Back to the future? It’s no longer politically incorrect to be skeptical about Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In fact, said a leading European expert on Russia, speaking privately in Washington, “Russia is a far different political construct than the one we Europeans thought we were dealing with for the past five years.” The authority’s other conclusions: Parts of Russia are still stuck in mid-19th century while other parts of the economy are already globalized. Nothing indicates Russia’s new nomenklatura wishes to emulate the political democracies of the rest of Europe. After the Cold War, it was a “huge mistake” to assume otherwise. Besides, no democracy is possible without a vibrant middle class, and Russia is yet to develop one, let alone a satisfied strata in the middle between extreme wealth and extreme poverty. … Russia’s new ruling elite does not see the world the way Westerners do. For key leaders, it’s the world of the 1920s — a traditional game of power politics. They don’t share the same fears about looming threats, such as the environment. But they are aghast in saying other major powers threaten the unity of Russia by trying to co-opt former Soviet republics into NATO. What’s happening to the U.S. in Iraq is welcome news in the Kremlin. Russian leaders are not interested in helping to solve or even ease problems that concern the Bush administration. President Bush once gazed into Mr. Putin’s eyes, inspected his soul, and concluded he could trust him. A second, deeper look is now in order. References to the European Union’s relationship with Russia are also misleading because there is no coherent EU Russian policy. Finland during its recent six-month presidency of EU before Germany took over this month tried but failed to get EU in lockstep on Russia. Besides, EU doesn’t have much clout, bogged down as it usually is with yawn-provoking minutiae. For anything to happen in the EU, two of the three big ones (Britain, Germany and France) have to get their act together. And that, too, is mission impossible under current conditions. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is a conservative who lived under the brutal tyranny of East German communism. She worries about Russia a great deal. But she has to share power with Social Democrats in a coalition government. And they advocate a softer policy toward Russia. Besides, Germany is tremendously dependent on Russia’s oil and gas deliveries. In early January, with no prior notice, Moscow suddenly stopped pumping almost 2 million barrels of oil a day to Germany and Poland through Belarus in a price dispute with the former Soviet republic. Mrs. Merkel forcefully condemned Mr. Putin’s decision as “unacceptable,” but she was powerless to retaliate, as was the EU. … So via-a-vis Russia, EU is dead in the water. Meanwhile, Russia’s power is constantly growing via-a-vis EU — and America, too. Less than two years after blocking such a sale, Russia is now ready to approve export of the Iskander-E (SS-26 Stone in NATO nomenclature) medium-range rocket to Syria. It has a range of 280 kilometers and multiple warheads. This is a not-so-friendly warning to both EU and the U.S. that Russia is back in the Middle Eastern game of nations — opposed to Western interests. Thus, Russia is drifting away from Western values, which it never espoused in the first place. There is still a lack of laws to guarantee Western investments. And even if new laws are enacted, they will be unenforceable because of widespread corruption in law enforcement and the judiciary.
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