strengthen ties with Europe and a political shift in geography, even one as subtle as "thinking about thinking about joining the missile shield" like a subtle shift in tectonic plates, can cause huge catastrophes where least expected. The last thing Russia needs to do now is isolate China, or in any way show disdain or hostility towards that country.
So Putin walks the fine line of dimplomacy. And yet Russia itself will face a crisis come 2008 when it faces elections with apparentlly no leaders.
Putin is well loved among the locals, with his popularity marks up in the 70's. Yet he has already stood his constitutional two terms. And if he goes for a third he runs the risk of being a lame duck president. It is painfully obvious that he must now step down as President and one can only hope that he retains his tight grip on affairs from behind the curtains, allowing his successor, whoever that might be, to perform as well as he did.
The recent murders of journalists and the Litvinenko debacle have done little to dent his image at home, although the suspicious west will always believe the worst - former KGB = guilty.
This doesn't mean that Putin has nothing to answer for. And perhaps once he is out of the limelight the families of those who died on the Kursk will finally get their answers, just as those who suffered and died at Beslan deserve theirs.
Ya but when Putin goes who will lead hnnn?
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