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Russia's Empire Strikes Back

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  • Russia's Empire Strikes Back


    Sept 19 2013

    Vladimir Putin's empire-building has little to do with Russia's
    interests. It's all about what's good for him and his cronies.

    By Anne Applebaum|Posted Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, at 7:26 PM

    "Right makes might, and not the other way around," President Obama
    said in the Rose Garden a few weeks ago. We all know what he meant:
    In this age of soft power, great countries can win friends not
    through the use of brute force but through their books and movies,
    their sophisticated economies, their technological innovations, and,
    above all, through their attractive and inspiring national ideals.

    Maybe that's true, some of the time. But for those who find soft
    power difficult to wield, hard power is still available. Indeed, in
    the very same week that the American president made his Rose Garden
    speech, events on the other side of the globe were proving that might
    certainly can make right. Even while the world's attention was fixed
    on Russian-American diplomacy in Syria, back home Russian President
    Vladimir Putin was pulling off a much quieter but potentially
    more significant diplomatic coup. After three years of intensive
    negotiations, Armenia, Russia's neighbor, had been on the brink of
    signing an association agreement, including a comprehensive trade
    agreement, with the European Union. But on Sept. 3-right in the middle
    of the Syria crisis-the Armenian government abruptly declared that
    it would drop the whole project. Rather than aligning itself with
    the world's largest free-trade zone and some of the world's most
    sophisticated democracies, Armenia decided to stick with Russia,
    Belarus, and Kazakhstan, and to join the Eurasian Customs Union

    No one pretends that Armenia was attracted by Russia's soft power. By
    way of explanation, President Serzh Sargsyan explained that Armenia
    depends on Russia for it security, and that Armenia has a large
    diaspora living in Russia. This sounds odd: Most security alliances,
    NATO included, don't require their members to join a customs union, and
    the presence of immigrants in one country doesn't usually affect trade
    policy in another. But Armenia has been made anxious in recent weeks by
    Russian diplomatic overtures toward Azerbaijan, Armenia's main rival,
    as well as by anti-immigrant rhetoric from Russian officials. The
    Armenians took the hint: If they signed the trade deal with Europe,
    Russia might sell more arms to their rival and expel the Armenians
    who live in Russia.

    The Armenians were no doubt watching Russian moves elsewhere in their
    immediate neighborhood, where a distinct pattern is emerging. On Sept.

    11, Russia banned the import of Moldovan wine, on the grounds that
    it is a "health hazard." Ukrainian chocolates have suffered the same
    fate. Another old tactic, the use of gas pricing and supply as a tool
    of political influence, is being resurrected in Ukraine as well. In
    essence-and I'm summarizing here-the Russians have let the Ukrainians
    understand that if they drop their own negotiations with Europe and
    join the Eurasian Customs Union, the price of the gas they import
    from Russia could drop by more than half.

    It's an excellent offer, so much so that-examined objectively-it seems
    extraordinary that the Ukrainians have not accepted it already. But
    Ukraine is hesitating, and has been for some time. Even the country's
    most Russo-philic politicians know that the decision represents not a
    short-term financial decision but a long-term civilizational choice,
    between the relatively open markets and open politics of Europe and
    the closed world of the former Soviet Union. One Armenian opposition
    politician explained the consequences of his country's decision
    to choose Russia over Europe like this: "Armenia, by choosing the
    customs union instead of agreements with the EU will remain a country
    of oligarchs and monopolies just like Russia."


    Yet when examined objectively, it seems extraordinary that the Russians
    want their neighbors to make that kind of choice, too. Surely it's in
    Russia's own interests to share borders with countries that have broad
    international contacts, faster economic growth, access to Western
    markets, and therefore wealthier domestic consumers, who could buy
    Russian goods. Surely it's in Russia's own interests, in the long
    term, to have similar access to Western markets itself. If Europe
    did manage to craft association agreements with Armenia, Ukraine,
    and Moldova, there's no reason to think that a similar arrangement
    with Russia would not eventually follow.

    The explanation is as straightforward as it is sad: Russia's ruling
    elite, led by President Putin, does not act in Russia's interests.

    Russian elites act in their own interests. At the moment, they are
    convinced that economic nationalism and the language of neo-imperialism
    will win them popular support, and possibly private profits. I wonder
    how long the rest of the Russians will put up with it. sident_is_expanding_russia.html

    From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress