Page 1 of
2 For Putin, little but a lobster
dinner By M K Bhadrakumar
During his visit to Moscow last week,
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez revealed that
when he and Cuban leader Fidel Castro last met in
Havana, they had drunk a toast to Russian
President Vladimir Putin for his famous speech at
the Munich security conference in February that
attacked Washington for imposing its will on the
"The empire must
understand that it cannot dominate the world,"
Chavez said. But Moscow wouldn't take the bait. It
visit low key. Kremlin spokesmen insisted the
visit was about economic cooperation, not politics
- not quite incorrect as Moscow is hoping to do
brisk business in weaponry worth billions of
dollars and to gain entry into Venezuela's oil
sector in a big way.
The Kremlin's real
priority, though, was to avoid irritating
Washington on the eve of Putin's "lobster summit"
with President George W Bush in Maine on July 1-2,
which was to commence within 48 hours of Chavez's
departure from Moscow for Tehran.
the paradoxes of the post-modern cold war sailed
into view. Russia must continue to press ahead for
a partnership with the US. The bulk of the Russian
strategic community consider there is no option
for their country but to pursue integration within
a Greater Europe. They estimate that ideally,
Moscow should draw close to Brussels and act
jointly to influence Washington.
prominent political analyst, academician Alexei
Arbatov, said recently, "The only reason Russia
wants to move to the East is that Asian countries
don't criticize us for our domestic political
problems and our behavior in the former Soviet
republics. Things are easier for us in the East,
so we are drifting in that direction.
Russia wants to remain dependent on energy
exports, it should indeed look to the East.
There's demand for our resources in the East.
There are the fast-growing economies of China and
India. But, then, these countries will set prices
in the form of ultimatums. And their prices will
be much lower than what the West might pay."
Duality of the Russian mind
Russian strategic thinkers often warn
against their country ending up as a "raw material
appendage" of China or India. Indeed, Russia's
trade and economic relations with China have come
under strain. (Russian-Indian economic ties remain
stagnant with no apparent will on either side to
Russia is tightening the
screws on Chinese businessmen. Moscow's decision
to disallow the assembling of Chinese cars in
Russia jeopardizes around US$400 million worth
Chinese investment. Addressing Chinese
parliamentarians recently, the speaker of the Duma
(Russia's parlaiment), Boris Gryzlov, pointed out
that Russian exports to China "not only mostly
contain, but continue to increasingly include, raw
materials and primary conversion products, such as
crude oil, round timber, fish, chemicals, and
non-ferrous metals". Moscow is taking a tough
stance on energy cooperation.
gas pipeline project might be postponed. Gazprom
blocked the TNK-BP project to build a gas pipeline
from the Kovytka gas fields to China. China had
hoped to receive up to 10 bcm gas from Sakhalin-1
but talks have run into difficulty.
Russian energy experts have voiced the
opinion that instead of simply exporting the
massive energy reserves of Siberia and the Russian
far east to China and Asia, Russia should focus on
setting up gas processing and gas chemical
production units and aspire to export helium,
propane and butane, as well as to manufacture
products like polypropylene and various kinds of
But at the same time, solidarity
with the East becomes important for Moscow when
the West steps up pressure. In the Eastern
theater, Russia puts a spin on its mounting
differences with the West. That appeals to Chavez.
He said, "They [the US] don't want Russia to keep
rising, but Russia has risen again as a center of
power and we, the people of the world, need Russia
and China to become stronger every day."
"History is moving, and it's moving at a
gallop," Chavez observed. The rhetoric embarrassed
his Russian hosts, but it suited them, too. To
quote the Russian daily, Vedomosti, "On the one
hand, the Kremlin is demonstrating the
independence of its foreign policy. On the other
hand, it is keeping some distance from the fiery
Thus, the Communist Party
members in the Duma demanded that Chavez address
the full House in a plenary session, but the
ruling party patronized by the Kremlin quashed the
move. Chavez finally addressed the Russian
parliamentarians in an ornate side room that could
seat only 40 people.
It is this duality in
Russian thinking that accounts for the keen
interest all over Eurasia and in Russia's
neighboring regions regarding the outcome of
Putin's summit with Bush last weekend. How is
Russia to cope with the rising disagreements in
its relations with the US?
In the run-up
to the summit, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov
said, "Russia is trying to be as flexible as
possible. Russia is trying to be as constructive
as possible to avoid any tensions. Actually, our
main goal is to avoid any tensions, but at the
same time not to let anyone neglect our interest
in our security … This is not a return to the Cold
War. The Cold War, if you remember, was a war of
ideologies, whereas, it is now the same ideology.
So, it is just attempts to ensure that we all
respect each other's interests in not making
No shared Iran
strategy In the event, Washington was in
no mood to accord to the Russian-American dialogue
any "strategic and global" attribute (to quote
Peskov). What came through, beneath Bush's charm
offensive, was that Washington intended to
continue with its policy of "selective engagement"
of Russia. This primarily means nudging Moscow on
the Iran nuclear issue.
thinks it can do without Russia on Iraq and
Afghanistan, or on Palestine and Lebanon. Even
Kosovo didn't figure substantively at the summit.
No doubt, Washington rejects the need of an
overarching understanding with Moscow while
expanding its influence in the former Soviet
Bush told reporters that Iran
was a major focus of his discussions with Putin.
"When Russia and America speak with, you know,
along the same lines, it tends to have an effect.
I have been counting on the Russians' support to
send a clear message to the Iranians, and that
support and that message is a strong message … We
are close on recognizing that we've got to work
together to send a common message", Bush said.
Putin didn't dispute Bush, but he deflected the
thrust of what Bush said, hinting at a greater
receptivity to the Iranian position.
referred to recent signals from Tehran indicative
of possible "interaction, cooperation" with the
International Atomic Energy Agency, and European
Union chief Javier Solana's "positive data and
information". This fell far short of a robust
endorsement of what Bush said. Neither claimed any
shared Iran strategy either.
didn't seem to share Bush's sense of urgency.
Russia would have assessed that the EU doesn't
want to impose sanctions against Iran, especially
all-round punitive measures covering petroleum,
trade and financial dealings. As for China, Russia
is also for focusing on the diplomatic track and
has openly stated its skepticism about whether
"this is the right moment for