Russia’s lawlessness is evident. It invades sovereign territory, issues passports to citizens of other states and fails to honor agreements to withdraw troops. It ranks in the top 10 percent of the world’s most corrupt states; the only G-20 country with such a distinction. There’s mischief-making in Transdnistria, cyber attack on Estonia, interference in Kyrgyz Republic's internal affairs. Relations with neighbors are consistently confrontational. It even uses orthodoxy to spread 19-century pan-Russianism worldwide.
The state, under President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, controls virtually all aspects of domestic affairs: Political opposition in the Duma; parliament is stifled. Much of the Russian media serve its oligarch -- read government --owners. Insubordinate journalists are murdered; the leading independent paper Novaya Gazeta lost five, including Anna Politkovskaya; three others have been killed in the last few weeks.
Business shenanigans are legion, best exemplified by the lengthy incarceration of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s former energy czar. Most of Russia’s wealth is controlled by oligarchs favoring the state. Those who do not, like Boris Berezovsky, must flee.
And matters are getting worse. Liberties at home are declining and aggression towards neighbours is rising as Russia, once again, pursues its 19th century imperialist doctrine of Czar Nicholas I “autocracy, orthodoxy and nationalism”.
Yet, Russia is accommodated by Western powers.
Following the West’s Cold War victory which liberated some 500 million people and 15 states plus the satellites, from the concentration camp that was the Soviet Union, Russia was in no better position to negotiate terms than post-war Germany. Yet, some--Stalin’s moniker for Western apologists of the USSR had been “useful idiots” -- lobbied hard to stop the “humiliation” of Russia and blessing its unilateral claim to a new “near abroad” empire. To this end, Ukraine and Kazakhstan were threatened with aid withdrawal if exclusive control of the Soviet nuclear arsenal were denied Russia. And when NATO membership support was nearing 70 percent in Ukraine, Western democracies sided with Russia’s nyet rather than admit the largest European country-- a fledgling democracy aiming to embrace the West--into its fold. The pattern persists: there was tepid consternation rather than outrage as Putin threatened Ukraine and Georgia with nuclear annihilation were NATO membership to be granted.
Russia appeasement is alive and well as short-term interests get in the way of principles and strategic goals. This gets France technology transfer contracts for Russia’s naval fleet enlargement. Germany’s Angela Merkel--with roots in East Germany where Mr. Putin served as a KGB operative, speaks Russian at official bilateral meetings and works hard to be on the right side of Russia’s energy policies. The United States may have a new START agreement, open bases in Kyrgystan and cooperation in dealing with Iran’s nuclear threat but at what price?
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