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If You Can’t Join Them, Beat Them

Here’s another piece on Russia’s decision to give up on negotiations to join the World Trade Organization.  The Economist says that not only has Russia ‘removed an easy concession that [Barack Obama] might have offered’ during his visit to Moscow, but that it could end up shooting itself in the foot if it tries to set alternatives to Western alliances instead of finding a way to work with them (an attitude that Foreign Policy magazine calls Russia’s version of Hobbesianism).

From The Economist:

Russia’s aspiration to membership, which in turn opened up the prospect of joining the Paris-based OECD club of rich countries, demonstrated its desire for integration into the global economic system. Now the Kremlin seems to prefer being a distinct regional power that can offer alternative economic and military institutions and alliances to the West’s. Mr Putin has long argued that international organisations such as the WTO and the International Monetary Fund have outlived their day and should be supplemented or even replaced by regional clubs. In the multipolar world that Russia advocates, it sees itself as a centre of regional influence. A military alliance between Russia and Uzbekistan, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, called the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), should be “no worse than NATO”, Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, argued recently.

Russia sees any foreign project that touches the former Soviet Union, including the European Union’s new eastern partnership, as a direct challenge. Yet the bigger threat to its ambitions to reassert regional influence lies in its own attitude towards the neighbours. Even as it was signing a customs union with Belarus, Russia imposed a ban on Belarusian milk products, which it claimed did not meet its new packaging rules (rather as it once argued that Georgian wine, fruit and mineral water were of substandard quality). But Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the autocratic president of Belarus, interpreted this (probably accurately) as a punishment for being rude about Russia and refusing to back its policy of recognising the independence of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.