The recent struggle between Ukraine and Russia underlined once more a lot of misconceptions about Vladimir Putin, Russia’s foreign policy and the ways to confront in a workable way acts like the invasion of Crimea. The basic idea of portraying Putin like an old-style russian hard case, somebody who will try to set a new USSR, is so deeply wrong to be almost humoristic. Almost.
It’s true that Mr. Putin is a KGB veteran and that a lot of his best staffers share the same professional start. It’s also true that he’s acting more like a oligarch than like a democratically elected president. And finally, it’s true that promoting a democratic party and/or a democratic policy in Russia is now harder than ever since 1991, with an economy that’s under the government’s thumb and a media scene that’s under strict control.
President Putin is not an alien. He’s a natural product of modern-day Russia, a country that learned the hard way how to come back in play after the dissolution of USSR. Basically today’s Russia is an oil/gas propelled economy, with a commercial balance active from all the money it get from Europe and China for its resources. If anybody think that the western media or the diplomatic threats could scare anybody in Russia, well it’s time to think again because it will not work.
Do you remember Transinistria? Back in 1992 this region, formerly part of Moldova, is under russian control. More than twenty years ago. Nobody really cared about Moldova, neither UN or EU protest about this conflict got any result. What about Abkhazia? Since 1994 it’s a de facto separated country and a war zone until 2008. Who controls this place? Russians. Do they care about international protest about it? Never. It’s good to remember another little nation, South Ossetia, who shared a similar history with Abkhazia. Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia were part of Georgia, a state fully backed by the USA and EU.
Now the current theory, backed by superstars like Paul Krugman, is to punish russian oligarchs by economical means. If we freeze their bank accounts, cut out their investment banks and set up a kind of embargo against them then the financial pressure will force them to run to their beloved chief Putin in order to stop the military actions in Ukraine and return to the previous status quo. Well, if you really buy such a theory I have some interesting Ponzi schemes for you to invest in the next few weeks.
Basically nobody cares about Ukraine. Just like nobody cared about Moldova or Georgia. No american soldier will be sent there to show US muscles against the old russian bear. Europeans just want the gas to flow thru the country and to continue their market expansion in Russia. Poland and the Baltic republics, that remember for sure what does it mean to be under russian control, are safely under the EU dome. Is there a way to deal with Putin? Yes, it is. It’s not easy. But it can be done. Because Russia got two weak points.
First, Russia it’s an oil/gas state. If the sales go down for six months in a row you will see a lot of panic spread in Moscow. Who buy their gas? Europe. Who buy their oil? Europe and China.
Second, Russia is not able to set the technologic infrastructures needed to upgrade its extraction and distribution activities. Last year they signed a treaty with China to upgrade their stuff in Siberia, basically an exchange between oil and technology. Who build the gas links between Russia and the western countries? American and european companies. Who can upgrade and/or keep this stuff going? The very same companies.
See the picture? If you want to deal with Putin you have to bargain. All the other stuff on the media is nothing more than noise.