By Paul Goble
Vladimir Putin’s approach to Georgia as to the other former Soviet republics represents an unsuccessful effort to translate Russia’s enormous advantages into the power to force those countries to respect Russia rather than seek to exploit Russia and then turn to the West instead, Vladimir Pastukhov says.
Many have explained the recent rise of public nastiness about Georgia as reflecting the increasing debility of the Kremlin elite or the desire of that elite to distract the attention of Russians from the problems within the country that the leadership isn’t trying to solve, the London-based Russian analyst says (mbk-news.appspot.com/sences/razmen-sily-na-dengi/).
Both those elements may be present, Pastukhov says; but underlying Moscow’s approach are “completely different factors,” factors that mean what the Kremlin is doing is rational, consistent and even logical as part of the old imperial logic that the Russian leadership has followed for a long time.
“Russia and not it alone has landed in our time in an ambiguous position,” he argues. “Having enormous and varied advantages relative to its neighbors and not only to them, it in fact is practically deprived of the chance to convert these advantages into something useful and practical not so much for the state and for Russia’s ruling clan.”
Relative to its neighbors, Russia has overwhelming military force but it has other cards to play as well: oil and gas, money and investment, tourist flows and “simply its geographic position.” It has all this, but it isn’t happy. “No one loves Russia, and no one wants to play in its ‘political sandbox.’”
Instead, Pastukkhov says, from the Kremlin’s point of view, “the ‘evil’ Georgian, Ukrainian and other ‘children are happy enough to take Russian toys (tourists, oil, gas transit and so on) in order to play with them in another ‘NATO’ sandbox.” What Moscow wants since Putin’s Munich speech in 2008 is to force its neighbors back into its own sandbox.
“Russia’s main problem,” Pastukhov continues, “consists precisely in its inability to convert force into money and other material profits. The new conflict with Georgia is an obvious illustration of this.” One needed dream up additional explanations for what is so clearly the result of one that has been clear for a decade.
According to the London analyst, “the cause of the conflict hasn’t changed in all these years. It remains Russia’s dissatisfaction with the fac that former satellites who remain dependent on its economically and who are not independent militarily are trying to conduct an independent foreign policy rather than following the preferences of the ruling clan in Russia.”
Other leaders are doing much the same, he suggests. US President Donald Trump is trying to impose his will on China. Those who say he hasn’t occupied part of China forget that 80 years ago, the US guaranteed “’the independence’ of Taiwan.” In Trump’s case, this is a major tragedy, but “Putin’s game” is small beer, “a tragicomedy” at best.
Putin in point of fact is part of a trend, Pastukhov says. What is happening in many places is “’the revolt of the strong,’” who think they should be deferred to because of their relative power rather than providing others with good things only to be disliked and ignored. And thus, “Putinism is only a provincial form of post-imperialism.”
For Russia and for others as well, this is “a path to nowhere historically,” but it isn’t going to end soon until “’new thinking’” appears. Indeed, it is possible that there may even appear some “provisional ‘Entente of the 21st Century’ on the basis of this similarity of post-imperial souls.”
The only real alternative for Russia’s obsession with “’converting force’” to influence will require “not simply a change in political regime but a change in civilizational paradigm, the construction of a new model of relations with the surrounding world in which Russia will find other ways to make use of its competitive advantages within the framework of the free markets and international law.
If that shift doesn’t happen, Pastukhov warns, “then whoever is in power in Russia” will continue to repeat “the history of eternal war with Georgia.”