Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What is Russia up to?

I am not an expert observer of international politics, but I have a theory: countries behave exactly like individuals, especially when it concerns defence and threat responses. I therefore apply this theorem to today's Russia under Medvedev-Putin.
 Methinks Russia is hungering to get back to its pre-CIS (USSR) size and glory. Witness what it has been up to in the past few years.
  • It has invaded South Osssetia, till then a part of Georgia where Russia had always retained significant influence on the politics of. After scaring the Georgian government by advancing till the very doorstep of its capital, Tbilisi, in disregard of international noises, it retreated, but not before recognising South Ossetia as a country. Europe and US could do nothing but grin and bear it, because they had done the very same thing in Kosovo by having NATO forces "liberate it" over the head of significant international opposition, including Russia, just a few years earlier.This has given it valuable access to the Black Sea.
  • For the past few years, just before the onset of Europe's biting winter, Russia picks up and escalates a fight about gas supply to Ukraine. Ostensibly, the fight is with Ukraine, but it immediately hurts several countries in Europe who are 60-100% dependent on Russian natural gas coming through the same pipeline. Cutting off supplies to Ukraine also cuts off supplies to Europe, and all these countries then exert pressure on Ukraine to compromise with Russia as otherwise, they would have to brave biting cold wintry weather.
  • Most recently, over the last week, I think Russia has virtually "taken over" Kyrgyzstan, a landlocked CIS country that does not even share a border with it. Ostensibly, the President got overthrown by a violent "popular uprising", and a new "popular" interim government took over. Kyrgyzstan is currently in a state of lawless chaos, according to BBC. This transition to the interim government, however, has happened too quickly and smoothly to have been purely spontaneous as is being projected, and I think it was  pre-planned, with Russian involvement. Kyrgyzstan is a poor and resource-poor country, mostly grasslands and a mountain range (Tien Shan) that divides Central Asia from China and South Asia. The strategic importance is that it is mostly highlands, with the fertile, populated Fergana valley being part of South-East Kazakhstan and most of Tajikistan. From one side, the mountains look down on Uzbekistan, from another on Tajikistan, and from a third side, it looks down on China's Uighur province (where recently, Al Qaeda has reportedly made inroads. Thus, Russia's control of Kyrgystan gives them the power to make these three countries uneasy. Especially the huge country, Kazakhstan, whose capital Almaty is just 120 miles from the capital of Kyrgystan's capital, Bishkek. Expect trouble brewing in the next three years in Kazakhstan, covertly fomented by Russia. Further, another key strategic consideration: The US has a Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan that is a supply line to Afghanistan. With Russia in the saddle (albeit covertly), the future of this air base suddenly looks uncertain.
Why is Russia doing what it is doing? As I said at the beginning of this post, Imagine that Russia is a person, with pesky neighbours who earlier used to live in what was its own house. Then (pre-1989-91), it had mostly defendable borders -- which were either mountains, seas, lakes or rivers. Now, after the "partition" of the Soviet "family", they are left with several large sections of vulnerable borders that are flat grasslands. Further, several of the "black sheep" today are sympathetic to the Euro Zone, and are being actively assisted by NATO, controlled by its earlier arch-foe, the United States. This (according to a commonly held Russian belief) is the reason why the fires in Chechnya and Dagestan (both being parts of Russia) refuse to die down. Many of these countries are Muslim, and Russia is afraid of the expanding influence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in these countries and provinces. It is therefore keen on expanding till it gets access to a natural bulwark against invasion, in the form of sea, river, lake or mountain range. This naturally means annexing rooms of its former house, which are other CIS countries.

This is also the reason it has retained Kaliningrad, a province that is separated by at least two countries' borders, that gives it access to the Baltic Sea, and a border shared with Poland and Lithuania, both part of its former influence base. That its access to Kaliningrad goes through Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus gives Russia the ability to make these four countries uneasy.
While I do not say the above is the real explanation, events happening around and in Russia seem to be broadly explained by this explanation.

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