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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Another Original LR Translation: Nemtsov on Putin via Essel, Part 6

NOTE: This is the sixth part of a serialized translation of Boris Nemtsov's white paper critiquing the Putin years. It includes the ninth chapter of the work. Part 1 (introduction and chapter one) appeared last Monday, then Part 2 (chapter two) on Wednesday, Part 3 (chapters three and four) appeared on Friday, Part 4 (chapters five and six) appeared on Sunday and Part 5 (chapters seven and eight) appeared on Monday. Look for Part 7 (chapters ten and eleven) on Friday with the final installment including the conclusion to follow on Sunday. You can display all the parts in reverse sequence on a single web page by simply clicking the "nemtsov white paper" link at the bottom of this post.

The entire translated white paper document, including the final sections not yet published here as HTML, is now available as PDF (this link is now also permanently in our sidebar).

Putin: the Bottom Line

by Boris Nemtsov

First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, 1997-1998


Vladimir Milov

Deputy Minister of Energy, 2002

Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel

Chapter 9

Surrounded by Enemies (but not China)

Under Putin, Russia has managed to quarrel or get on bad terms for no good reason with most of the countries around it. It has no friends or allies left. We are moving at an ever faster pace towards being one of those countries that is excluded from the taking of international decisions.

Russia’s relations with all the Western countries have deteriorated for no good reason at all. The West is our natural partner and is open to the idea of cooperation with Russia. No matter how hard the opponents of integration with the West try to turn us into an Asian country, Russia remains an organic part of European civilisation. The Western path of open democratic society and market economy is the only good way for us to develop along as it ensures a high standard of living for the people (the oil-rich Arab kingdoms with the tiny populations do not count). The Western democracies are what threaten Russia the least. Those countries have never attacked any other democratic country. The government believes that our main opponent is the USA although that country has never attacked Russia and has been our ally in every one of our wars. The governments of the West are playing the lead part in the establishment of the new world order which has been taking shape since the end of World War II. The Marshall Plan’s restoration of war-ruined Western Europe, which turned it into flourishing example for the rest of the world, was the fruit of the transatlantic alliance between Europe and the USA. Russia’s strategic plan should be to be to join this alliance.

Not everything is as simple in our relations with the West. There is much to complain about in their actions – for example, how in the 1990s they forced a starving Russia to take upon itself the Soviet debt of over $90 billion, and how in recent times we have seen the War in Iraq and the deployment of American anti-missile missiles in Europe.

President Putin, however, has completely forgotten how to use the instruments of civilised dialogue and gone over to pure confrontationism and provocations. For example, the USA announced back in 2001 that it would withdraw from the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty but from that time on no move has been made to enter into negotiations and sign a new one. Ever stubborn old Soviet leaders like Brezhnev and Gromyko would have done that. Putin just allowed things to slide. Now the hands of the USA are untied and it us who have to deal with the consequences of the deployment of American anti-missile missiles in Europe, the opportunity to have reached and agreement with the American in 2002-2005 having been missed.

Putin has tried to cover up his diplomatic failures by making use of provocations: energy blackmail, provocative bomber flights up to NATO’s frontiers (as if it would have been impossible to carry out training flights over international waters), hysterical anti-Western propaganda. Around the world, it is becoming normal to fear Russia, to look for ways to protect against ‘the Russian threat”.

Why do we need this confrontation? No one in the West is looking to go to war with Russia and we cannot afford one anyway. An arms race will ruin Russia, a country accounting for 2% of world GDP, when the USA’s GDP accounts for 27% [1](America’s economy is over 10 times the size of Russia’s). A new state of confrontation can only be maintained at the cost of reduced pensions, smaller salaries for teachers and doctors, and the introduction of ruinous taxes on businesses.

Cooling relations and Russia’s slow slide into isolation reduces opportunities for Russians to travel freely abroad. It is harder for our citizens than those of any other European country to obtain, for example, a Schengen visa. Meanwhile, the citizens of democratic countries travel to and from each others’ countries without any visas at all. Incidentally, our leaders’ anti-Western rhetoric does not stop their families from living and studying in the “enemy” states. For example, the daughter of Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov, who has distinguished himself in the field of aggressive anti-Western declarations and been a major contributor to the worsening of relations with the United Kingdom, does not study in Russia but at the London School of Economics [2].

The current confrontation with the West is the sorry result of non-professionals with Soviet instincts who do not know how to start a reasonable dialogue coming to power in the country, of the degradation of our diplomacy. Putin quite fails to understand the nature of the world’s current feelings about Russia. Official propaganda spreads the idea that Russia is no longer respected these days. That is not so. We have ceased to be respected and are feared instead, as people fear the psychologically unbalanced. We have stopped being considered thoughtful, reasonable and sober partners. Who knows what tricks Putin will get up to next – another energy embargo, more bomber flights? This is not authority, this is just fear. Russia does not need this kind of “popularity”.

Russia has quarreled with all its CIS neighbours. Putin has to all intents and purposes destroyed the Commonwealth. Gross interference in the Ukrainian elections, the embargoes against Georgia and Moldavia, energy blackmail in Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic countries, blocking Central Asian oil and gas from access to international markets. We have been in one conflict or other with all the post-Soviet countries. Russian influence in the post-Soviet sphere has fallen sharply. Given our colonial attitudes, it is not surprising that many of our former socialist-camp neighbours have looked to the West for aid and support.

Putin’s “integration projects” have not been successful: nothing has come of the Single Economic Area or of the Customs’ Union. One after the other, the post-Soviet countries have overtaken us and joined the WTO. Russia’s best friend, Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev travels to Washington, Brussels, Peking, with promises of cooperation. Azerbaidzhan has declined to buy Russian gas and to use our pipelines to transport its oil. It is also preparing to join NATO. Relations have cooled even with Armenia, for whom we raised gas prices and which cannot but suffer too from Putin’s transport blockade of Georgia.

Yet an alternative strategy for Russia exists. We need to become the guarantor of the spread of freedom and democracy in the post-Soviet arena, to be setting the standards for democracy for other post-Soviet countries to follow, to refrain from colonial policies, to build our relationships with our partners principled equality and not by trying to engulf the whole territory of the former USSR in a Gazprom monopoly. Only in this way can Russia become not only the greatest authority in the CIS but an effective defender of the rights of of the Russian-speaking minorities in those countries.

For now, however, our neighbours are busy building barriers against us.

Back in 2000, Russia was on reasonable terms with nearly all the world’s countries. Today we are ringed by enemies. The only exception to this is China.

Putin’s policies towards China should rightly be called “capitulatory”. Under Putin, Russia’s military-industrial complex has mostly worked to arm the Chinese. Russia has become the top supplier to China’s armed forces as they rapidly grow in might. We have sold minesweepers, aircraft, submarines, air-to-air and ground-to-air missiles to China. Putin has even allowed Chinese military units into Russia to carry out military exercises: 1600 Chinese servicemen entered Chelyabinsk district in 2007 for this purpose. With Putin’s connivance, China has hastened to extend its influence in Central Asia, leaving Russia sidelined. The Central Asia countries are building new oil and gas pipelines to China, developing transport links, and getting massive financial assistance from the Chinese government. As for Russia, “higher” geopolitical considerations prompt us to sign loss-leading contracts for the sale of oil and gas to China at prices several times lower than world prices.

Putin has made major territorial concessions to China. Russian territory has been ceded to another country for the first time since Nikita Khrushchev. By a 2004 treaty, China was given two large Russian islands on our borders, Bolshoi Ussuriisky Island and Tarabarova Island. The area ceded is nearly 340 square kilometres. A massive building project for a town of 2½ million inhabitants is today underway on Bolshoi Ussuriisky Island. Khabarovsk can clearly be seen from the island, which is now set to become an outpost of the Chinese economy and cultural expansion in the Far East.

China represents a real threat to our country. Unlike the countries of the West, China does lay open and unconcealed claims to Russian territory. At the very time when former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was being falsely reported as having said that “Russia doe not rightly own Siberia” (a Russian general admitted in an interview with Rossiiskaya Gazeta in 2006 that the quote had been invented), Chinese politicians were openly commenting that Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East had been “unfairly seized” by Tsarist Russia. Chinese history and geography schoolbooks teach children to think in this way. Maps with our Eastern territories coloured in the same colour as China are on free sale in the country.

Putin and other representatives of the pro-Chinese lobby try to sweet-talk us with statements that “China does not present a danger” to Russia. These assertions are without substance. On the contrary, any analysis of the real situation can only conclude that while the Communists remain in power in China, that country will be a direct threat to our security. We have a real armed conflict behind us already – in 1969, one resulted from Chinese claims to the Daman Island. China’s armed forces are already outnumber ours and they out-arm us in all forms of weaponry except strategic. China today has about 700 tactical rockets with a range of 300-600kms which can easily be transported to our border and used to strike Khabarovsk, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Vladivostok, Chita… And we cannot begin to compete with China in numbers of men we can mobilise in the event of a military conflict.

In 2006, the Chinese army carried out large-scale exercises in the Peking and Shenyang military districts to try out a strategic advance operation in which troops were to advance over 1000 kilometres overland in large numbers. Against whom could China be considering such an operation? Clearly not against Taiwan, Japan or the USA: maritime landings would be needed for such operations. Military specialists could only see in such an exercise preparation for a land operation on Russian territory.

Putin has signed an agreement creating a 200-kilometre troop-free zone along the frontier that is only to China’s advantage: in Eastern Siberia and the Far East all our infrastructure and communications are located along the border with China and this leaves them undefended. Our armed forces are not prepared for an armed conflict with China. The Ministry of Defence’s main scenario for the Far East theatre, which our army does train for, is one in which a maritime descent force (from the US or Japan) is repulsed. We are simply not prepared to handle a large-scale land operation by Chinese forces using air and rocket support.

Russia’s armed forces are as unready to repulse possible aggression from the Southeast as it was unready to deal with aggression from the West in 1941.

One would like to hope that there will not be any confrontation between Russia and China at any time in the future. But who knows what the Chinese Communists have in their minds. “Conceal your true intentions”, Deng Xiaoping used to teach. We need to be reliably defended from a potential Chinese threat. Under Putin, however, all we have seen are some very one-sided concessions to China that a very much not to our advantage.

In a recent interview he gave to American journalists, Putin accused the Russian opposition of playing into the hands of foreign powers. However, his own actions and the fact that he has permitted the abandonment of Russian interests unprecedented in the last 50 years or so make him look like he is a Chinese agent of influence in Russia.

We gained nothing from our unilateral concessions to China. Our government’s aggressive and unconstructive behaviour is leading to Russia’s exclusion from the processes whereby vital decisions are reached by a wide circle of countries worldwide. We have quarreled with the West but we are not welcome in the East.

This is the consequence of stupid and unprofessional foreign policies. While defending its interests, Russia should not forget that one still needs to cooperate, to support good-neighbourly relations with other countries, and to work jointly with others to resolve global problems. The confrontation with the West that has been forced upon us, neocolonialism, and capricious foreign policy lines must be abandoned in favour of a wise and balanced approach to foreign affairs, of a sober evaluation of the real threats facing Russia, and a review of the policy of backing down to China. It is only if we act in this way that Russia will truly be respected.

[1] Source: World Bank – Comparison of GDPs by Country, 1 July 2007

[2] Source: The Guardian, 15 January 2008.

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