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Image from battle for Donetsk airport
ANALYSIS – A day doesn’t go by when some mention is not made of how low relations between Russia and the West have fallen – Mikhail Gorbachev is now warning of an iron curtain, he had of course spoken of a new cold war.
Here in the West, Russia hit by a falling oil price is mocked it’s rouble we are told is a laughing stock even in its own country. Poland is concerned about the increased navy and airforce activity the big bear is conducting in the Baltic Sea region. And Russia’s undeclared war in eastern Ukraine rages on, with Kiev suffering losses, as Moscow is crippled with far reaching economic sanctions which on top of the plunging oil price makes the optimism at the beginning of the year as Putin hosted the Sochi Winter Games appear to be a distant mirage. And as Russia speaks of the rights of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine, Chechen rebels reminded the Kremlin that they too have rights – the right to be free of Russian bondage – with their recent attack on a police station in Grozny.
The West has some responsibility for the way Russia has developed since the fall of Communism – when exactly is a subject of debate, observers say Europe’s inactivity over the Georgian war had emboldened Putin in his dealings with Ukraine, first in Crimea which he has seized and then in the east of Ukraine where black scarfed men appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Others go back further to the Chechen war of 1995, as an excellent article in Novaya Gazeta argues today that the war destroyed any chance Russians had of having true democratic reform. All this is true but the seeds of the current situation regarding Russia and the West lie immediately after the downfall of the Soviet Union when Moscow reached out to the West for guidance, and was rewarded with reforms that led to its bankruptcy. There are extreme nationalists, Geoffrey Sachs, one of the economic advisors helping Russia back to its feet with ‘shock therapy’, claimed, who say the West is stabbing Russia in the back. That decade after the fall of Communism is known as Russia’s lost decade and one of those extreme nationalists who rose through the ranks of the KGB in the ensuing chaos is now President of Russia.
Russia for her part says the West led by the US is punishing Moscow for taking a stand on Syria – this was of course the same bloodthirsty West that had launched eighteenth century colonial wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya which resulted in the appallingly ‘primeval’ scenes of Colonel Gaddafi’s slaughter. There are no Russian soldiers in Ukraine just freedom fighters who are very different from the terrorists in Chechnya. And the economic sanctions just mean Russia looking further East for trade selling arms to India, gas and oil to China and sealing closer economic ties with central Asia. But behind the bravado Moscow knows it’s just kidding itself – for the dream that Mikhail Gorbachev and later Boris Yeltsin had of fostering closer ties with the West is over for various reasons, some historical and cultural, others through fear, this was of course the same Russia that conducted a near genocidal war against the men and children of Chechnya the savagery of which only rivalled the Soviet Union’s actions in Afghanistan and the same Russia who laughed at claims that the Serbs were committing ethnic cleansing in the Balkans first in Bosnia and later Kosovo.
How the new reality now plays out on the world stage and how that also affects the West’s dealings with China – who will wonder how it can get on with the Northern Hemisphere having seen how it’s failed to accommodate Russia – are of course the questions for 2015 and beyond.