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Nationalistic Chest Beating

putin020808.jpgAh, the sweet smell of elections season, when Russia’s political environment blossoms into a stridently anti-Western minefield, hubristic enough so as to sufficiently distract the populace from the painful fact that they are deprived of basic electoral rights. Ultra-nationalist Dmitri Rogozin, the “bruiser” elected as Russia’s envoy to NATO, kicked things off this week by outright threatening Poland with the next “world war” if the missile shield sites are situated on its soil. But that’s just a warm-up. President Vladimir Putin, who is even more insulated than usual to make the most provocative statements, is leading the charge this week with renewed calls to develop new, high-tech weapons to confront NATO’s expansion. As if to commemorate the one year anniversary of his blistering Munich Security Conference speech (how quickly some have forgotten about that one – take note, Time Magazine…), Putin laid out his “will” for his successor – and scared the hell out anybody listening.

In speech before the State Council, which Catherine Belton of the FT describes as being “peppered with nationalistic chest-beating,” Putin declared that security discussions with the West were insincere and fruitless, and that Russia’s partners only use these talks as “information and diplomatic cover for realising their own plan.“Some of these quotes simply speak for themselves:

“In effect, we are forced to retaliate…. Russia has, and always will have, responses to these new challenges,” he said to applause. “Over the next several years, Russia should start the production of new types of weapons… which are in no way inferior to what other states have, and in some cases are superior.”“Nato itself is expanding. It’s approaching our borders. We drew down our bases in Cuba and in Vietnam. What did we get? New American bases in Romania, Bulgaria. A new third missile defence region in Poland,” he said. “We are categorically being told these actions aren’t directed at Russia, and therefore our concerns are completely unfounded. That’s not a constructive response.” (…)

Much like Medvedev’s amusing “finger snap” comment yesterday, about Russia’s ability throw billions of dollars around without second thought, we are beginning to see a new line of messaging from the Kremlin to continuously remind the West of its deep pockets:

“Yes, it really is so that God did not offend us in distributing resource wealth. But as a result we increasingly often come across politics of containment. Behind all this is an aim to foist dishonest competition on us and ensure access to our resources.”“We see how under the slogans of freedom and open society the sovereignty of countries and entire regions is being destroyed…. Many conflicts, foreign policy acts and diplomatic demarches smell of oil and gas,” he said. “In this context we understand the growing interest of the outside world toward Russia.”

Putin concluded the speech by declaring all foreign aid for civil society groups in Russia to be not only immoral but illegal.OK, we get it – Russia has some cash today, and has legitimately climbed back to the table as a major global player. There’s nothing wrong with that, and in fact, there remains strong potential for fruitful and constructive relations with the international community to contribute to global stability, security, and economy. But why the bellicose rhetoric? Why the ceaseless international interference, over cases as diverse as Iran, Myanmar, and Chad? Sometimes it seems that in Russia’s endless search for the “respect” it believes it deserves, Moscow’s demands, agenda, and desire are not expressed clearly to anyone, beyond the rigid maintenance of personal power and private fortune. The default gestures of power and influence don’t always have a purpose.How can this government ever be satisfied if it does not know what it wants?