Putin’s Geo-strategic Boots

Today our translator in Germany has provided us with another exclusive English translation of an interesting article from the newspaper Die Welt, which argues that autocrats stick up for other autocrats as a means of survival, among other insights. Over the past year we have had dozens of great translations from the German press, including “Schröder was quite often so embarrassing”, work by Hans-Martin Tillack, and a by-lined article by Robert Amsterdam.


The original link for the following article is here, and the full text can be found on our German blog. Europe’s Relations with Russia Putin’s Geo-strategic Boots By Clemens Wergin Lead article from Die Welt, October 25, 2007 The era of rapprochement is over. At the EU-Russia Summit in Portugal on Friday, a great deal may well be said about the partnership with Russia. And the old issues of contention will again be on the table: Polish meat exports to Russia as well as a binding energy charter, which is to define the rules of the game between Europe and Russia in the strategically important energy sector. But amid all the pragmatic individual efforts, one or the other observer may be overcome by the premonition that these are just incantations. Russia has in fact redefined its relationship with the West in general. Talk of good relations is but only in imitation of the hopeful 1990s. Russia is in the process of re-establishing the old front line vis-à-vis the West. Whether Moscow stand up for Iran in the nuclear issue, destabilizes Georgia, binds the countries along the Caspian Sea states to itself, or blocks Europe’s access to the Central Asian energy reserves – the direction of the thrust is always the same. The new competition with the West is of a issues of strategy and ideals. Moscow is apparently striving to pull back on the geopolitical boots the Soviet Union used to fill out. This is especially clear in the Middle East, where Moscow has been pursuing clientele politics for some time and is binding the disreputable regimes of Syria and Iran to itself by means of valuable weapons exports. Less attention has been given to the fact that Russia has again taken up an anti-Western position in questions of political philosophy. If in the 1990s one had still been able to hope that Russia would be incorporated into the circle of democracies, this must now be considered a failure under Putin’s managed democracy. Instead, a new conflict of systems is in the offing. This conflict does not have the ideological edge of the Cold War. But if Russia stand up for autocratic and dictatorial regimes such as in Burma, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, and elsewhere, then such behaviour is not to be traced back to hard geo-strategic interests alone. Instead, there also lies an interest in the self-preservation of such systems. Autocrats stand up for other autocrats, because only by standing together can they guarantee their survival in a world where democracy has won the struggle for minds even if it has not asserted itself everywhere. At any rate, there is hardly an autocrat left in this world who does not see himself forced to give his regime a democratic touch. Because the pressure on undemocratic rulers to enjoy some kind of legitimacy has grown enormously since the early 1990s, such leaders have developed counter strategies. Thus, there has emerged a camaraderie of autocrats, which stands together and places itself protectively in front of their own kind, just as China and Russia do in the United Nations Security Council. They give one another tips on how one best hems in NGOs or completely forbids them, how one harasses the press, and how one goes on holding elections that allow everything but a choice. Moscow’s new front line vis-à-vis the West is not irreversible, no less so than Russia’s road to autocracy. The antagonistic tendency of Russian policy is obvious, however. So long as he makes problems, Putin believes he can negotiate with the United States on the same level again. A post-imperial syndrome is being expressed here, which, when coupled with a global price for oil of U.S.$80 per barrel, makes for a dangerous mixture of inferiority complex and need for recognition. The West is therefore well advised not to provoke Russia unnecessarily. On the other hand, Europe cannot be so naive as to wait for Russia to grow out of this. Everything suggests that Russian policy is following a Grand Design. A country that wants to be a Great Power again cannot bring to bear only its power to obstruct in global politics. It must also offer practicable solutions, in Kosovo as well as in the “frozen conflicts” in the southern Caucasus and in the handling of the Iranian nuclear programme. Europe should not simply allow Putin to get away with just saying nyet. Russia wants to be taken seriously again – for that, however, it has to contribute something.