Russia’s Imperial Blowback

Yesterday on Foreign Policy Christian Caryl published one of those “Russia-more-isolated-now-than-ever-thanks-to-their-own-policies-of-confrontation” type of articles.  We are beginning to see this topic come around and around ever since the Ukraine smackdown, but the trend has been building over the past number of years – I would say well before the war with Georgia.  What I like about Caryl’s piece is that he points out that it certainly doesn’t have to be this way, and that Russia’s missteps with its neighbors could be easily corrected should the leadership ever get it right.

Russia’s ability to get in its own way remains a cause for much head-scratching in the region. “When they tried to stop NATO enlargement, whom did they discuss it with? The United States and Germany,” notes Kadri Liik, Director of the International Center for Defense Studies in Tallinn, Estonia. “But in fact the biggest driving force of NATO enlargement [was] the countries themselves. Russia tried to discuss these countries over their heads, and it backfired.”

Something comparable is now happening again with energy.Moscow’s apparent willingness to use energy supplies in its political disputeswith some of its neighbors is now drivingthe European Union to seek greater diversification of supply and alternatepipeline routes. “Russia uses coercion more than attraction,” says Moshes, the Helsinki-based analyst.

So is this just a symptom of poor policymaking — or anexpression of a deeper problem? Some worry that this tendency is deeply rootedin the present authoritarian government in Moscow — one whose intensenationalism demands the constant search for enemies, external and internal, tolegitimize its own actions. “That kind of regime cannot by definition enjoy ‘normal’relations with its neighbors,” notes Motyl, the Rutgers professor. Whatever thereason, one can only hope that Russia is able to finda way back to healthy relations with its former satellites — for its ownsake, one might add, as much as theirs.