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Diminished Expectations

oilgas060409.jpgOne of the most subtle forms of discrimination is said to be embodied in the application of diminished expectations – which has certainly been the phenomenon toward Russia in recent years as compared to the high hopes following the collapse of the Soviet Union.  This is a great country of great people with a great history – and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have high expectations for it to develop into a strong and free society.  Yet, as Keith Smith of CSIS notes in this briefing note, at some point the West, especially Europe, abandoned any expectation of a Russian return to normality and legality – a diminished expectation of accountability fueled largely by the corrosive political impact of the energy trade.

The larger or wealthier member states, led by Germany, Austria,France, and Italy are significantly less concerned than the newer EUmembers about the downsides of becoming more dependent on Russianenergy resources. Officials in these countries are often heardrepeating the mantra that Russia is a reliable source of oil and gas -thereby ignoring Moscow’s frequent use of energy disruptions as a toolto punish Central European governments. Being closer to the Atlantic orMediterranean, the larger EU member states have more readily availablealternatives to Russian fuel sources than do the ECE countries. Thewealthier member states also too often put the lure of commercialbusiness profit over regional security interests by partnering with aKremlin determined to play a larger role in Europe’s internaldecision-making. This stems in part from an exaggerated confidence inthe ability of the EU to restrain Russia from using corruption to gainpolitical influence in member countries or within the EU’s owninstitutions.

The collapse of the Soviet Union led to expectations in the Westthat Russia would become a “normal European state,” or at least abenign neighbor that could be counted on to engage in mutuallybeneficial business and cultural relations. And up until the beginningof Putin’s second term as president there were hopeful signs. For thepast five years, however, the ongoing transformation of Putin’s Russiain the direction of an authoritarian Oriental-style “democracy” hasbrought back the old insecurities in the new democracies regardingRussia’s foreign and defense policies. Meanwhile, the anti-Western andparanoid aspects of Russian thinking have been reinforced by thesiloviki’s need for an external enemy. This is promoted, in part, inorder to justify the siloviki’s increasing power at home, and theirpersonal wealth that is accumulated through the non-transparent use ofRussia’s energy resources. Moscow’s aggressive policies may be temperedby the reduction in Russia’s economic influence resulting from theworld financial crises. If it does happen, it may last only as long asoil prices are low. The reintroduction of military parades in RedSquare does not auger well for the idea that we will see a fundamentaltempering of Russian foreign policies.