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LOOKING AHEAD
14.07.2008

July 11, 2008 (the date of publication in Russian)

Konstantin Cheremnykh

THREE BLOWS UNDER THE BELT

From Heiligendamm to Toyako: the West is making bold with Russia

GREAT CHEERS OVER SMALL VICTORIES

Russian state-owned electronic media are presently displaying a visible change in broadcasting policy that implies either a change of accents or a shift of values. Daily news programs are now regularly opened with news reports rather from sports than from political life. This shift corresponds with recent changes in the Government: the State Construction Agency has vanished, while the special Olympic Construction Agency, established for preparation of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, is regarded as the most prosperous state authority.

Generally, the fact construction in North Caucasus is now entrusted to the Olympic Ministry instead of the once existing Chechnya Ministry, is encouraging. Similarly, the latest achievements of Russian sportsmen indicate undoubted progress in this branch of economy. The inspiration is a bit overshadowed with the fact that a Russian-Spanish basketball contest in fact appears a competition of African and Yugoslavian skills.

On July 8, Vesti TV started its news program not with events in Georgia – though not quite indifferent for security of the Sochi area but with the coverage of a new triumph of a Russian team, this time in an intellectual and not physical contest. Two young students from the city of Ivanovo in Central Russia have reportedly displayed extraordinary talents in the technique of managing nanorobots, thus winning the prestigious Imagine Cup in Paris.

At the first glance, the Russian audience should not just applaud but weep with joy seeing the most depressive region of Russia elevate its mission from the banal and outdated textile production to the heights of nanotechnologies. In the closest approximation, the young guy, greeting the audience in a typical American style of intonation, appears to be a champion in a computer game an advanced and sophisticated and thrilling for the fans but still not more than a game.

This shift in TV policy does not necessarily mean that the masterminds of propaganda are deliberately feeding Russians with surrogates of success in order to pacify the masses. After all, triumphs in sports are presented as an expression of national revival rather than a personal career story. Still, the audience may fairly inquire whether the rest branches of economy are equally successful, and whether international recognition spreads far beyond achievements in sports.

At least for that reason, the third subject of the same news program namely, the G-8 summit in Toyako, Japan, is curious not only for professional diplomats and foreign policy analysts. In case Russians are so outstandingly talented in physical and intellectual contests, should they be less bright and ingenious in polity which, after all, is a similar contest of skills?

 

THE CUSTOMER PAYS FOR ALL?

The Republic of Tatarstan is successful in more economic spheres than the adjacent Ivanovo Region. The special political status, once granted by Boris Yeltsin, enabled its major industries to survive. This privilege, rather unexpectedly, served for the benefit of the whole Russia on the eve of the Toyako summit.

Two weeks before the G8 event, Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov arrived in Tatarstan. The agenda of the talks exceeded cultural exchange of the two Moslem peoples. Turkmenistan, one of the five former Soviet Republics of Central Asia, has been purchasing Tatar machinery for the needs of extraction of natural resources. Meanwhile, the Russian Federation was strongly interested in strategic cooperation with Turkmenistan in this very sphere.

On his way to Japan, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stopped in the capitals of three Caspian states Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. The three newly independent states had long been in odds with one another over the issue of transit of energy resources. All of them had spent years relying upon attractive promises of direct pipeline access to Western markets. Still, only one of them, Azerbaijan, has acquired access to the Mediterranean via Georgia and Turkey.

All the three states were supposed to wait for implementation of the excessively advertised Nabucco project, connecting Central Asia with the Caucasus along the bottom of the Caspian. In this process, Azerbaijan's partners in oil and gas exploration firstly encouraged Baku with the results of drilling but later found out that the amount of energy resources are not enough sufficient to make the existing pipeline payable. Thus, Azerbaijan was instructed to serve as a transit country for the international route bypassing Russia and promising prosperity to a number of East European states seduced with similar promises.

When Russia's Gazprom signed a deal with Turkmenistan on building an alternative pipeline along the coastline of the Caspian, in order to connect it with the existing Kazakh-Russian pipeline network, Baku was naturally embarrassed. The cold between Moscow and Baku had since become a convenient pretext for international manipulation, Azerbaijan getting involved into international anti-Russian strategies along with Ukraine and Georgia. However, Azerbaijan had to purchase gas from Russia.

Subsequently, the Baku specialists discovered vast amounts of gas in one of the fields regarded by the Western partners as sparse. Thus, the grounds for political tensions with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan became irrelevant. On this background, Dmitry Medvedev, Gazprom's CEO Alexey Miller, and Tatarstan's leader Mintimer Shaimiyev undertook a tour involving Baku, Ashkhabad, and Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. This trip was followed with nervous comments in Western media: it was clear that Moscow was going to present some proposals that the Caspian states would not reject.

These rumors appeared to be true. Both in Baku and Ashkhabad, Medvedev and Miller guaranteed purchase of local oil and gas for European-level prices, i.e. for a twice larger price than before, under the conditions of transit across Russia. Simultaneously, Stroytransgaz, Gazprom's construction affiliate, affirmed the schedule of construction of the Caspian Coastline Pipe Route, while Russian Railroads Corp. joined the Turkmenistan-Iran railway project.

The design, elaborated in Moscow, was a scathing blow for Steven Mann, Washington's special envoy who had spent years manipulating Caspian states against one another and Russia. One more goal was reached in Brussels. Arriving at the G8 summit, the European Commission's Moscow envoy Mark Franco acknowledged that the so-called "transit supplement" to the Energy Charter is going to be revised. This accessorial document had been serving as the major obstacle for signing the new EU-Russia Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation. The conditionalities of the "transit supplement" were unacceptable for Moscow, as it practically imposed free transit of Central Asian gas across Russia, thus artificially creating an advantage in costs for Turkmen gas. Since Gazprom had agreed to double the price, the conditionalities did not make sense.

This double result on the scenes of both Asia and Europe looked enough impressive for applause of Russians. However, the success is rather downplayed than hyped in Russian media. In fact, the ostensibly impressing game has got a back side involving a whole array of implications.

Doubts could be raised, particularly, over economic expedience of the Central Asia agreements. In fact, the inevitability of concessions to Baku and Ashkhabad is disputable, as the Nabucco project is anyway hardly feasible. In their turn, the additional provisions of the Energy Charter, reflecting rather phobias than reasonable requirements, could be efficiently bypassed in the practice of cooperation. Are the corporation's costs well substantiated?

Gazprom's leadership may be counting upon advantages ensuing from the potential possibility to purchase shares of European distributing networks though Nicolas Sarkozy has already made clear that his country is unlikely to revise the present approach to the problem. Meanwhile, the political effects of the latest Central Asia agreements are more significant than the costs. The effects of the Caspian tour may bring unpleasant surprises in other aspects of Russian foreign policy. Unfortunately, the back side of this ostensible triumph was not discussed in Russian electronic media. Only on July 11, Vesti TV admitted that foreign analysts divide in interpretation of Russia's performance in the G8 event, "some regarding it as a great success, and some as a complete failure".

 

THE DEFENSIVE REFLEX OF THE EUROPARLIAMENT

The agenda of Russian diplomacy in Central Asia was well known also in other post-Soviet states. Ten days before the G8 summit, the leadership of Belarus claimed unusually, through an anonymous diplomatic source that Minsk is not going to comply with the earlier reached economic agreement with Gazprom that suggested a quarterly renegotiation of the price of imported Russian gas, disagreeing to pay more than in the first quarter of the current year. The logic is obvious: the country, having no energy resources of its own, expects that the next revision is going to be fatally harsh.

Quite naturally, Kiev is panicking even more. According to Sergey Losev, analyst from Ukrainski Noviny news agency, the Kiev establishment will have to sacrifice much to adapt the economy including the largely devastated industrial capacities to new prices, and sell out a number of strategic assets. However, even in order to make a decision on this sale, Ukraine needs relative political stability which is currently unavailable. Meanwhile, the fabulous Ukrainian corruption may eventually result in further deterioration of the functioning industries with high technogenic risks.

The potential price hike that Gazprom's leadership admits in negotiations with CIS governments is fraught with hardly predictable political effects. In any case, the disaccord with Russia's economic policy is unlikely to encompass the establishment alone. Most probably, especially in Ukraine, this disappointment is going to spread from top to bottom, to the level of an ordinary consumer (and an ordinary voter) at least due to the fact that the energy of social instability is easier to be canalized into a defensive reflex.

On the second day of the G8 summit, the President of Russia spoke about the necessity to coordinate the interests of the producing, consuming, and transiting nations, and to prepare a set of relevant international agreements. This statement would deserve hearty applause if it were not preceded with one more event that was blacked out by major Russian media namely, the resolution of the European Parliament insisting on an additional expertise of Gazprom's North Stream pipeline project in environmental, economic, and political aspects. A few websites, covering this decision of 542 of 600 MPs, indicate that this resolution was initiated by Poland and the Baltic States that wish the pipeline to be laid along the land and not across the bottom of the Baltic, and remind that the resolution is not obligatory for Brussels.

Obviously, the observers suggest that the Russian audience is not capable of simple arithmetic. In case four new EU members Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are so influential in the European Parliament, the whole diplomacy around the EU-Russia long-term agreement does not make sense, as the abolished transit supplement may be replaced with ten additional protocols. In case the views of the Europarliamentarians even approximately reflect the views of the relevant peoples, the debate around North Stream which involved actions like the demolition of the Soviet Army memorial in Tallin is to be perceived as a scathing ideological defeat delivered to Russia by the tiny Estonia, particularly by the government of Andrus Ansip.

The result of the vote could be foreseen. In the view of the ordinary consumers, populating the politically loose conglomerate of the European Union, each of their small native lands is perceived as utterly helpless before Russia and its energy giants. But when a haughty Lilliputian, pricking the giant in his weak point, does not encounter an adequate response, the collective fear easily transforms into collective Schadenfreude.

Russia's behavior towards closest neighbors, especially in the gas tariff policy, was ironically described with the old Russian proverb: "The heavier you beat your friends, the more you are feared by your foes". However, the subtle Mr. Ansip, perfectly aware of Russia's weak points due to the geographic and transit circumstances, has cured the neighbors from fear by his iconoclastic chutzpah. From this standpoint, Lithuania's readiness to have US ABM systems deployed on its territory is quite illustrative.

 

PRESSURE IS GOING TO MULTIPLY

"To deal with Britain, President Medvedev should display his strength", reminded The Guardian's author on the eve of the summit. The Russian leader seemed to follow this advice in his polemic with PM Gordon Brown, demonstrating reluctance to cave in the notorious Litvinenko case, as well as in the scandal in TNK-BP.

At he first glance, the new leader of Russia was even perceived more seriously than his predecessor. The current Prime Minister was once qualified by George Bush as a "puttiput". Meanwhile, Medvedev deserved a characteristic of a "smart guy". Still, policy should be judged upon actions rather than words.

The Europarliament's resolution on the North Stream project appeared to be not the only assault of Russia during the summit. A more sensitive blow was represented with the agreement of ABM deployment in Czech Republic, signed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The third assault, also obviously timed to the summit, was expressed with the series of subversive actions in Abkhazia, followed with a proposal to deploy an international police contingent in the area. The implied intention to punish Russia was obvious as well as the fact that during the previous three years, the West did not venture an approach like that.

Something similar took place 55 years ago, when the death of the internationally hated politician, politely named Uncle Joe, became a pretext for a whole array of strategies from the foundation of the Captive Nations Committee to deployment of missiles in the recent member nation of the Nazi coalition. We should not delude ourselves: the pressure upon Russia is going not to increase but to multiply, as well as the arsenal of explicit and clandestine instruments; as well today inevitably as the expansion of the team of foes, playing subversive games on the Russian field.

 

THE FAULTINESS OF UNDERSTATEMENT

The fact that the G8 chose the food crisis as the central point of its agenda should not be interpreted as a sophisticated ideological scenario prepared by seven of the eight participants. The food crisis is really ripe, as well as the contradictions between the global establishment and the rest of the civilization: in another case, the movers and shakers would hardly choose a practically inaccessible island as the site of the talks.

Moscow's agreements with Baku and Ashkhabad, kicking out some significant levers of manipulation from the hands of Washington and Brussels strategists, are unlikely to contribute in the solution of the food crisis even if they are followed, according to the idea of the Russian side, with the meeting of agriculture ministers or a special "grain summit" (by the way, the grain market is controlled by few corporate figures, free from control of any ministers and even any presidents).

On the contrary to good intentions, the food prices are unlikely to plummet from the hike of prices of energy resources, as the expenses for fuel will add to the production costs as well as transportation costs. The affected countries of the Third World whom the G8 promised assistance are unlikely to be rescued with that amount of philanthropy.

This fact is definitely realized in Moscow. At the concluding press conference of the summit, Dmitry Medvedev admitted that fuel prices directly influence food prices. However, this correct A was not followed with B: what is going to be done to compensate the damage?

Russia is not the only fuel producer intending to use the lever of prices for its interests. The energy ministers of three major OPEC countries Algeria, Qatar and Iran had just promised a price hike to the global community. However, the producing states, opposed to the West and intending to teach the "Golden Billion" a good lesson, strike special agreements with their neighbors, voluntarily protecting their economies from relevant implications. The partnership, organized by the oil-rich Venezuela, has become the political basis of the leftist regimes of Ibero-America. Hugo Chavez and his political partners offer assistance to allies on other continents, including Belarus, despite geographic, cultural and religious differences.

Could the unsaid B be expressed by use of the Belarusian (as well as Polish) experience of protectionism? Obviously not: Dmitry Medvedev has repeatedly denounced protectionism at the summit, without any differentiation of economies. The negative term of "economic egoism" was applied by him not only to well-to-do Western nations but to all the agricultural producers. At the same time, he assured the world community that Russia is going to contribute to the solution of the food crisis by fostering domestic agriculture. Is that possible without deliberate measures from the state? The answer does not require special economic education. Again, we are aware what we are speaking about, but not saying B after A this time, to the domestic producers as in our lexicon, protection of the domestic market is a negative definition, while WTO, to the opposite, sounds positive. Meanwhile, the definition of "double standards", frequently used by Mr. Medvedev's predecessor, is now carefully blacked out.

One more argument, used by Dmitry Medvedev, was very strong and convincing: referring to prominent experts, he reminded that the deficit of food is exacerbated with the use of agricultural lands for planting technical cultures, destined for production of the so-called alternative energy. Saying A, the Russian side still signed the promise of double reduction of carbon dioxide emissions within the next four decades though a lot of Russian specialists could remind of the B of the doubtfulness of the theory of ozone depletion on which the fears around carbon dioxide a product as natural as water are based upon.

The notorious reduction of carbon dioxide does not contradict to the development of nuclear energy, said Medvedev. This argument would sound new and strong if it hadn't been used by the political leaders of France, Italy and Great Britain who face unlike the Russian leadership a strong environmentalist opposition. Is Mr. Medvedev's curtsey to the ozone theory addressed not to the domestic but to some foreign, particularly German audience? Such delicacy is laudable though it does not justify the signature under the promise of reduction, as relevant decisions should be based upon serious economic calculations.

While the Russian leader hurries to share the ozone belief, observers from G8 states don't regard doubts as a sign of provincialism. While Vesti TV triumphantly reproduces the argumentation without any comments, Washington Post exposes Japan of "economic egoism" behind the environmentalist phraseology. According to Washington Post's observer Jim Hoagland, Japan's idea was to manipulate China into carbon dioxide reduction, in order to use the expanse of the Chinese market for distribution of energy-saving technologies. Thus, Japan's curtsey to the ozone theory is based on perfect calculation, while the intention of the Russian side seems to be substantiated rather with a desire to sound pleasant.

It is noteworthy that Russia's agreements with Central Asia nations were most positively covered in Renmin Ribao (People's Daily). The socialist Beijing would hardly concede its principles, praising Russia's geopolitical advantage in the area for expense of fuel-consuming economies (China being one of them). Obviously, China was expecting for some significant move of Russia in exchange. This move was hardly related to the commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emission, as well as to Mr. Medvedev's statement echoing an admass square pitch that the rising economies of the East "consume too much oil and gas".

It seems more probable that China expected Russia to raise its voice for inviting the rising economies to G8. After all, Russia had just participated in a number of strategic meetings in the framework of BRIC, a new and obviously promising alliance.

In this case, A was not followed with B as well. Though the Russian leader admitted that key global decisions should be taken with regard of the rising economies, expansion of G8 was not clearly advocated.

In fact, the Russian side emphasized in Toyako that the policy of the previous week was destined exceptionally for the solution of the problems of its own or, more precisely, the problems of its oil and gas sector of economy. Meanwhile, the state interest is never equal to the interest of corporations. In case the United States literally associated its policy with the needs of its once symbolic General Motors, the ensuing contradictions would have split the Western community decades before the fall of the Iron Curtain.

 

THE ACHILLES HEEL

In the mundane matter of geopolitics, the criterion of truth in direct accordance with Marx is practice. The geopolitical success is reached if we acquire one foe but at the same time, a lot of new friends; when the concessions to our allies are made for the benefit and not for expense of our own population; when the rhetoric, as well as practice, corresponds with a principle that is not superseded with considerations of tactics and corporate advantage.

The strength, referred by Guardian's authors, cannot be expressed only in details such as the particular case of fugitive KGB officer Litvinenko or the issue of two small islands. Without special sociological studies, it is hard to judge on the global perception of Russia's role in G-8. We could just humbly suggest that a new participant of any global club is expected to add a new wind to the sail. Its emergence may be perceived with delight or rage, while its attenuation is naturally followed, in the best case, with indifferent skepticism.

By the way, the above quoted Jim Hoagland wrote on the last day of the summit that in its present shape, the "club of leading economies" is rather a means of personal self-advertising of leaders than a means of solving real international problems. To Hoagland's view, the narrow circle should be reduced from eight to three. This opinion was not expressed in 2007 even by most biased observers though the attitude towards the club has long been skeptical.

A year ago in Heiligendamm, the world was fascinated with the new, original, and strong voice of Russia. This voice attracted with the deliberate reluctance to cling to ritual axioms and ideological patterns. This voice did not curtsey to the dogma of climate hoax, but loudly spoke about the real human tragedy of Iraq. This voice did not need subsequent corrections from the Foreign Minister to add the term of "military technological" to the vague promise of "response" to the ABM deployment, or to clarify the position on a particular Zimbabwe post factum.

Today, the polemic on real and formal democracy is supposed to be unnecessary. Correct arguments, pronounced in a carefully measured intonation, sound attractive, but the following utterly unnecessary politically correct remarks level down the earlier theses, and eventually, the national voice dissolves in the familiar chorus. As soon as this dissolution becomes obvious, this smoothness of phrases is inevitably interpreted as a lack of self-confidence and a shadow of this perception encourages a lot of knives to sting the Achilles heel of Russia.

This Achilles heel was discovered not today but at the movement when Russia, promising to respond adequately to the West's recognition of Kosovo independence, failed to utter B after loudly saying A. The weak point of today's Russia is now quite naturally stung not just by Condoleezza Rice but by the permanent US establishment, measuring the world with the squares of a chessboard. This establishment is perfectly cynical to anything that is not a part of US interests. But the US interests are pursued by this establishment more and not less strongly and zealously in the transitional period of power. This zeal does not contradict to the openness of patriotic criticism.

While Jim Hoagland is exposing the inefficiency of the global decision-making circles, blaming most of all the US leadership and pointing at its failures that have undermined the American domination in the world, Russian state-owned mass media are feeding the national audience with illusions of success, blacking out national and global problems that require interest, compassion, and energy of the Russian majority. Their slumberous mantra is indifferent both to the people and the state. ITAR-TASS's correspondent, in a report covering Poland's reluctance to strike the ABM deal with Washington, writes: "At first, nobody could expect any TROUBLE"-- Thus, the servility of style, inherited from the times of the Politburo, transforms alarming political news into a curtsey to the adversary.

Such kind of media policy leaves not only the TV audience but the state leadership exposed to the challenges of the real world. Day after day, this fairy-tale mirror is convincing the state leader that everything is all right until a really irreversible trouble crashes in.

This distorting mirror deprives the state leadership from the very possibility of adequate perception of his own choice that concerns not only himself and his image but a huge country in a shaky world. The best thing to do with the mirror is to smash it into pieces, and address reality without this unnecessary intermediate device.

The US intelligence community has just publicized its Annual Threat Assessment with a detailed list of current challenges to national security. The first page of a similar Russian list should start with Kremlin's Achilles heel number one: Loyal Media.


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