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John Daly

John Daly

Dr. John C.K. Daly is the chief analyst for Oilprice.com, Dr. Daly received his Ph.D. in 1986 from the School of Slavonic and East European…

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Putin’s New Vision of Eurasia

Many western politicians have harbored deep suspicions of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Vladimorovich Putin since he first emerged on the Russian political stage in 1999.

This is hardly surprising, given his KGB background, though those with longer historical memories will recall that Yuri Andropov came from the same organization and that the West grudgingly found a way to work with him.

While the worst aspects of the Cold War faded away with the peaceful collapse of the USSR in late 1991, twenty years later, trying to figure out Kremlin politics remains as vital an exercise as ever, and the “Putin era” has provided Washington analysts desperately reinventing themselves to hang on to their jobs with rich fodder.

Is Putin a democrat?

Stalinist?

Or something in between?

Place your bets.

What does seem to be apparent, with last week’s announcement that current President Dmitrii Medvedev would stand down in next year’s presidential elections, is that Putin is a shoe-in to recover the Russian Federation’s Presidency, and that, since the term has been extended to six years, Western governments will perhaps have to learn to live with him helming the Russian state until 2026.

But one aspect of Russia that has eluded most Washington pundits since 1991 is the fact that Russia a) has developed a free press of sorts, certainly in comparison to the Bad Old Soviet days, and b) that Putin is genuinely popular with many Russians, an observation that many Western liberals find more than a tad irritating.

But to return to basics – what Putin represents is an awareness that dawned late in the USSR, only with the advent of Gorbachev – the power of the media.

In a weird reversal of perceptions, while Gorbachev essentially ignored domestic opinion to cultivate a Western image of “a man with whom we can do business,” to quote Margaret Thatcher, Putin has turned the media equation on its head, appealing to his constituency while essentially ignoring western attitudes.

Suitably miffed, the Western media has rounded on Putin, deriding his efforts to construct a “macho” image a la Indiana Jones, riding horse bare-chested through Siberian rivers, practicing karate, etc. etc. etc.

But there is another audience for Putin’s bravado that the West remains at best dimly aware of – the post-Soviet space. And it is here that his efforts have deeper resonance than most Western observers understand.

In May 2005 while President Putin told Russians that the collapse of the Soviet empire “was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” leaving the denizens of the fourteen other nations to emerge from the Soviet debris field wondering exactly what he meant.

On 4 October Putin suggested that ex-Soviet states form a "Eurasian Union" in an article which outlined his first foreign policy initiative as he prepares to return to the Russian presidency, commenting that the organization would build on an existing Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan which beginning in 2012 will remove all barriers to trade, capital and labor movement between the three countries.

Needless to say, Putin’s suggestion has unsettled conservatives worldwide, who believe that he is trying to reassemble the Soviet Union by stealth.

A more dispassionate view of Putin’s proposal indicates that it actually contains more than a modicum of sense.

First, except for economists of the Soviet era, few understand that the collapse of the USSR tore apart a country where economic development was geared to the union as a whole, rather than its constituent republics. To give but one example – all the electric meters for buildings were produced in Lithuania, so after 1991, a Kazakh, Azeri, Russian or Kyrgyz constructing a building and wanting to measure its electrical usage had to deal with – Lithuania.

Given the way that resources, both natural and man-made were distributed across the USSR, the collapse of the country produced consequences which are still playing out.

Secondly, it is more than passing strange that Western capitalists, fierce advocates of “free trade,” should see a darker purpose in Putin’s suggestion – after all, NAFTA in the Western Hemisphere and the EU have developed similar trading principles. In NAFTA, the U.S. is obviously the dominant power, and Germany occupies a similar economic position in the EU, yet few argue that either is seeking to dominate its fellow states.

Last but not least, the reality for the bulk of the post-Soviet space, and including the USSR’s former protectorate over Eastern Europe, the Russian Federation remains Eurasia’s dominant energy superpower, with the exceptions of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and only Azerbaijan has managed to wiggle out from under Moscow’s thumb for its energy exports to the West.

And even those are subject to Russia’s pressures, as the brief August 2009 Russo-Georgian war indicated.

The economic integration of the European Union has hardly led to increased military tensions between EU members – accordingly, for Western observers, they should at least adopt a ‘wait and see” attitude towards Putin’s “Eurasian” suggestions, as closer economic integration could in fact benefit former Soviet states who sign up.

But, at the end of the day, Western negativity towards the proposal may well be grounded in fears that Western investors may find the dynamics of the playing fields in the post-soviet space shifting. The litmus test in the case will be Kazakhstan, whose booming energy sector in the last two decades has attracted more than $120 billion in foreign investment, and whose President Nursultan Nazarbayev had given his support to the “union.”

One of the most striking developments in the post-Soviet space has been the rise of nationalism, and there is little in Putin’s remarks to indicate that he intends to send Russian tanks rolling to reassert Kremlin control.

Sometimes, to quote Sigmund Freud, a cigar is just a cigar, and a customs union is just a customs union – and Moscow has other interlopers to worry about besides Western capitalism – like China, who even the Kremlin’s Marlboro Man has yet to figure out how to counter.

If the last two decades have shown anything, it is that the new nations of the USSR would prefer to interact with the European union, or, better yet – the United States – but the former seems solely interested in their energy assets, while the latter is interested in buying everything that is not bolted down while delivering hectoring human rights lectures to boot.

And Moscow, is, after all, the devil that they know – but Beijing has the yuan, not dollars.

Tough call.

By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com




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  • Anonymous on October 07 2011 said:
    I am surprised to see Putin compared favourably to Andropov. It is generally recognized that Andropov was sold to the West in a successful KGB disinformation campaign as being sympathetic to liberal democratic principles by emphasis on his "like" of jazz music, etc. Andropov was as much an ideologue as was Mikhail Suslov.
  • Anonymous on October 08 2011 said:
    I've followed John's writing for about a year now, and this is the smartest piece I've seen yet. There are insights and calls here that I found VERY useful, and I'm nearly 69, a life-long student of politics and history, so new thinking such as this is VERY helpful in clearing our biases. Stay strong, and keep up the great work!
  • Anonymous on October 08 2011 said:
    "Western governments will perhaps have to learn to live with him helming the Russian state until 2026"Correction: until 2024, six years after 2012, and six after 2018
  • Anonymous on October 08 2011 said:
    Even the London Economist (or maybe that was the Financial Times) said that Georgia began the so-called Russo-Georgian war. Aside from that, Putin is my main man. He and Medvedev are the best thing that has happened in Russia in modern times. Russia has tremendous economic possibilities, and if they can stop chug-a-lugging vodka,they can be a tremendous asset for the global economy.
  • Anonymous on October 08 2011 said:
    It is uncanny how much support KGB thug Putin wields within the pseudo-intellectual west. After murdering and imprisoning everyone who speaks out against him, what is Putin going to do next? Go to Disneyland? :eek:
  • Anonymous on October 09 2011 said:
    Alfonso, what is a KGB thug? Is it the same as a US corporste thug? Or a US media thug? Or a US military thug? Is it the same thug that has been killing thousanfs of Iraqis and Afghanis over the last ten years? Thugs are everywhere, in govt and on street corners. Why don't we try to see things ca little more 'intelligently' than just hurling insults at people because they don't match up to Western supposed/assumed/illusory standards of morality?
  • Anonymous on October 09 2011 said:
    If Andropov liked jazz - modern and big band jazz, as played by those great American jazz musicians and bands (like Stan Kenton) - then he was definitely all right. And Alfonso, I support Putin and I am a REAL AND TRUE intellectual. Putin and Medvedev have what it takes to make something out of their country.Try comparing them with Obama and George W. Bush. Some people say that if Bush had not destroyed the reputation and economy of the US, Obama could have worked some kind of miracle, but I dont believe them. What I do believe is that if American voters dont wake up, the US will become a pseudo banana-republic.
  • Anonymous on October 10 2011 said:
    I sometimes feel sorry for the West. They have this thing called a 'free press'. And they complain about the Russian press being shackled (Alfonso's 'thuggery'?). Well the US press is 'shackled' by I think its seven media conglomerates all owneed by a certain 'power establishment' that publishes/broadcasts exactly what the US establishment wants it to publish/broadcast. And the more sensationalist and less intelligent the reporting the better...continued...
  • Anonymous on October 10 2011 said:
    contin...The reporting of the so-called 'Arab Spring' is a case in point. Every pipsqeak of 'rebellion' gets front page coverage, regardless of 'reality'. The adolescent media and their readrship/ audience are increasingly like those Wimbledon spectators aged 18 going on 13 chastised by McEnroe (remeber him?) for pumping the air with their fists every time their heros did ANYTHING on court. They had no sense of relative importance/significance of anything, being merely child/adolescents, so they just got excited about everything... and nothing at all...

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