Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Of course, they are bluffing

Stepping away just for a moment from the Constitutional Reform Treaty and the shenanigans around it, let us have another look at the big world within which we, on this blog, would like to see Britain take an important role. (No, I don’t think the Commonwealth can be made functional but that is for another posting.)

It is always worth looking at what Russia is up to and I speak as someone who never stopped saying that even when it looked as if that country might become a friendly, western, democratic power.

However, as I have pointed out once or twice (or maybe more times) it is worth thinking about what Russia and its leaders are up to a little more carefully than the average talking head or journalist seems to do. Just as it became obvious very soon after Putin’s ascent to power (using the bodies of all those Russians and Chechnyans who have been killed since the resumption of the war) that this man was not going to lead the country to freedom and real prosperity so there is little point in exaggerating how strong and powerful Russia has become under his rule.

I am not even talking about the notion that no country is really strong unless its people are free because many would disagree with that; nor am I making the obvious point that no country is really rich unless its people are free from real poverty (not 60 per cent of the median income as the cut-off line) because, relatively speaking Russians are better off now. I mean the very straightforward idea that I have put forward several times that Putin has failed in his attempt, whether real or pretend, to make the country into a new frightening superpower.

That does not mean that we should not watch carefully what he does and what his successor (if any) will do. At some point they might get it right from their point of view. But much of that over-hyped new political and economic power is bluff. This does not play well with analysts and commentators.

However, I am happy to say that at least one other commentator is saying the same things in greater detail. Douglas Hanson, the National Security Correspondent of the American Thinker, has posted an article entitled “Is Russia’s Power on the Decline?” and it is well worth reading.

The piece in many ways is a catalogue of retreats forced on Putin, mostly as a result of his attempts to impose Russia’s control or to stymie other countries’ attempts to achieve things internationally. A good deal of what may be regarded as humiliation for Russia need not have happened.

There are one or two other points that Mr Hanson does not mention. There is the claim, hotly denied by Russia today that there was another attack on Georgia by Russian missiles this morning; there is the fact that Russia will not be able to use the UN to hold up settlement in Kosovo though her representative is still, grudgingly, part of the Contact Group and of the mediating "troika"; and there is the lack of success in bullying neighbours into submission through the use and abuse of energy supplies.

None of the recent problems were inevitable and most could have been settled without Putin’s hectoring and bullying. The question remains, therefore, why is he behaving in this way? My own answer, for what it’s worth, has always been that he is playing to the domestic audience, whipping up the people’s fears and understanding of Russia as a country that is surrounded by enemies, whose agents have penetrated its very essence. While immediately gratifying, this is not an attitude that will help Russia to develop anywhere.

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