Thursday, July 29, 2010

Russian Federation has made big deals with Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus & Kazakhstan

Moscow and Kyiv have put together a plan to incorporate the Transdnistrian region of Moldova into Ukraine, according to U.S. analyst Paul Goble. The move, which would offer a solution to one of the more protracted issues in Europe, needs more verification, but it would be in keeping with Russia's current tendency to engage in great-power politics.

Russia has become an activist player on the European stage. A foreign policy statement, issued on the Internet before President Dmitry Medvedev took office in 2008, indicates Russia's desire to reverse some of the setbacks of the past two decades and reassert its influence in its "neighbourhood."

An opportunity has been provided by several unrelated factors. Most notable has been the change of presidency in the United States. George W. Bush's program of enforcing democracy by threats or military action was perceived widely as a failure. It alienated former allies and caused acute anxiety in Russia.

Yet Barack Obama has neglected to offer any firm initiatives in foreign affairs, which is tantamount to a policy of isolationism. Obama is surely justified in rejecting his predecessor's branding of regimes according to an "axis of evil," but his lack of policy has created a vacuum. In Europe it is one that Russia intends to fill.

Linked to the inertia of the United States in Europe has been the preoccupation of western powers with the struggle against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Russian authorities are well aware of the problems of warfare in that country and the likelihood that western occupation will end in failure. It is in Russia's interests that NATO forces remain there as long as possible.

A second factor has been this year's change of presidency in Ukraine. Practically from the moment Viktor Yanukovych took office, he has been under pressure from Moscow to take on the role of junior partner, and Russia has exploited Ukraine's economic predicament to acquire some key concessions.

In addition to the extension on the lease of the Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol until 2042, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has suggested a merger of Gazprom and Ukraine's main energy company, Naftohaz. Ukraine is still mulling the proposal, which would have the effect of allowing Gazprom to control Ukraine's energy supplies, as well as transit of gas to Central Europe.

Russia has also acquired permission to re-establish the presence of its security forces -- the FSB -- in Crimea. Last week, the Crimean parliament resolved to elevate Russian to the status of an official language, to be used alongside Ukrainian in business and education. The peninsula is a potential tinderbox, though its residents firmly backed Yanukovych in the presidential election.

Earlier this year, Russia formed a customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus, two states that have been ruled by authoritarian leaders since the early 1990s: Nursultan Nazarbayev and Alyaksandr Lukashenka, respectively. Neither, currently, is an acolyte of Moscow and their strategies can be described as "evasive action" to avoid being dragged into the Russian sphere.

Belarus, however, as a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, is taking part in prolonged military exercises with Russia. Last year, Operation Zapad (West) simulated a response to a NATO attack on Kaliningrad by the supposed advancement of forces into Latvia before repelling the aggressor. The Latvian government, unsurprisingly, was less than amused by the exercise.

Currently, the oddest setback for Russia's strategy has been the fate of deposed Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who lost his presidency after an uprising in Bishkek in early April. Moscow has been manoeuvring for some time for a friendly government in Kyrgyzstan. Bakiyev came to office in 2005 after the "Tulip Revolution" had removed his predecessor Askar Askayev, who fled to Kazakhstan but has resided of late in Moscow.

Bakiyev, however, found his way to Minsk where he and his family have been recipients of Lukashenka's hospitality. Moreover, the Belarusian president has ignored requests for his extradition and incensed Moscow by declaring that Bakiyev should return and take part in a referendum on his presidency. Lukashenka appears to be genuinely afraid that a dictator could be removed by a popular revolution. But in protecting Bakiyev he has, temporarily at least, upset the plans of the Russian leaders.

The Eurasian map is thus a virtual chessboard of moves and countermoves with the involvement of Russia as the constant factor. What it cannot gain through threats or force it can perhaps acquire by economic pressure through the giant, state-owned company Gazprom, of which President Medvedev is former chair of the board of directors.

However, Russia is punching above its weight. Though a major power in the region, it is overstretched militarily. Its armed forces could pacify the Georgians in 2008, but are in no position to assert themselves in larger countries. Moreover, the machinations of the Russian leadership are so blatantly transparent that all Russia's neighbours -- even Yanukovych's Ukraine -- cannot help but be wary.

Two other factors also have an impact on Russia's foreign policy goals. First, although the economy has recovered well from the recession, it remains focused on oil and gas and is helplessly subject to price fluctuations.

Second, the population of Russia has declined at an alarming rate since 1991, with low life expectancy, poor health care and a weak social infrastructure. In 2009, a small population increase was recorded, but Russia has fallen well behind countries such as China and India in human growth.

Russia's deep fixing on its economy has returned it to superpower status but it remains deeply enbedded improving its country with the status quo.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Russia stays clear to reform its democracy its way

A superpower in the past and a superpower of the present, Russia is undergoing a transition towards democracy but not American style democracy but a Russian style democracy as Russia wants to be its own government to the world and remain a global superpower.

This was the general understanding about Russia at a seminar titled ‘Russia’s Transition towards Democracy and Market Economy: The EU’s Responses’, organised by Area Study Centre for Europe (ASCE), University of Karachi (KU), in collaboration with the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF), Islamabad, at the LEJ Digital Library of KU on Wednesday.

Director Dr Axmann compared Russia with a casino where people with money and power could come and play games to their hearts content. “Corruption and mismanagement is on the rise and it seems that Putin’s Russia is unknown to me. Over 22 government security agencies are controlling the country and all of the officials are, in one way or other, connected to Putin. Cronyism is rife there. The biggest country in the world that occupies nine per cent of the earth surface, Russia is super and mega. It will come to the fold of real democracy in the course of time,” he added.

Associate Professor and Head of Department Strategic & Nuclear Studies department of the National Defence University, Islamabad, Dr Noman Omar Sattar spoke on ‘Russia’s transition from a reluctant power in 1990s to an aspiring world power of the new millennium: with focus on its foreign policy”. He pointed out that Russia had many hurdles in achieving this objective, stating: “The identity crisis and struggle between the democratic and anti-democratic forces in the country were the major factors that were de accelerating the progress of the country. Relation with USA, the sole superpower, was a challenge and Russia was facing it with various pacts and acting wisely during Balkan and Kosovo crises. Russia fears that the USA is making inroads in its backyard in the garb of war on terrorism.”

An Associate Professor, at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA Karachi), Dr Mahnaz Fatima spoke about “Economic and Trade Relations between Russia and the European Union: Problems and Prospects” and informed the audience that there was an imbalance in trade between Russia and EU from 1999 to 2009. It was 19037 million Euros in 1999 and 49706 million Euros in 2009. This entire deficit for EU coming from the import of petrol and gas from Russia. And EU is concerned about this dependency.

Dr Shabbir Ahmed Khan from the Area Study Centre, University of Peshawar, discussed the “Challenges to Democracy and Political Reform in contemporary Russia: The EU’s response to successes and failures” and pointed out that President Yelstin was interested in changing the centralised economy to market-based economy for Russia and for that he took many steps that were considered inappropriate at the time but later they proved to be right. A widely prevalent perception in the west is that there has been no genuine political and democratic transformation in Russia.

This issue has become a major obstacle in the establishment of closer relations between the EU and Russia.

Earlier, Dr Naveed Ahmed Tahir, Director ASCE, talked about the Russian concept of USA and the west and reminded the audience that Russia sees USA as an innovator but not a model for democracy.