Streetwise Professor

February 10, 2009


Filed under: Energy,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 11:52 pm

Thanks to Translations Online is this translation of an editorial from Nezavisimaya gazeta, which reads in part:

The apotheosis of this extravagance could be the decision, announced on Tuesday, to give Kyrgyzstan a loan of $2 billion and $150 million in nonrefundable aid. For the sake of comparison, the entire budget of this small mountain country is just over $1.1 billion. In exchange, President Kurmanbek Bakiev of Kyrgyzstan promised to close the American military base in Manas, through which the United States delivers supplies to its contingent fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. This expensive exchange is dubious from the economic and geopolitical standpoints. If the Americans and their allies suddenly leave Afghanistan, Moscow might have to restrain the radical Islamists in that region again.

Even expenditures of that size on allies might be justified in some way if it were not for the financial crisis, which has drastically reduced Russia’s own economic potential. Now this money is needed within the country. The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade expects a decrease of 0.2 per cent in the GNP. The country is in danger of dropping out of the top 10 economies in terms of dollars. The exchange rate of the ruble to the dollar was more than 1.5 times the present figure in July, and gold-backed currency reserves have decreased by more than one-third. The federal budget for this year will be adjusted in line with an income projection of only 6.5 trillion rubles instead of the 10.9 trillion in the current budget. The plans for spending cuts are still unknown, but the projected expenditures in the current budget amount to 9.024 trillion rubles. The number of unemployed might also double and exceed 10 million.

Even the United States, with the largest economy in the world, is tempering its geopolitical ambitions in the atmosphere of crisis. Barack Obama has announced the reduction of the contingent in Iraq and is urging Russia to reduce the nuclear potential of our country by 80 percent. Moscow, on the other hand, is eager to take advantage of the crisis to strengthen our position in the world and to restore and maintain our status as a great power instead of thinking of ways to solve its own socioeconomic problems. Furthermore, price is no object. In this sense, Russia is similar in some respects to the almost penniless Countess de Beauvilliers in Emile Zola’s novel  Money, who was willing to limit her daily diet to nothing but bread as long as she did not have to reduce her lavish banquet menu by a single dish, all for the sake of maintaining her image as a prosperous aristocrat. The sooner Russia gives up the great-power ambitions that are so inconsistent with the present state of its economy, the less the country, its population, and the physical production sector will have lost when the crisis is over. It would be regrettable if Russia were to make the same mistake as the USSR, wasting all of its resources on global confrontation with the West and trying to maintain its status as the world’s second superpower at any cost, to the point of the complete collapse of the economy and the disintegration of the country.

Emphasis mine.  

Politicians’ preferences are revealed by their choices.  Putin and Medvedev et al have made their choice very, very clear.  Theirs is to be Ozymandias, elevating their personal glory and dreams of imperial majesty, at the expense of a prosperous and decent society.  It is sickening, and as Penny suggests, sociopathic.  Why should we enable such behavior by bargaining with them over NATO, or missile defense, or anything else that the Putinists and chekists want?  

Remind me again.  Who is the Russophobe?  Only someone who has identifies the interests of Russians with the Russian state, who believes that Russians are state property only meant to serve the state, can consider such a deluded and inhumane agenda to be Russophilic.  

A couple of remarks re raining money on the ‘Stans, while offering to allow the US and NATO to transport supplies (non-military) to Afghanistan across Russian territory.  First, Ivanov and others in Russia have said–with straight faces–that there is no connection between Kyrgyzstan’s decision to close the Manas airbase to the US, and the financial largesse provided by Russia.  Please.  Don’t insult our intelligence.  Second, the Russians know that we know that they can allow the US supplies to reach Afghanistan via Russia today–but not tomorrow, on their whim.  Denying us use of Manas while providing access to Russian rails keeps their hand on our windpipe (to clean up the metaphor I was originally going to use).  Their grip is loose now, but it could tighten at any time.  There is no way that we can safely plan military operations on such an unreliable logistical foundation.  (Remember that military phrase: “Amateurs talk tactics.  Professionals talk logistics.”)  

This is just laying the trap for Russia to make demands on some other issues (missile defense, Ukraine, Georgia, gas pipelines) and threaten to withdraw the logistics route at a critical point in Afghanistan operations unless we cave to their demands.  And, at the time of such withdrawal, they will again insult our intelligence by claiming that it had nothing to do with negotiations over missile defense, or Ukraine, or whatever.  

Putin revels in playing hardball, being the tough guy, the gangsta.  This is just another one of his Sopranos tricks.  The question is, will we play hardball too?  “Reset relations” my a**.

Postscript.  The Kyrgyzstanis clearly realize that there’s a quid pro quo–Russian money in exchange for kicking out the US:

Kyrgyzstan officials have said they want the base closed, but lawmakers there said Monday that the parliament will delay voting on it until Russia provides $450 million in loans and aid it promised when Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev made the base announcement Feb. 3. “We have decided to wait until the Russians send the money,” Communist Party deputy Absamat Masaliyev, a member of the parliament’s coordinating body, told the Associated Press.

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  1. Brilliant stuff, SWP. You are indispensable!

    When one wonders why Russians work for $4/hour and don’t live to see age 60, one need only remember their national practice of calling “Russophile” the greatest haters and killers of Russians, like Putin and Stalin, and elevating them to positions of power, while calling “Russophobe” Russia’s greatest patriots like Solzhenitsyn and Politkovskaya, and either killing or expelling them.

    And so it goes in neo-Soviet Russia.

    Comment by La Russophobe — February 11, 2009 @ 7:45 pm

  2. Here’s hoping that the Kremlin drains the treasury as fast as they can with their foreign adventures. It will all be gone that much sooner. Assisting Russia in going broke worked for us before.

    Putin really is a dimwitted KGB guy, he and his goons are incapable of managing a modern economy and especially in this severe global downturn. Any distraction he can create keeps the uninformed sheeple of which Russia has far too many distracted. At least the old USSR regime had to be much more modest in their material consumption and greed. Putin has an estimated fortune rumored to be $40 billion as per Masha Gessen in her Vanity Fair article about Putin.

    I’m suspicious that Obama won’t play hardball with Russia or anyone for that matter. The election in Israel suggests they aren’t going to depend on us for protection. It’s hard to say just what is shaping up in his foreign policy. He certainly appears to be throwing Hillary under the bus as Dick Morris has observed:

    Obama is letting the clueless pork spenders in Congress manage the economic crisis as I see it. Compared to Reagan on that score he’s a big zero. It doesn’t seem like anyone is running the State Dept. either.

    Comment by penny — February 12, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

  3. I really recommend this article as a must read to understand the mess that Russia truly is in at the moment: It highlights the fact that Russia can’t feed itself: its cheaper to buy pork from Argentina and potatoes from Belgium than to buy Russian produce. The author highlight the typical outcome of the Dutch disease: the years of the petrodollars made all other Russian production too expensive, and now the country and the people will pay the price dearly. Rather than blaming the Americans for the economic problems of Russia, Mikhail Khazin notes that he and other economists have been warning Russian politicians of the coming catastrophe for years.

    Comment by Michel — February 12, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

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