Sunday, 5 August 2007

Russia's continued icy relations

Russia breaks the ice with Canada... by annoying it
What does the latest update in the chilling relations between Russia and others (e.g. America, Britain, Georgia, Estonia, and now Canada) mean in the long term? As usual, the implications may be as murky as the waters of which Russia seeks control in the Arctic [see post].

Tit for tat
Russia is trying to show the world that, along with its new-found energy wealth, it has bigger muscles it can flex. Many recent Russian moves of rebellion are meant to distance itself from others and show it is strong enough on its own, or so the theory goes. The former Soviet nation has produced a few surprises, such as (apparently) calling Bush's bluff on the missile shields and proving more a bully than ever with its natural gas.

America and Russia don't look like they are in 'Cold War' mode (I agree with Condi Rice) — as some alarmists have speculated — but the rhetoric is clear: the White House thinks Russia is becoming a bullying autocracy; Russia views the United States as an overreaching imperial superpower. Both can learn from their own talking points.

The most powerful voice in the anti-Russia camp presiding in the Bush administration is none other than that of Vice President Cheney, who has traded jabs with Putin (sometimes similar personalities clash, I guess). Considering his the formidable power he welds in the executive, Cheney might convince Bush to toughen up. Whether that is happening remains to be seen.

We do know that Russia's antics over the past few years — cutting of gas and launching cyberwars against nations, killing and intimidating state opponents, rebelling against the West — do not look like they will stop anytime soon. Depending on the conditions, things may change with some diplomacy, direct or stealth.

The big freeze?
Just because Moscow has called the icy Arctic theirs doesn't mean relations will stay cold. They may turn frozen, or perhaps the thaw will come. Russia views itself as a new world player. It will take tact by western states to balance this new perceived world power seesaw, no matter how politically superficial it seems.

Russia might fear containment; both sides fear the other's overreach. A new article by the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov intended for publication in Foreign Affairs (no, it wasn't censored) tackles this issue.

Cooperation or mutual stubbornness is what it comes down to, but it takes two to tango. Both Russia and America, et al, impact their mutual relations. Both will have to fix them or face more diplomatic tension.

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