Kremlin Anaconda

Kremlin Anaconda

The Kremlin has, in a just few closely connected political and military moves, suddenly changed the diplomatic and security landscape of the world.  In one fell swoop we have gone, arguably, from the post cold war world to the second cold war.  

Don’t believe it?  Ask yourself, do you really think it will all stop here and the boogeyman will go back into his box, or do you think Russia will continue to rattle its perceived cage and attempt to retake parts of its empire.  If you can honest about Russia’s intentions, then you can be honest about how a Second Cold War has begun on our watch with most people barely noticing (which is always how it seems to work).
In the UK’s Telegraph, Edward Lucas gives us his take:

“In classical mythology, Georgia was the land where the Argonauts had to harness bulls with bronze hooves to win the Golden Fleece. Modern Georgia is the source of a treasure scarcely less precious: oil and gas from central Asia and the Caspian, piped along the only east-west energy corridor that Russia does not control. But whereas Jason and his comrades triumphed, our quest has ended in humiliating failure.

As the occupying power in Georgia, Russia can close or destroy those pipelines whenever it wishes. The only country in the region that even came close to sharing Western values, one vital for our energy security, has been humiliatingly defeated and dismembered.”

“…Russia wants to recreate a “lite” version of the Soviet empire in eastern Europe and to neutralise the rest of the continent. Unlike the old Cold War, military action is a last resort: for the most part, it is banks and pipelines, not tanks and warplanes, that are doing the dirty work.

“…. Over the crisis in Georgia, Europe has shown astonishing softness. The leaders of the EU have been all but invisible.”

This is the trouble, while Russian moves quickly to reestablish its security borders (read: The New Warsaw Pact) Europe, despite its best intentions, has only now woken up to the threat revisionist Russia poses.   Using her massive network of snake like pipelines (Hence the Anaconda reference) Russia has managed to not only addict Europe to her energy supplies but to co-opt her largest companies in her favor.   Lucas continues:

“In the Cold War, doing business with the Soviet Union was a rare and suspicious activity. Now Russia has penetrated our markets and businesses to a huge degree. Energy companies such as Austria’s OMV, Germany’s E.ON and Italy’s ENI work hand-in-glove with outfits such as Gazprom, which is nominally Russia’s biggest company, but better described as the gas division of Kremlin, Inc.”

“This directly affects politics. Germany, with Russia, is building the Nord Stream gas pipeline along the Baltic seabed to bypass Poland. Russia has already cut off energy supplies to punish Lithuania, the Czech Republic and other countries. When Nord Stream is built, it will be able to do the same to Poland.”

“Yet even now, after a clear and brutal demonstration of Russian imperialism, Germany refuses to consider cancelling the pipeline. Angela Merkel was willing to pay a high-profile visit to the Baltic states – a likely target for Russia’s next push westwards – to offer support. But she would not even contemplate ending her energy alliance with Russia.”
So while Russia moves decisively to manipulate world opinion, win allies, punish rivals, isolate the United States, Europe continues on with business as usual and makes no real move to control its economic dependence on Russia.  Perhaps I will be proved wrong, but it seems like Russia will not be challenged, much less punished, in any way.   Sound familiar Chamberlain?

Lucas concludes with:

“There is, however, one chink of light, for us if not for the Russians. In the long term, the Putin regime means catastrophe for his country. The political system is opaque and fossilized, unable to respond to the needs of a changing economy or to rein in corruption, let alone deal with the fast-growing Muslim population, which has soared to 25 million – a 40 per cent rise since 1989 – as the birthrate among the Slavs has plunged. Modernisation of public services and infrastructure, in a country awash with money, has been dismally slow.”

“Foreign adventures are the traditional way for autocratic rulers to distract public opinion from problems at home, and Russia is no exception. The regime running Russia will come unstuck in the end. But the cost in the meantime will be dreadful.”

In the end if there is a true second cold war Russia doesn’t have a chance, at least in the long term.   She doesn’t have nearly the resources, population, ideology, discipline and allies that she did in the dark old days of the Soviet Empire.  While the Kremlin has a few trick up its sleeve, like cutting on and off gas supplies as it has already done in Ukraine and Georgia, it cannot sustain a protracted conflict with NATO and the west.  The only real hope it has therefore is in creating divisions among the countries of the EU and the rest of the west, and hoping that dependence on its energy supplies will ensure that no one takes strong action, no matter what Russia does in its “near abroad.”

From FT.com, Martin Wolf has some interesting comments to close our analysis:

“Whatever optimists might have hoped two decades ago, Russia has not made the transition to the fundamental western principle that the possession of stable, prosperous and democratic neighbours is beneficial. Russia still lives in a conceptual world of zero-sum relations, not only because it views international relations as based on a hierarchy of power, but because it has the same view of domestic politics. Imperialism and autocracy go together. To employ a useful Islamic terminology, the new Russia, alas, still lives in the ‘House of War’.”

“Almost exactly 40 years ago, the Soviet tanks rolled into Prague. Yet Czechs and Slovaks are now both free. The west must trust in its values: in the long run, the desire for freedom will be stronger than fear.”

Let us hope, but until then what?   The Anaconda does not surrender its prey unless it is cut open – must we wait for the Kremlin to die a natural death for its neighbors to become truly free?   Will it take waiting them out yet again, for decades, in a second cold war?

Hat Tip: Dobo (for both links)

Mark Rein-Hagen is a writer based in Tbilisi