Books on Russia
Update No: 330 (30/06/08)
There is no more important question for a country than whether it is on the
brink of war. It is not impossible that Russia may be once again. It is in the
Caucasus yet again, extending its presence, but not this time in Chechnya .
Tensions between Georgia and Russia over Abkhazia flared anew on June 18,
prompting a warning from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev not to provoke his
country's troops in the breakaway zone.
The latest flare-up came a day after Georgian officials said they had detained
four Russian peacekeepers transporting guided missiles in a western Georgian
region just outside the disputed territory.
Russian defence officials denied the accusation and a Georgian interior ministry
spokesman, Shota Utiashivili, said that the soldiers would be released, because
Georgia had no authority over them.
But by late on the same day, Georgia had returned only the empty vehicle that
the soldiers were travelling in when detained near the western Georgian city of
Zugdidi. In a statement, the Kremlin said that Medvedev spoke by telephone
during the day with Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili. "Medvedev
said provocations against Russian peacekeepers, who are acting under
international obligations, are unacceptable," the Kremlin said. They did
not explain why Russian peace keepers required guided missiles.
"Saakashvili promised to sort the situation out," the statement said,
adding that the two leaders agreed on the need to stay in contact "with the
aim of resolving existing problems and developing bilateral relations."
A softer line from Medvedev than Putin
Despite the warning from Medvedev, the Kremlin statement -- notably the
reference to Moscow and Tbilisi working on their bilateral relations -- was
softer in tone than similar missives under former president Vladimir Putin.
Tensions surrounding the rebel Abkhazia region have soared since Moscow
announced in April that it was establishing formal ties with its separatist
government. In a move denounced by Tbilisi and the West, Russia has also sent
hundreds of extra peacekeeping troops into Abkhazia, saying that Georgia was
preparing an assault.
Separately, the Russian foreign ministry called on Tbilisi to tone down its
opposition to the Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia. "Tbilisi should
radically review its relations with Russian peacekeepers, who have alone for
many years ensured peace and order in the area of conflict," ministry
spokesman Andrei Nesterenko told RIA Novosti news agency.
In another development, a senior official in Abkhazia accused Georgia of
resuming spy drone flights near the disputed territory, but Tbilisi immediately
denied the claim.
Ruslan Kishmariya, a representative of Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh, told
Russia's Interfax news agency that Georgia had resumed spy drone flights last
week along the border with Abkhazia.
Utiashvili, the Georgian interior ministry spokesman, denied the flights had
resumed. "In the future we might resume them, it depends on the situation
in the conflict zone, but for now the moratorium remains in place," he told
The doves not the hawks
This tense affair is of great interest. Medvedev does now appear to be in charge
in the Kremlin, to a greater degree. Saakashvili said previously that whenever
previously he rang the Kremlin and asked for Medvedev, since his assumption of
office, he was put onto Putin, the new prime minister. Now he gets Medvedev.
He is gaining in stature. It is premature to write him off as a mere stooge of
his predecessor, although everybody knows who is the real boss.
He is going to be the representative of Russia on the world stage for the next
four years. He has already met Angela Merkel, who as an eastern German by origin
detested Putin. She took rather a shine to Medvedev and is charmed by his
gorgeous wife, Svetlana, who has yet to be given a global airing. She will beat
Madame Sarkozy to a frazzle.
At any rate perhaps the world can be re-assured that two comparative doves are
in discussion over Georgia.
A New Deal?
The world has many problems on its plate - and Russia is vital to their
successful resolution. The emergence of a new president of the United States
within seven months could change everything. Medvedev and Obama could get on
very well. It is noticeable that Bush and Medvedev have seen no reason to make
their acquaintance soon.
They have very different views of the world.
Obama would be well disposed to Medvedev, a man of liberal inclinations compared
with his predecessor - as is true of Obama too.
These two men could transform world politics.
What is needed needs to be worked out by the clever back-room boys behind the
scenes over the next half year. An end to missile shields in Central Europe by
the US - and an opening up of Russian energy fields to Western investment -
belied of late by a battle between BP and its partners in BP-TN, initiated on a
50-50 basis, but BP being pressured to concede dominant control to the Russian
oligarchs. It seems that Russia has taken a short term decision to hound out
those western oil companies that years ago took big risks to enter the Russian
market place, with all their usual nonsense about concerns for the ecology
(Sakhalin Island) and phony tax claims adjudicated by phony Russian courts (many
of the tax claims that put Khordakovsky behind bars, subsequently did not
survive scrutiny –but they had served their purpose).
The bottom line of which attitude to western investment longterm, is that they
will be severely and deservedly down rated as an investment destination. Right
now as they are awash with oil money they don’t care, but although they may be
able to fund their capital requirements, they are a long way behind the west
where technology is needed, and that is the kind of investment that they are
putting at risk
It could all change dramatically by this time next year.
A genuine relationship was never likely under the Bush-Putin axis, for all the
surface bonhomie, divided by Iraq and Iran and many other matters, as they were.
The Obama-Medvedev package could be a very different business.