Quo Vadis: Wither Russia?

KIEV, Ukraine -- In the process of regaining its Soviet-era power, Russia has shot itself in the foot many times over. On Aug. 12, 2000, its nuclear submarine, the Kursk, sank following an onboard explosion in the Barents Sea, killing 118 crew members.

The Kremlin

The cause of this tragedy was attributed to a lack of proper training and maintenance. Western news commentators noted at the time that if Russian authorities had timely requested rescue assistance from the West, many of the lives of the Kursk sailors could have been saved.

In October 2003, Russian authorities arrested and imprisoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the owner of the giant Yukos Oil company, on what many said were drummed-up charges of tax evasion and fraud. Since his trial was not transparent, many private Russian entrepreneurs have been trying to develop their talents abroad.

Last December, the Russian State Duma passed a bill severely curbing the freedom of activities of non-governmental organizations operating in the country. Many political commentators around the world wondered what Russia was up to, since any truly democratically elected government is only as strong as the civic society it represents.

In contrast, the majority of people in the United States applauded President Richard Nixon for his foreign policy initiatives, but had no problem with their state leader being pressured into resignation when he was charged by the U.S. Congress with obstruction of justice and abuse of power, which would have likely led to his impeachment anyway.

Russia’s legendary defender of human rights, Andrey Sakharov, was the first to congratulate the American people for exercising their civic responsibilities, declaring loudly and clearly to his fellow Soviet citizens that democracy worked.

But the worst nightmare that the inhabitants of the Kremlin experienced was the election of Viktor Yushchenko as the president of Ukraine. Russia appeared to have coached its candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, to take the top post in Kyiv and become Moscow’s obedient servant. But here again, Russia shot itself in the foot – quite severely. Russian President Vladimir Putin declared his protege president of Ukraine before all of the votes had even been counted.

The United States, as well as other foreign governments, reacted very harshly to this announcement. Putin was humiliated and became the laughing stock of the world. Ukraine’s northern neighbor neither understood nor appreciated the resolve of Maidan demonstrators, who were demanding the right to choose their own leaders. More than three million protesters passed through the streets of Kyiv demonstrating to a captivated world that Ukraine stood for universal human values.

The birth of a truly democratic state in Ukraine became for Russia another time of troubles. Under Soviet rule, an army would have been sent to squash independent thinking, as happened in Czechoslovakia in 1968, but regrettably for Moscow, these traditional Russian approaches are things of the past. By preserving Russian language and pop culture, and devising new economic schemes on post-Soviet territory, the Kremlin’s saviors of the Russian Empire are maintaining hope that these methods can become a template for all former Soviet nations to copy. This is a rather naive expectation, since in our time people are very educated and can think for themselves, regardless of their cultural, political or religious affiliations.

American tycoon Armand Hammer, appearing on American TV networks in 1980, told of his collaboration with Vladimir Lenin in 1920 to help Russia develop trade with the United States. He even laid out his own $1 million to procure equipment for loading and shipping a huge quantity of asbestos to America.

But Lenin wanted more than to just do business with the United States. He perceived this trade as a means of spreading his political vision in North America and began using the commercial channel to send emissaries to educate Americans about the happy life under Communism. Hammer became a liaison in sending money to the United States for the American Communist Party. And, conversely, he once brought $34,000 in the other direction – money very badly needed to buy food for starving Russians.

The Kremlin’s present rulers learned their lesson well from Lenin. They punished Ukraine’s first president, Leonid Kravchuk, for having the audacity to visit the United States in 1994 without their blessing by turning off the gas supply to Ukraine. Though this lasted only one day, the entire world understood what could lay ahead in dealing with Russia. Last year, President Putin became more sophisticated by threatening to charge Ukraine quadruple the price for gas, or else Russia would shut it off starting on the first day of 2006. No one in the world doubted that Russia would do it. Historically, such behavior has been its favored practice: possibly as many as 10 million Ukrainians were starved to death in the 1930s. Numerous others built prison camps in Siberia, or were imprisoned in the camps themselves. Russia’s newest tactic has been to threaten freezing Ukrainian children by raising gas prices to an unrealistic level.

This was the last time that Russia shot itself in the foot, and it may have been a fatal shot at that. The entire world finally realized what a wicked bunch of characters occupy the Kremlin. Every news network commented on Russia’s behavior in the most negative way, while financial consultants around the globe advised against including Gazprom stock in investment portfolios. Russian gas clients immediately began looking for other suppliers as well as alternative sources of energy. Energy conservation has become a key slogan wherever Russian gas is used.

The United States lived through a similar crisis in 1973, and it learned to cope with the problem almost overnight. Transit points where motorists could pick up riders on their way into the city sprang up along suburban highways, buses received special lanes to move passengers into the metropolis at much faster speeds, while home improvement stores offered a large variety of weather-proofing materials. Small communities reverted to traditional sources of heating their homes.

All of these energy-saving measures could be on their way to most spots of the former Soviet Union, which could cut the use of Russian gas quite significantly.

Gas and oil are what Russia has the most of. Politically it has not only not establish good relations with its neighboring independent states, but with its own autonomous republics either. Chechnya is one example of a distraught, anonymous Soviet republic. There are other conflicts brewing out there too. Russia, with its lack of other industries to gainfully employ its citizens, will continue limping toward self-destruction as a nation that could otherwise become a leading state if it abandoned its traditional imperialistic ambitions.

Source: Kyiv Post