Why Are We Getting Again In The Cold War?

For weeks now all mainstream media are unanimously engaged in denouncing Putin action in Crime first, and Ukraine now. The last cover of the Economist depicts a bear swallowing Ukraine, with the title Insatiable. Unanimity of media is always troubling, because it means that some knee jerk reflex is involved. It may be possible that we are just following the inertia of 40 years of Cold War?

This inertia has not really gone away. Just say or write: the communist President Raul Castro, and nobody will blink. Use the same logic, and call President Obama a capitalist, and see how it is received. Berlusconi in Italy has been able, for 20 years, to rally his electors against the threat of communism, as he called the left wing party, now in power with a devout catholic, Renzi.

There are at least four point of analysis that are conspicuously missing in the chorus.

The first, is that there is never any allusion to the West responsibilities in this affair. Let us recall that Gorbachev did agree with Reagan, Thatcher, Kohl and Mitterand, that he would let the reunification of Germany go, but the West should not try to invade Russia zone of influence. On this, there are ample documents. Of course, once Gorbachev was eliminated, the game did open again. The total docility of Yeltsin to the USA is well known. What is much less known is that the International Monetary Fund made a $3.5 billion loan to support the ruble. The loan went to the Bank of America, who distributed the money to various Russian accounts, and no money ever reached Russian Central Bank. The money went to the oligarch, so they could buy all Russian public companies. On this, the author Giulietto Chiesa, in his book” Farewell Russia”, has given a detailed account. And the IMF never made even a sound of protest…. And the unknown Putin was put in power by the departing Yeltsin, with the agreement he would cover all Yeltsin cronyism…

After Yeltsin, Putin did support Washington imminent invasion of Afghanistan in a way that would have been unthinkable during the cold war. He agreed that US planes could fly through Russian air space, that US could use military bases in former Soviet republics in Central Asia, and he ordered his military to share their experience in Afghanistan. Then in November 2001, Putin did visit Bush at his Texas ranch, among positive declarations (Putin is a new leader that is helping world peace….by working closely with the United States ). A few weeks later, Bush did announce that US was withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, so he could build a system in Eastern Europe to protect Nato from Iran. A move that was seen as directed in reality against Russia, to Putin’s dismay…

This was followed by Bush inviting in 2002 seven nations from the extinct URSS, including Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, to join NATO, which they did in 2004. Then, in 2003, the invasion of Iraq, without UN consent, and over the objections of France, Germany and Russia, made Putin openly critical of United States claim of promoting democracy and upholding international law. In the same year, in Georgia the Rose revolution brought Saakashvili, a pro western President in power. Four months later street protests in Ukraine, the Orange revolution, brought another pro western President, Yuschenko, in power. In 2006 the White house asked permission to stop the Bush plane in Moscow to refuel, but made clear that Bush did not have time to greet Putin. And in 2008 come the Kosovo unilateral declaration of independence ok Kosovo from Serbia, with the support of United States, much against Russian statements. Then Bush asked Nato to give membership to Ukraine and Georgia — a slap in the face to Moscow. So it should have been no surprise when in 2008 Putin did intervene militarily when Georgia tried to regain control of the breakaway from Russia of South Ossieta, taking it under Russian control, with another breakaway area, Abkazia. Yet, we all t, recall how the media spoke of an unreasonable action…

Obama tried to repair the damages done to the international relations from Bush. He asked for a “reset” in the relations with Russia, and at the beginning everything went well. Russia did accept the use of his space to get military supplies to Afghanistan. In April 2010, Russia and United States did sign a new START treaty, reducing their nuclear arsenal. And Russia did support string UN sanctions against Iran, and withdraw the sale of its S/300 antiaircraft missile to Teheran.

But then, in 2011, it was clear that the US was having its views about Russian parliamentary elections. All western media were against Putin, who accused US of injecting hundreds of millions of dollars in opposition groups. The American ambassador, McFaul, called this a great exaggeration. He said that only tens of millions of dollars have been provided to civil society groups. Putin was elected again in 2012, already obsessed with the western threat to his power, and in 2013 gave asylum to the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Obama did cancel a planned summit meeting, the first time a US summit with the Kremlin has been cancelled in 50 years. In all this, there was the Arab Spring. Russia did authorize military action in Libya, but only to provide humanitarian aid. In fact, this was used for a regime change, and Russia felt it was duped, and protested at no avail. Then Syria came, and the west tried to get Russia supporting again a regime change, and getting upset at Putin refusal. And finally, now, there was the well-known intervention in Ukraine to get the country into European Union and away from an economic bloc that Russia was trying to create with also Belarus.

The second point is that no political action, short of a war, can really reduce Russia to a local power. It is the largest mass land of any country, it is at the border of European Union, and going to the Far East. It is both Europe and Asia. It is in rivalry with China in Asia, has territorial conflicts with Japan, and faces US through the Straits of Bering. It is a prominent producer of oil, permanent member of the Security Council and has a nuclear arsenal. Any effort to encircle or weaken it, now that ideological confrontations are gone, can be seen only as part of the old imperial policy. Russia is not a threat, as URSS was. The GNP of Russia is 15% of the European Union, who has close to 500 million people, and 16% of the world exports. China has 1.300 millions of people, and 9% of the world trade. Russia has 145 million people (its population shrinks of close to a million per year), and a 2,5% of the world exports. It has few industries, also because Putin is not interested in the modernization of the country, which would inevitably bring to an increase of the educated professional class, who is already against him.

The third point, therefore, is that we should take the Ukraine affair with a pinch of salt. It is a very fragile state, where corruption controls politics, and it is in structural economic problems. Its west is more rural, the East more industrialized. The workers there know that entering Europe, many factories would be phased And many in the West of Ukraine, during the Second World War did side with the Nazi forces, and there is a strong nationalist movement, close to fascism…Ukraine is a very messy and costly affair….

It is clear that to intervene just to challenge Putin, and offer money (which is basically what the European Union did), seems like very shallow thinking. Are we really ready to change the criteria of the EU, to accept a country totally out of the EU criteria, and take an enormous burden, to appear winning against a strongman?

Which brings us the fourth and final point. Putin is an ex KGB officer, who feels that Russia has been unfairly treated at the end of the URSS. All efforts for reaching an entente with the west have been continuously betrayed, with successive enlargement of NATO, a net of military basis surrounding Russia, a clear western support to all his oppositions, and a mediocre trade treatment. He knows that his feelings about Russian decline are shared by a large majority of his citizens. But he is also an arrogant autocrat, to say the least, who is doing nothing to foster economic modernization, because by keeping trade and production in its hands, can keep control. Ukraine for him was politically unacceptable. Another autocrat Yanukovich, very much in his style, was deposed by massive street protest, sponsored and supported by the west. Any possible contagion should have been stopped in its track. So he is playing the savior of Russian citizens, which allows him to play wherever there are Russian minorities. The question is: if Putin goes away, will we have a democratic, participatory, clean, uncorrupted Russia? Those who know Russia well, do not think so. We have ample examples that to remove autocrats does not bring, by itself, democracy. So the policy is to continue to surround Putin in the name of democracy? But are we sure that this does not help his game, by becoming the defender of the Russian people? They also have the inertia of the cold war, and look to the West not exactly as an ally…and Putin now is the only binding force in Russia. If he goes, most probably there would be a long period of chaos. This clearly is not in the interest of Russians citizens…and it is always dangerous to play a game of power without looking to the stability of Europe as such….Of course, this is not the thinking of the west strategists who would love to eliminate any other power…

As Naomi Klein writes, the only winner in this affair are the energy companies. They are making a campaign for the world to become independent from Russia oil. So, let us speed up production of oil in US, regardless of the environment. And let Europe stop using Russian gas, we will export to them. In fact, there are no structures to do that, and it will take several years to build them…. But just when everybody was debating how to bring climate change under control, and reduce the use of fossils energy, an overall important strategy is putting this issue in a second plan…Tarzi Vittachi, an author from Sri Lanka said: everything is always about something else….There are not many examples of oil and democracy going hand by hand….

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