Wednesday, November 20, 2013

EDITORIAL - NYT: Vladimir Putin Clings to the Past


Vladimir Putin Clings to the Past

The former republics of the Soviet Union have been sovereign, independent countries for almost 22 years, free to develop economic and political relations with any foreign nation or trading bloc they choose. That point appears to have eluded President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who is doing everything he can to prevent these countries from developing closer ties with Europe — even threatening to cut off the gas that one country needs to get through the winter.


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“The Cold War should be over for everyone,” Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said this week. Not, it appears, for Mr. Putin.
Next week, six former republics — Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine — are scheduled to meet with leaders of the European Union in Vilnius, Lithuania, to discuss enhanced economic, political and diplomatic ties with the union. In 2004, Lithuania, along with Estonia and Latvia, became the first former Soviet republics to join the union.
To qualify for stronger ties, the six nations will have to demonstrate progress on democratic and judicial reforms required by the European Union. That may prove difficult for some, like Ukraine, which has, so far, refused to allow its imprisoned former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, to travel to Germany for medical treatment.
Europe’s use of trade leverage to encourage democracy is constructive and reasonable. Russia’s attempts to bludgeon former vassals into continued economic dependence are not. The European Union offers something real and attractive. Russia, which wants them to join the customs union it has formed with Belarus and Kazakhstan, offers threats.
In September, a Russian deputy prime minister warned Moldova that it might lose access to gas this winter should it strengthen links with Europe. Then it banned imports of Moldovan wine. Next came threats to expel tens of thousands of Moldovans working in Russia. Yet, far from backing down, Moldovan leaders have continued negotiations with Europe and are now working to reduce the country’s economic dependence on Russia.
Moscow’s bullying has had more success in Armenia, which counts on Russian support in its territorial dispute with Azerbaijan, and has agreed to join the customs union. Even Lithuania, already a member of the union, has been subjected to trade harassment, presumably in retaliation for hosting next week’s Vilnius meeting.
Similarly, Russia has threatened to slow Ukrainian imports with exacting customs inspections, although the main obstacles to stronger Ukrainian ties with the union involve domestic politics. In any case, Ukraine, which is economically robust, is perfectly entitled to choose its own course, as are the other former Soviet republics.
In the waning years of the Soviet Union, its last president, Mikhail Gorbachev, talked optimistically about a post-Cold War Europe stretching undivided from the Atlantic to the Urals. Mr. Putin, however, seems to long for a return to the days when an iron curtain divided the Continent, darkening the horizons of the satellites and Soviet republics to the east — nations that now seek the enjoy more fully the fruits of independence.

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    • Kurt
    • NY
    • Verified
    Mr Putin has called the breakup of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical disaster of its century. He does not see the former Soviet republics as independent states, he sees them as component parts of his homeland wrested away from Russia by hostile outside powers and their seeking closer ties to the West as further isolating and weakening Russia. To present it as simply a continuation of the Cold War is not accurate, as he sees Ukraine or Georgia, etc in the same way we would view it were California, Texas, or Florida to be independent and seeking closer ties to nations we viewed as our enemies.

    And at some point we must ask whether our extending NATO eastward and seeking to bind former Soviet components separately to the West enhances our security and prosperity or theirs, or if it only further antagonizes and pushes Russia away. Shouldn't the ultimate goal of our policy be to bring Russia fully into the West? And are we likely to be able to do so if we keep making moves that, were the equivalent done to us, would be seen as hostile actions? Do we really wish to push Russia even closer to China? Shouldn't our main geopolitical goal be to detach Russia from China? So why should we take actions that make that impossible?
      • theodora30
      • Charlotte NC
      Let's just hope the EU doesn't also pressure these countries to adopt its failed econic policy of austerity.
        • Small Paul
        • New Orleans
        Vlad Puti,
        Do your duty!
        Let these countries make their ties
        And don't you go intrudi!
          • Uziel
          • Florianopolis
          NYT Pick
          President Vladimir Putin is doing exactly what the Russian people expect him to do. That is, re-positioning Russia for a new era of waning US power. The Syrian peace initiative, for example, demonstrates a keen sense of opportunity by Putin. Like or not, Russia -- member of BRIC countries -- is back in business. No doubt, Russians again will be a tough bunch to be dealt with.
            • hamid
            • riga latvia
            NYT Pick
            russian interest to wield power in its neighborhood can take different forms: through diplomacy, incentivization such as trade, investment and commerce, or bullying. the same goes for all countries. to say that bullying worked for many centuries is to ignore a rapidly changing world with different dynamics, values and vastly interconnected. to say because one or several countries do act as bullies so it is ok for others is shortsighted, poor logic and not in step with a global community that is expanding its interdependence. one wrong does not make another wrong right. hopefully we are all learning that.
            today we face common humanitarian survival issues that transcend historical insecurity issues that are less relevant today.
            russia's greatest security will come from developing the potential of its impoverished people who have great potential with the aid of its vast resources; it will not come by bullying its neighbors. this is true for all countries.
              • Mr Magoo 5
              • NC

              Russia is not clinging to the past. Today, most every country does what it does for energy resources, which is trying to be globally controlled through carbon credits, and if not, countries take on more drastic measures.

              Russia uses State controlled oil and gas instead of other countries leveraging Russia’s resources. There is little difference externally between what Russia does and what the American government does. Both Russia and the US uses threats, sanctions, and wars, however while Russia is doing it for their State owned enterprises of oil and gas. America is doing it for corporate greed and power, which economically is destroying the country from within.

              An example of this clash is in Syria. Saudi Arabia is backing the rebels in Syria, with covert plans to install their own puppet government in Syria, which will allow the Saudis to control the flow of energy (a gas pipeline) through the region. Saudi Arabia, is putting pressure on the US to support the rebels through threats of cutting off their friendship and oil. Turkey, wants to pipe it from Syria on to Europe. Qatar, the largest source of natural gas in the world wants to pipe the gas from the Persian Gulf to Europe. France, who wants to pay less for gas, is also putting pressure on the US to support the rebels, while Russia wants the Assad regime to block the flow of natural gas out of the Persian Gulf into Europe, thus protecting its own national profits from Gazprom.
                • Norman Pollack
                • East Lansing, Michigan
                • Verified
                I agree in principle with the call for universal self-determination, and The Times is right in its criticisms--up to a point. One must also recognize that the European Union, to which the former Soviet republics wish to align, is conterminous with NATO, a military organization, itself a relic of the Cold War, at Russia's doorstep, AND that Russia remains targeted by missiles surrounding it.

                Thus, #1, if one wants freedom of choice, then first disband NATO and the missiles pointed Eastward.

                The Times must put the issue into global historical context. Has the US allowed Latin America for decades to exercise the same freedom it calls for with respect to former Soviet republics? Just now, new of Princeton meningitis omits the fact that Cuba has vaccines for this specific Type B, which are not allowed here because of the trade embargo.

                Thus, #2, if we want diplomatic openness, start at home, US policy, rather than be hypocritical and pretend selflessness.

                Finally, Putin in fact is enlarging Russia's diplomatic role, as in his move to bloc US bombing of Syria. I applaud that act. Russia, along with China, Japan, Brazil, and emerging Third World industrializing nations, are defining a NEW multipolar global context, so that the US cannot act unilaterally in its hegemonic posture and aims.

                Thus, #3, if the US seeks global comity, let it renounce and desist from intervention and targeted assassination. Then perhaps world opinion, including Putin, will listen.
                  • Ross Dunn
                  • Wellington, New Zealand
                  Putin is a dictator - have been saying it for years - he is a from the same camp as NSA - men are easy to read - your article is redundant - just scream dictator and you've pretty much hit the nail on the head.
                    • tito perdue
                    • 'Bama
                    If Putin's new iron curtain can protect easternmost Europe from the incursions of political correctness, he will deserve our cheers.
                      • john thade
                      • Switzerland
                      Living in Europe makes it clear that all European counries will join in economic cooperation - EU or otherwise including Russia, some day.
                      The same is already forming with India, China and other asian nations and, The U.S., Canada and South America are looking for the same cooperation.

                      Any EU person may work in any other EU country without extra permits albeit, America does not have that agreement with the EU and it's ridiculous.

                      Paving the way for economic cooperation should be our goal.
                      Apparently that was on the agenda already until this phone stuff got in the way.
                        • l
                        • chicago
                        Russia considers the former republics to be indebted to them for Soviet era debts that Russia 'paid off', ignoring the treatment and extraction of resources from those lands during Soviet times. Beneficial trade agreements and cheap gas ensure compliance for now, but these countries are eager to free themselves from the Russian yoke--to say nothing of the treatment their people receive from Russians. Read about race relations in Russia, there is a larger cultural tension that underscores these 'political' relationships.
                          • kll
                          • Connecticut and Estonia
                          At least in Estonia,Russia has not "paid off" (though I do not understand what the quotation marks indicate) any debts, and certainly has done nothing to help alleviate the physical and environmental devastation it left after the military finally withdrew.
                        • frozenchosen
                        • Alaska
                        Interesting historical review. But what does any of that have to do with the strengthened "economic, political and diplomatic ties" sought by some of the former republics and the EU? Do you consider those ties to be "pushing into the space next to Russia"? That is nonsense. There is no reason why countries shouldn't be able to have productive relationships with neighbors both to the east and the west. Moldova, Ukraine, et al. are seeking positive ties in both the EU and Russian directions. Russia's bullying will be counterproductive.

                        National behaviors consistent since the 1500s should be viewed with some skepticism, I would suggest. Russia ought to be able to let go of fears based on horsemen riding across the steppe.
                          • Jack Nargundkar
                          • Germantown, MD
                          Mr. Putin seems to forget the lessons of history, especially one that is so recent. Don’t you understand, Mr. Putin, these nations prefer the power of European Union values to the value of Russian customs union power. In the long run, choosing the EU is a mutually beneficial decision for these six nations, whereas choosing the Russian customs union largely benefits you, Vladimir. Capiche?
                            • gene c
                            • Beverly Hills, CA
                            Putin's dilemma is that he cannot shut off the internet. Stalin didn't have to contend with a massive, free flow of information which allows today's Russians to measure themselves up to the rest of the world. this is central. Putin is more like the dutch kid trying to plug the dike; he controls the state media but he has a 34% approval rating with the electorate, despite the rigged elections. Putin's fortunes will turn, radically, when the one-tier economy he manages, with utter dependency on its natural resources, hits a severe downturn. The enormous kleptocracy and continuous deprivation of individual rights will cause this country to implode. And Putin's regime will implode with it.
                              • craig geary
                              • redlands fl
                              Poor Vladimir Putin.

                              Born too late. After the Soviet Union was recognised as a vast Potemkin village with a huge nuclear arsenal and lines for everything including bread.
                                • Ladislav Nemec
                                • Big Bear, CA
                                There is no secret that Putin is the man of the past. Long time ago he expressed his unhappiness with the disintegration of Soviet Union. He, for instance, does not consider Ukrainians and Russian two separate nationals. Ukrainian language – just a dialect of Russian to him.

                                One of his major goals is to restore as much of the Soviet Union as possible, so far without using the formidable Russian military might.

                                Let’s hope it will remain this way.
                                  • Matthew
                                  • Tewksbury, MA
                                  If people wonder why the former Eastern Bloc states were eager to join NATO after the fall of Communism, here is your answer.
                                    • Prof.Jai Prakash Sharma,
                                    • Jaipur, India
                                    • Verified
                                    When Russia could do business with Europe and find the latter lucrative market for its natural gas supply, why does it want the former Soviet Republics not do trade or develop political ties with Europe, forgetting the fact that neither the Soviet Union does exist any more, nor these Republics are any more the vassal states. Why Putin forgets that much water has flown down the Volga ever since the Soviet empire collapsed under its own crushing weight? Also, if Putin really wants to win over the Republics to his side, it could be by winning their trust, and not through coercion and bullying. To achieve that, he may have to shed his KGB tactics, and learn a lesson or two in the art of diplomacy, similar to what he did on the Syrian chemical weapon stand off with the US.
                                      • tom mcmahon
                                      • millis ma
                                      • Verified
                                      Putin is a man of the present, past and in no way is he in any way a leader of people who can inspire them to rise above what they are.
                                      Putin is an ex KGB former communist party leader, who seeks the former greatness of the era or the 1950's, 60's & 70's which proved to be the ultimate failure. It was not Marxism is was a perverted Communism , it was not socialism, it was a military industrial state, without consumer goods, unlike the U.S.
                                      Putin is asking for help in the Olympic security issue regarding terror, It is in all our interests to keep the Olympics safe, but not to prop up Putin, just make that perfectly clear.
                                      Putin will be long gone when the gas runs out, and it will, Russia will one more time will have been left out in the cold, by selfish leaders of little vision, cold, drunk and hungry.
                                        • mancuroc
                                        • Rochester, NY
                                        • Verified
                                        Russia's ambition to wield power in its own backyard preceded the Soviet era and apparently survives it. And it's not unique among big powers, as Chile, Colombia Cuba,Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela et al have learned over the years.
                                          • Mark Thomason
                                          • Clawson, MI
                                          • Verified
                                          Yes, they are free. Still, they are not free to do things that threaten their neighbor.

                                          The Editorial Board is quite willing to impose extreme limits on any future Palestinian State, and to an large extent on anybody in reach of Israel, all for the security of Israel despite its power. Well, the Russians feel the same way, for similar reasons.

                                          The Russians live in an open steppe, and have been invaded and slaughtered across it repeatedly for longer than recorded history, including Hitler's atrocities. From that experience, they have some very specific demands on neighbors in order to feel safe, maintained since their wars with neighbors in the 1500's. They have not changed, and they will not change.

                                          If you admit those same type of demands for Israel, if you admit the Monroe Doctrine which kept European powers away from the US for the same reasons, if you admit Britain's concern for the Low Countries across from it from Louis XIV through the world wars, then you must admit the same for Russia.

                                          That is as much freedom as they will ever give their neighbors. There are no other choices on offer, and no other nation with the power to protect itself does any less according to its own circumstances.

                                          Any other nation which aspires to push into that space next to Russia will meet the same things as would any nation that pushed into Gaza or the West Bank, or which pushed into the Western Hemisphere (Cuban Missile Crisis) or which rolled over Belgium (WW1 with Britain).
                                            • Dave B
                                            • Chisinau, Moldova
                                            NYT Pick
                                            The notion that these countries through seeking closer European integration are threatening Russia is absurd. Not only do these former Soviet Republics pose no significant security threat to Russia's security (which is actually much more vulnerable to internal challenges, including its restive North Caucasus region), but neither will closer ties to the EU, which is an economic and political alliance, not a military bloc. Russia itself seems to accept this through its arguments and threats to date, which have mostly addressed its neighbors' economic interests.

                                            What is actually under threat is Russia's own sense of regional superiority. Its leaders and many of its citizens are upset by their loss of international prestige and a lack of gratitude by their neighbors for what many Russians consider as economic and military support, but many in the neighboring countries now see as a history of domination.

                                            Without a doubt all major powers are eager to maintain influence in what they see as their spheres of influence. But just because history is full of instances of bullying masquerading as ensuring security and defending one's own legitimate interests does not justify Russia threatening its neighbors for its political and economic choices.
                                            • Richard
                                            • Stateline, NV

                                            Russia has an equally long and bad history with their neighbors, ask any Ukrainian, Pole, Finn, Armenian or well you get the idea. They had an empire in the past and want another today. The Russians were only invaded a few times from the west before they built the Brest Fortress system. They have been invaded many times from the east, there is nothing like the Brest Fortress on the Eastern side of Russia. Putin would be Tzar by rebuilding the old Russian Empire as did Lenin after the revolution.
                                            • Citixen
                                            • NYC
                                            A compelling argument, Mark, just one small problem: all those pre-1914 examples you give, whether the Monroe Doctrine or Britain's concern for the Low Countries, etc, just about always included stationing what we would today call 'security assets' in the host countries, regiments that could quickly go from observer-status to spearheading a political coup. That was a real concern borne of a tradition of annexation into the then-imperial power expressing such 'concerns'. But c'mon, even with a cantankerous US stomping around the globe today, those days are over. While Russia may choose to continue thinking in those terms, the object of the desires of some of the Eastern bloc of nations--the EU--can hardly compare with past imperialist powers and their overt designs.

                                            The issues between Russia and its 'Near-abroad' nations, in the 21st century, are really about a clash of national ambitions. One side seems to seek imperial advantages (for domestic consumption?) over its neighbors more suited to the 19th century, while the other side (the Near-abroad states) seek no further advantage than increasing economic opportunities for their people.

                                            PS: oh, and "not free to...threaten their neighbor"...Really? Are any of the Near-abroad, or even the EU itself, 'threatening' Russia? Perhaps only in the sense that Russia cannot simply do as it pleases to those nations without comment or even consequences from other nations. It is, after all, no longer the 19th century.

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