Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Russian Empire without Tanks?

Two weeks ago Paul Berman warned in TNR that Russia's invasion of Georgia would strengthen autocracy and weaken democracy on multiple fronts, including the internal politics of Russia's "near abroad":
The vast and irreversible effects of the invasion of Georgia will be felt everywhere in the ex-Soviet bloc, and not just there. Each of the ex-bloc countries has what could be called its own pro-Russia party, which is hostile to the democratic revolutions. The pro-Russia parties stand on several solid and distinct foundations: ethnic Russian minorities in the countries bordering on Russia; a variety of business interests linked to Russia, based either on Russian gas and raw materials, or on networks descended from the Soviet-era military and police agencies; nationalist groupings in the old Slavophilic style; and some (not all) of the heirs to the old Communist political tradition.

From atop those several foundations, the pro-Russia parties derive strength from a variety of physical threats: a threat of cyber-attack (already waged against Estonia on behalf of the Russian ethnic minority there, and, shortly before the invasion, against Georgia); a threat of a cut-off in gas supplies, which Russia has already wielded against Ukraine; and, more vaguely, a threat of murky political tension. Today, the pro-Russia parties in each of Russia's immediate neighbors and in some of the more distant neighbors can add to those the ultimate threat. The one involving tanks. The pro-Russia parties in every country have therefore emerged from last week's events massively reinforced, and they will remain so for years to come even if every one of those Russian tanks were to exit Georgia tomorrow.

Looks like this process is already playing out in Ukraine. From today's FT:

Ukraine’s pro-western coalition descended into chaos on Wednesday even as western leaders sought to demonstrate their support for Kiev following Russia’s intervention in Georgia.

Ministers backing President Victor Yushchenko walked out of a cabinet meeting on Wednesday after their Our Ukraine party threatened to quit a coalition with the bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko, the prime minister.

Addressing the nation, President Yushchenko accused Ms Tymoshenko’s bloc of plotting an ”anti-constitutional coup” by voting in tandem with communists and the Moscow-leaning Regions party in favour of legislation to cut the president’s authority. “Without a doubt, the collapse of the coalition was a well-planned action,” he said. He threatened to dissolve parliament unless politicians agreed a new coalition. Andriy Portnov, a lawmaker backing Ms Tymoshenko, said the coalition could be saved if Mr Yushchenko’s camp apologised for ”systematically trying to sabotage” the government. The partners still have up to 40 days to try to reconcile their differences....

Moscow has denied suggestions it could challenge Ukraine’s territorial integrity, but has openly protested against the speedy westward integration drive adopted by Mr Yushchenko, including plans to join Nato.
McCain used to like to talk about "rogue state rollback." Today, it looks like Western Alliance rollback is gaining momentum. Putin has already started working rhetorically to pin that process on McCain, suggesting that the Bush Administration triggered Georgia's invasion of Ossetia to help his candidacy. Russia, with good reason, considers McCain its most inveterate enemy in the U.S.. If he's elected, count on Cold War II.

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