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Aslund: Putin the Problem, Not Russia

In the Daily Star, Anders Aslund argues that Russia deserves a fresh start and a new set of offers from the West to join NATO, the EU, and other institutions, but only after Putin has left office:

In his speech on May 9, 2007, commemorating Russia’s victory in World War II, Putin compared the United States with Nazi Germany: “We have a duty to remember that the causes of any war lie above all in the mistakes and miscalculations of peacetime, and that these causes have their roots in an ideology of confrontation and extremism. It is all the more important that we remember this today, because these threats are not becoming fewer, but are only transforming and changing their appearance. These new threats, just as under the Third Reich, show the same contempt for human life and the same aspiration to establish an exclusive dictate over the world.” Serious politicians do not speak like that.

These are the rants of Putin’s few remaining friends – Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko. At home, awareness is rising that Putin is damaging Russia’s interests by insulting and intimidating everybody. He is isolating his country among the world’s pariahs. Worse yet, he has achieved little.When Putin became president in 2000, he named accession to the World Trade Organization as his foreign policy priority. He failed, because he gave in to petty protectionist interests, imposing a timber embargo against Finland and Sweden, a fish embargo against Norway, and various agricultural embargos against Lithuania, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and others.Russia’s foreign policy is focused on the interests of its state-dominated corporations, notably Gazprom, which has concluded agreements with many foreign countries and companies for monopolistic deliveries. But a Gazprom pipeline typically costs three times as much per kilometer as a similar Western pipeline, because of “leakage” (kickbacks and waste). The primary purpose of Russia’s foreign policy seems to be to tap Russia’s state companies for the benefit of Kremlin officials.But customers do not trust suppliers who cut deliveries, raise prices unpredictably, expropriate competitors, and allow production to decrease in the way Gazprom and Russia’s other state companies have done. As a result, Russia’s gas exports to Europe have started declining.Putin’s foreign policy is also evidently intended to whip up populist chauvinism. Beating up on foreigners may boost his authoritarian rule, but this, too, has a price. Not only the US and Europe, but all former Soviet republics as well, feel alienated by Putin’s aggressive tactics. Many are seeking to shield themselves from Russia’s capricious embargos – for example, by seeking alternative energy supplies.