Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Russia's natural inclination for hegemony in Central Asia

The report today on the feud between Russia and Ukraine suggests that the real issues have more to do with hegemony in the region than economics. It is hard for the "nationalists" in Russia, heirs of the Soviet legacy, to accept the independence of Ukraine: "they will never accept the notion of Ukrainians, nearly half of whom are ethnic Russians, as members of an independent, Western-oriented state." It is in this sense that it can be said that this affair is a continuation of the Georgian War. It is not merely Ukraine and Georgia, either: it is the wider world of "independent states" in Central Asia who can scarcely avoid the influence of the northern Bear. [Click on the title for a link to the source.]

New York Times, January 14, 2009
Memo From Moscow: Gas Dispute Runs Deeper Than Pipes, Experts Say

MOSCOW — The feud between Russia and Ukraine over natural gas prices and transit fees has left large swaths of Europe without heat. Yet, what is baffling is that the dispute has always seemed overly technical and easily resolved, if there was the slightest desire on either side. After all, both countries stand to profit from selling fuel to Europe.

The latest agreement collapsed Tuesday, in a familiar cacophony of complaints and countercomplaints, and again over a seemingly trivial issue. With European Union monitors along the pipeline to make sure that Ukraine did not divert any gas for its own use, Russia agreed to resume shipments to Europe.

But rather than repressuring the Ukrainian pipeline system for exports, Russia’s gas monopoly, Gazprom, ordered a single test shipment to see if it would pass through Ukraine to Europe, through a pipeline that was being used to supply the Ukrainian city of Odessa. Ukrainian authorities refused, saying they did not want to cut supplies to their own people, and Russia again halted shipments — not, some experts believed, reluctantly.

Political experts say that neither side is motivated to settle the dispute, because it has never been about the stated issues. Instead, it has been a proxy for far more fundamental and insoluble matters, particularly Ukraine’s 2004 turn to the West in the “Orange Revolution,” which deeply shook Russia’s nationalists.

“The Russian side is appealing to a lot of technical details to explain why it still wants the conflict to go on,” Vladimir S. Milov, president of the Institute of Energy Policy in Moscow and a former deputy energy minister of Russia, said in a telephone interview.

“It’s very clear to see the desire to pressure the Ukrainian politicians, and pressure them that if they continue to pursue a pro-Western course and not adhere to the rules imposed by Moscow on the post-Soviet space, they will face difficulties,” he said.

Nationalists in Moscow could swallow the loss of the Baltic states and Russia’s former colonies in Central Asia, but they will never accept the notion of Ukrainians, nearly half of whom are ethnic Russians, as members of an independent, Western-oriented state, and potentially in NATO, no less.

Some other analysts point to the aftermath of last summer’s Georgian conflict as another sticking point, noting that after the war Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, had claimed a “privileged sphere of influence” over former Soviet states.

“This is a continuation of the Russian-Georgian war, only by other means,” Grigory N. Perepelitsa, director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, an arm of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, said in a telephone interview. “There it was tanks, here it is gas.”

This time, though, Europe is suffering as well, with hundreds of thousands of people in southeastern Europe living without heat for six days and factories shutting down in several countries.

[more in the source article]

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