Streetwise Professor

January 26, 2009

Gasputin Speaks!

Filed under: Economics,Energy,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:11 pm

And blames the United States for the just (maybe) completed battle of the Russo-Ukrainian gas war.  Putin’s remarks are a variant on Gazprom’s Aleksandr Medvedev’s, but represent a somewhat broader indictment.  Putin blames the US, and the Bush Administration in particular, for the political instability in the Ukraine which Putin argues that is the root cause of the War.  Putin also denigrates the US role in Georgia.

In a nutshell: Putin’s view is that the US (and its Sancho Panza, the EU) encouraged the Ukrainians and Georgians to get all uppity.  This, in turn led to a shooting war in the Caucusus, and a Gas War between Russia and Ukraine.  If the hot headed Georgians and the upstart Ukrainians would only remember their proper places, that corner of the world would be all sweetness and light.  For the Russians, anyways.  And presumably for the Europeans too, for why should they have to worry their pretty heads about where their gas is coming from, and whether the national aspirations of former imperial subjects are crushed to ensure the steady flow of that gas?

This is just another manifestation of the Russian elite worldview that refuses to acknowledge that the post-1991 settlement is in any ways final.  Indeed, they believe it to be an aberration; an affront to Russian dignity; and a geopolitical mistake to be reversed.  

Further illustration one: Putin’s remark to Bush that “Ukraine isn’t even a real country.”

Further illustration two: The ongoing efforts to delegitimize Ukrainian control over the Crimea.

Further illustration three: Russia’s outrage at Ukrainian insistence that they suffered uniquely under Soviet collectivization, and that the Ukrainian famine was genocide.  (Dmitri Medvedev made particularly dismissive remarks about this.)

The Russian case on the latter episode is that all of the USSR’s peasantry suffered from collectivization, and that Ukraine is without justification in claiming either greater suffering, or an ethnic component to Soviet policy (thus transforming a mere mass murder into a genocide analogous to the Holocaust, or the Armenian genocide.)

But there is considerable evidence that Ukrainians did suffer more, were the particular object of Stalin’s ire, and that the Ukrainian famine was genocidal.  In his authoritative Harvest of Sorrow, Robert Conquest writes:

Fifty years ago as I write these words, the Ukraine and the Ukrainian , Cossack, and other areas to its east . . . was like one vast Beslan.  A quarter of the rural population, men, women, and children, lay dead or dying. . . .  At the same time, (as at Belsen), well-fed squads of police or party officials supervised the victims.

. . . .

The events with which we deal may be summed up as follows: In 1929-1932 the Soviet Communist Party under Stalin’s leadership . . . struck a double blow at the peasantry of the USSR as a whole: dekulakization and collectivization. . . . These two measures resulted in millions of deaths–among the deportees in particular, but also among the undeported in certain areas such as Kazakhstan.

Then in 1932-1933 came what may be described as a terror-famine inflicted on the collectivized peasants of the Ukraine and the largely Ukrainian Kuban . . . . This action, even more destructive of life than those of 1929-1932 was accompanied by a wide-ranging attack on all Ukrainian cultural and intellectual centres and leaders, and on the Ukrainian churches.  The supposed contumanciousness of the Ukrainian peasants in not surrendering grain they did not have was explicitly blamed on nationalism: all of which was in accord with Stalin’s dictum that the national problem was in essence a peasant problem.  The Ukrainian peasant thus suffered in double guise, as a peasant and as a Ukrainian.

Thus there are two distinct, or partly distinct elements before us: The Party’s struggle with the peasantry, and the Party’s struggle with Ukrainian national feeling.

Conquest shows in telling–and heart-rending–detail how the Great Famine of 1932-1933 fits into the longstanding Muscovite ambition to extirpate the Ukrainian nation.

Putin is the heir to that policy.  No, he is not Stalinist in his choice of means, but he is Stalinist in his goals.  And he is a tsarist as well.  Like both (bizarrely in the Georgian Stalin’s case) he is a Great Russian imperialist, and he views the Gas War as just another episode in Russia’s campaign to submerge Ukraine in a Great Russian empire.

It is not all about gas and dollars.  It is not merely a commercial dispute.  Sure, money matters to these people.  But it’s not all that matters.  Indeed, it’s not likely the most important thing.  Putin wants to reverse the “greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century” and the most important step in achieving that ambition is reabsorbing Ukraine, either de jure or de facto.  

It is essential, therefore, to put the gas war in its broader historical context.  Putin certainly does.  As for the Pomo Europeans, that’s doubtful in the extreme.  Certain elements of the Bush administration did–and that’s why it earned Putin’s particular ire.  (He probably thinks–I gave you free rein in Afghanistan, the quid pro quo was I get free rein in the Near Abroad, and you welshed.)  

As for the Obama administration, the jury is still out.  Putin’s remarks about Obama are clearly a signal.  Putin’s “hopes” for Obama can be translated as “we have hope that you will see things our way; that you understand the natural order of things; and will sacrifice Ukraine and others in the sake of restoring that natural order.”  It is also another effort at divide and conquer, suggesting to the Europeans that American intransigence and unrealism is why their cozy warm homes are at risk, thereby hoping to spark European pressure on a presumably pliable Obama to throw Ukraine under the bus.  (A very likely possibility, as it is very crowded under Obama’s bus, cf. Jeremiah Wright, Bill Richardson, Susan Power, etc., etc., etc.)    

In short, the Gas War is just the surface of things.  Under the surface one finds the true dynamic–Russian imperial ambition resisted by a nation struggling to realize an independence long denied, but doing so under a confused, divided, and corrupt leadership.

And that’s just one reason why this is far from over.  This is a real global test, one in which there is an acute imbalance between the test givers (Russia) and the test takers (US & EU) on such dimensions as importance, scruple, and will.  Whether Russian advantages on these dimensions are sufficient to overcome that nation’s fundamental strategic and economic weakness, and its propensity to over-reach and self-destruct, remain to be seen.

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  1. […] Professor writes: “In short, the Gas War is just the surface of things. Under the surface one finds the true […]

    Pingback by Global Voices Online » Russia, Ukraine: “Far From Over” — January 26, 2009 @ 7:25 pm

  2. If Putin was seriously planning political reintegration with Ukraine (which is more supported in Ukraine, according to polls, than you would like to mention), why the multi-billion dollar efforts to build Nord Stream and South Stream? Why the expansion of a naval yard to make it capable of building the largest capital ships in the Severodvinsk, when there is one in Nikolaev, and the expansion of Russian-territory Black Sea naval facilities? Why such anemic progress on economic and regulatory integration in the post-Soviet space in general? All this implies that Putin isn’t very much interested in this at all.

    One can only hope that Obama truly delivers us the change we believe in, casts off the neoconnish attitudes of his predecessor and constructively engages the global community while trimming its fiscal and military overstretch, and ushering in a new age of transparency, economic and social justice and global friendship.

    Comment by Da Russophile — January 27, 2009 @ 3:00 am

  3. I don’t expect Obama to get too tough on Russia…If anything , i worry he may be a bit too soft on them.

    Obama called the Kremlin today , alongside the France and German leaders.

    Now , this is a mistake to put Russia alongside France and Germany since France and Germany are more helpful to the U.S while Russia have tried to undermined America for ever.

    Comment by Blaze — January 27, 2009 @ 3:34 am

  4. SWP:

    Here are the two most disturbing features of this maniacal raving:

    (1) Meanwhile, they have no time for a word about Markelov.

    (2) Bush is the man who looked in Putin’s eyes, saw his soul, and declared him trustworthy. He was the best friend
    Putin ever had in the West. So naturally, just like Stalin, Putin must liquidate him.


    No, it means that Putin knows he stands an excellent chance of LOSING if he makes a bid for integration, so he needs a backup plan. Can’t you even try to tell a little bit of the truth? Are you a CIA spy secretely doing his best to
    bring Russia to her knees?

    Comment by La Russophobe — January 27, 2009 @ 10:12 am

  5. @LR,

    Well you see there are two options for reintegration, should he desire it: 1) economic/regulatory integration as in the EU (which is supported by about 50-60% of Ukrainians according to most polls), and 2) full political integration (20-25%).

    Since the first enjoys popular support everywhere except amongst Yushenko and his acolytes, that is a likely outcome; but since you can always get political leaders who ignore the will of the people (as with the Orange government and NATO accession), that would still leave open the possibility of gas theft/pipeline closure, closure of the Crimean naval base, etc. So it would make sense to build up alternate gas routes and naval bases.

    Full political integration is unlikely, unless Russia is firmly set on it as you allege. But I disagree profoundly with the “excellent chance of LOSING” bit. Victory is certain and the West will not intervene. There will be sanctions and acrimony for a few years (or months), but they’ll probably die down soon enough. The only long-term effect will be worse relations with the US and more difficulties in certain types of technology diffusion. But as a matter of fact I very much doubt that this is Putin’s goal.

    I don’t believe I lied about anything. Opinions cannot be lies by definition.

    PS: Interestingly enough, at times I’ve entertained the idea that you are an FSB spy, tasked with discrediting criticism of Russia by a reductio ad absurdam kind of mechanism. But I don’t think they’re that deep-minded, more likely you’re just another nutjob in a basement with a computer and Internet.

    Comment by Da Russophile — January 27, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

  6. “If Putin was seriously planning political reintegration with Ukraine (which is more supported in Ukraine, according to polls, than you would like to mention)…”

    Da Russophile, please, you certainly aren’t going to throw those “polls” out there without verifiable links. It appears on the contrary to your first poll that more ethnic Russians have been re-identifying themselves as Ukrainians since ’91:

    The 20-25%, which I highly doubt, wanting “full political integration” with Russia from another of your “polls” would be who? The minority of ethnic Russians in the Ukraine? How about giving us the link to those polls so we can determine their source and validity. If you are going to make statements like that, then, you need to provide the links.

    What fascinates me is that you are an unrelenting defender of Putin’s Russia without ever a trace of morality regarding all of the human rights violations and the repeal of basic freedoms that are piling up over the last 8 years. You can’t be so obtuse not to have noticed the censorship, the elections that have been suspended, the dead journalists, the money that the Kremlin clan has expropriated for themselves, etc. But, yet, you tenaciously appear to rebuke any Putin/Russia critic with the flimsiest of facts.

    Comment by penny — January 27, 2009 @ 4:51 pm

  7. DR–

    Those thinking strategically do not typically put all their eggs in one basket, hence pursuing parallel tracks (e.g., Nordstream) is perfectly consistent with attempting to re-integrate Ukraine (de facto or de jure). Moreover, undercutting Ukraine’s economic leverage over Russia is an excellent way to weaken its resistance to political, economic, and military pressure. Moreover, by reducing European dependence on Ukraine, alternative pipeline routes undermine European support for that country against Russian predation. Ukraine has some leverage with the Europeans now–if Russia can outflank it on the gas front, it has none whatsoever.

    Also, if there’s no interest, why foment discontent in Crimea? Why start with the liberal distribution of Russian passports–something last seen in S. Ossetia and Abkhazia?

    So, in brief, I sharply disagree with your interpretation of Russian actions. In my view, these are all moves to isolate and undermine Ukraine, with the ultimate objective of restoring Great Russian control over Little Russia. Putin is playing chess, and you’re analyzing it like he’s playing checkers.

    Blaze–I agree with your criticism of Obama’s priorities, effectively elevating Russia to equality with France and Germany. Though, truth be told the g.d. French have tried to undermine the US forever too;-)

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — January 27, 2009 @ 9:10 pm

  8. @Penny, (dated)

    From 2008 –

    In Ukraine, 10% want normal relations, 73% want friendly relations without economic/regulatory barriers, and 16% want one state. (The proportions are similar in Russia, giving the lie to the idea that they are a revanchist imperialist people). Since the Georgian war, there has been a strengthening of positions at the extremes (political integration, and normal relations) relative to the center, hence my inference that it’s now 20-25%. In any case one thing is certain – far more Ukrainians would like to enter some kind of Eurasian economic community than NATO.

    I am also an amoral neo-Soviet reptile who hates freedom of speech, receives millions of dollars to write pro-Kremlin stuff on random blogs and worships before an icon of Putin on waking up every morning.

    Comment by Da Russophile — January 27, 2009 @ 10:43 pm

  9. DR:

    Eh, 16 % wants one state…that leaves, apparently, 84 % who do not, instead continuing to support an independent Ukraine. And still you seem to consider that this very clear pro-independence opinion forms no further obstacle for Russia to annex the whole country if/when it happens to want that. In other words roughly 40 million people (84 % of 46.6 million) not supporting annexation will and can do nothing…for sure? Not even one tiny tank will be needed…in any case? How come then that a much less number of people taking into streets during the Orange Revolution succeeded to hinder Kremlin’s favorite to take power?


    How do “normal” relations differ from “friendly” relations? Are they alternatives to each other or how should vs. will people understand these kinds of questions/definitions?

    Comment by Dixi — January 28, 2009 @ 6:38 am

  10. Eh, please quote where I said that it is desirable for Russia to annexe Ukraine??

    (If Russia is “firmly set” on it, however, I also didn’t say that it would not use military force. Which I also said is IMO an unlikely scenario).

    “Normal” relations are relations like that between any other two countries like New Zealand and Brazil for instance. The only region in the Ukraine where this receives any significant (but still very much minority) support is in the western bits, as well as in its current political leadership. Ironically the Ukrainian figure of 10% is actually lower than the figure of 19% in Russia, so it actually be argued that Ukraine wants to “annexe” Russia more than the other way round (in the economic sense of course).

    (There polls also depend on how the question is phrased. According to another 2007 poll, 43% would agree to join the “Union of Russia and Belarus”).


    If (the allegations) of passport distribution in Crimea are true, all that means is that one peninsula with about 2mn people may break off and join Russia sometime in the future (and reproduce the status quo of 1956). This has absolutely no consequences for Kiev or even Donetsk. Even in Georgia South Ossetia and Abkhazia were already de facto independent, and the only change was that Russia recognized them after Georgia attacked them and UN-mandated peacekeepers (with your theory that it was originally a Russian provocation / trap now fully debunked).

    PS: Can you describe the scenario you envision as to how Russia plans to regain Ukraine as a whole, or restore the Soviet empire in general? And what’s its probability, according to you?

    Comment by Da Russophile — January 28, 2009 @ 11:21 am

  11. DR:
    “If Russia is “firmly set” on it, however, I also didn’t say that it would not use military force. Which I also said is IMO an unlikely scenario”

    So VICTORY with military force is sure to be achieved (regardless of human sufferings). Oh, what a glorious time there will be for the great Russian nation…

    Ps. You still didn’t answer what is the difference between “normal” and “friendly” relations. Normally, everybody in any country answers yes if asked whether to want to have friendly relations with a neighbouring country. So putting together actually two questions, i.e., “friendly relations”+”exonomic integration” (what ever that means in people’s minds?) leads to the outcome that you cannot be sure whether people want to have both or maybe they want only make sure that Russia does not consider the entire Ukrainian nation as unfriendly or even an enemy…which might “force” Russia to deal with their “unfriendliness” (by any means) with the only thinkable outcome being, as you yourself said, VICTORY. And quite often, it happens, one’s victory is another’s DEFEAT…

    Ps. Ps.
    “…According to another 2007 poll, 43% would agree to join the “Union of Russia and Belarus”

    So what? In a recent poll (Oct. 2008) by Kyiv International Sociology Institute 1,218 Ukrainian adults were: “How would you vote in a referendum on Ukraine’s accession to the European Union (EU)?”
    Results: in favour 41%, Against 28%, Not sure 30%…

    How is that to be interpreted? Roughly 40 % of Ukrainians want economic integration reaching from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean or what? And yes, in that same poll 58 % were against joining NATO while 23% were in favour. But of course, that says nothing about how many of them would want to form a military alliance with Russia. Apparently, there are lot of polls and even more variety in interpreting the results… But still, as you yourself pointed out, 84 % did not choose the alternative “one state”. So, what conclusions can be drawn? The most reliable conclusion is, in my mind as well as according to the polls referred above, that an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians do want to continue to exist as a separate state and nation from Russia as they have been since 1991.

    Comment by Dixi — January 29, 2009 @ 4:00 am

  12. “The most reliable conclusion is, in my mind as well as according to the polls referred above, that an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians do want to continue to exist as a separate state and nation from Russia as they have been since 1991.”

    Which I never disputed.

    Anyway, tired of repeating myself. I am retiring from this discussion.

    Comment by Da Russophile — January 29, 2009 @ 4:45 am

  13. Well, Professor, since you mention Gasputin and the gas war, here’s something that I have been trying to circulate everywhere —

    if you want to see an absolutely excellent explanation of how the rashans tried to trick Europe into believing that Ukraine was not capable of transiting gas, go to the link below. The English is a little rough, but very understandable.

    This guy knows what he is talking about.

    Recall that Ukraine’s pipeline had been used for years to transit gas through to Europe.

    After rasha cut off the gas, the Kremlin/Gazprom decided to send a “test” volume – a very low amount. Why a “test” was necessary is, of course, anyone’s guess – except that in roosha, they knew full well the trick they were about to play.

    It is a fascinating read.

    Comment by elmer — January 31, 2009 @ 11:33 am

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