By pursuing the short-term profit goals of Russian oligarchs out of the conviction that this will promote Russia’s interest rather than considering the possible impact of such an approach on Russian national interests, Moscow is alienating Ukraine and Belarus, two Slavic neighbors it has long viewed as its inevitable allies and possibly more. Consequently, some analysts are now saying Russian may “lose” these two countries just as it did Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the three Baltic states now firmly part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (ng.ru/cis/2013-08-29/3_kartblansh.html).
In his August 29 Nezavisimaya Gazeta article, Kost Bondarenko, the director of the Institute of Ukrainian Policy, notes that many experts are calling Russia’s approach to Ukraine at present “an economic war” and some are even suggesting that what the Kremlin is doing reflects “the imperial essence of official Moscow.” But beyond any doubt, the economic sanctions Moscow has imposed—most notably on Ukraine’s largest confectioner, Roshen (RIA Novosti, July 30)—are having exactly the opposite effect the Russian leadership intended. While they are inflicting real costs on Ukraine, they are not bringing Kyiv to heel but rather causing ever more Ukrainians to conclude that they have no choice but to pursue closer integration with Europe.
Indeed, Bondarenko adds, “by introducing ‘revenge sanctions,’ Russia is losing Ukraine forever, just as it, some time ago, lost the countries of the Baltic region,” not because it had to, but because of its unshakeable belief that it can win its way by using sticks rather than carrots—something that, in reality, almost never works.
Moscow has compounded this trend by the outrageous statements of the always flamboyant Vladimir Zhirinovsky who has charged that Ukraine is committing genocide against ethnic Russians and called for Moscow to annex a third of that country (lb.ua/news/2013/08/30/223196_zhirinovskiy_obvinil_kiev_etnotside.html). Additionally, a purportedly official, recently published ten-page document suggests Moscow has decided to launch a massive campaign to force Kyiv to agree to its wishes (gazeta.zn.ua/internal/o-komplekse-mer-po-vovlecheniyu-ukrainy-v-evraziyskiy-integracionnyy-process-_.html). Even if the document is not authentic, former Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohrzhko told RFE/RL that he had “no doubt” that its contents reflect Moscow’s intentions (rferl.org/content/russia-ukraine-leaked-strategy-document/25081053.html).
Meanwhile, the Russian government appears to be doing the same thing in Belarus: promoting the interests of oligarchs at the expense of ties between the two countries. In Svobodnaya Pressa, on August 31, Aleksey Zimin makes that point explicitly (svpressa.ru/politic/article/73481/). While, in a Yezhednevny Zhurnal commentary published on August 30, Aleksandr Ryklin extends that argument, suggesting that by its incautious support of oligarchic interests, Moscow has managed to alienate not only its two Slavic neighbors on whom it thought it could always count, but most of its other neighbors as well. The only exceptions, and they are not particularly exceptional, he suggests, are “the fraternal Central Asian republics, Mongolia and Finland” (ej.ru/?a=note&id=13238).
Finally, writing on the Grani.ru portal (August 30), Vitaly Portnikov suggests just how counterproductive, and thus dangerous, Moscow’s current approach is. Not only is Russia increasingly surrounded by “a ring of enemies,” including many who could have been more friendly, but it has created a situation in which the governments of its neighbors—in the first instance, Ukraine and Belarus—now know that the only way they can protect their interests is to link their fates with the West (grani.ru/opinion/portnikov/m.218371.html).
One can hardly describe President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy as a brilliant success given that thanks to that approach, the Grani.ru analyst says, “Russia does not have a single ally in the contemporary world.” Still worse, he adds, in the Ukrainian and Belarusian case, Moscow is behaving not as a great power but as “a small still unrecognized republic, uncertain of how to act tomorrow and how to purchase with money the love” of those who have good reason not to love it and to insist that they, for some reason, obey Russia “slavishly.”
Unfortunately for Russia, Portnikov concludes, there is little chance that Moscow will change course as long as the Putin regime is in place. It is too invested in this failed policy approach to change. And equally tragically, too many people in the Russian Federation are prepared to support it even though eventually they will be anything but happy with the outcome it is certain to produce.
Moscow’s mistaken approach, first to the Baltic countries and more recently to Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, has been graphically represented in a chart offered at facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=720063364687493&set=a.479661218727710.129417.478655878828244&type=1&theater. It makes clear that over the last two decades and after ensuring by its actions that the Baltic states would do everything they could in order to join NATO and the EU, the Kremlin—like the French House of Bourbon before it—has forgotten nothing and learned nothing. However, the costs of alienating Ukraine and Belarus will be even larger than those associated with “the loss” of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.