From the June 2, 2009 Gulf News
June 2, 2009
by Andrei A. Piontkovsky
Germany's ex-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is a legend in Russia. He serves Gazprom's interests for a measly couple of million euros a year, sits in at sessions of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and writes books about his staunch friendship with 'Genosse Wladimir,' who, in the not-so-distant past, earned himself the well-deserved nickname of 'Stasi' among business circles in gangster-ridden St Petersburg.
But it is not immediately obvious whether it is Schroeder who is currying favour with Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin nowadays or vice versa.
The two of them are trying to build, the Nord Stream gas pipeline, an exceptionally costly project that satisfies twin strategic objectives.
Demonstratively hostile to the interests of Belarus and Ukraine, the pipeline is intended to ensure these countries are under Russia's energy thumb. As a bonus, the pipeline will also consolidate the Russian economy's status as an appendage of Germany's - its supplier of natural resources.
The Kremlin's achievements in securing the help of Americans willing to offer their influence are equally impressive. Indeed, the Obama administration's Russia policy is being nurtured with advice from people who have no official position in the administration but close business ties to Russia and the Kremlin: Henry Kissinger, James A. Baker, Thomas Graham, and Dimitri Simes.
Like Schroeder, all these people are not economically disinterested. Baker is a consultant for the two companies at the commanding heights of the Russian economy, Gazprom and Rosneft. The Kissinger Associates lobbying group, whose Russian section is headed by Graham, feeds in to the Kissinger-Primakov working group, a quasi-private-sector effort, blessed by Putin, to deepen ties between Russia and the US.
It is highly instructive to read the recommendations of these people and groups, as they unobtrusively render the objectives of their Kremlin clients into a language familiar to American leaders. Graham's latest contribution, Resurgent Russia and US Purposes, is most revealing in this respect. The author finds the government of a "Russia getting up off its knees" to consist of progressive modernisers fully aware of the challenges facing their country as it attempts to "return to the great powers club".
"In order to become a genuinely developed and modern country," Graham continues, "in the coming decade Russia will need to invest at least one trillion dollars [Dh3.67 trillion] in modernising its infrastructure. America and the West in general have a vital interest in seeing the modernisation of Russia succeed. The lion's share of the technologies, know-how, and a substantial proportion of the investment, needs to come from Europe and the US." In addition to the technology and investments, Graham quietly slips in a foreign policy suggestion for the Obama administration that is sure to please the Kremlin: "Finlandising" Ukraine.
Unless that sort of appeasement is pursued, he warns, Russia will continue to oppose the US "wherever and whenever it can".
According to Graham, "At the extreme, a weak Russia, with its vast resources and sparse population east of the Urals, could become the object of competition among the great powers, notably China and the United States".
That unspoken help-us-develop-or-we'll-let-the-Chinese-do-it threat is a logical development of Putin's homily at this year's World Economic Forum in Davos.
His recipe? Western countries should write off half a trillion dollars worth of debt owed to them by the Russian state corporations run by his pals from the Dresden KGB and the Ozero dacha co-operative.
But no amount of money will succeed in modernising Putin's regime, which has already squandered trillions in oil wealth. Simply put, the Putin system is politically, institutionally, and intellectually antithetical to the task of modernisation.
Graham's only error in his presentation is his attempt to frighten the administration with a hypothetical confrontation between the US and China over Russian resources. This is not his area of specialisation.
Kissinger works with the Chinese account, jointly propounding with his long-time rival Zbigniew Brzezinski the notion, so seductive for an America growing weary of its imperial burden, of a global Big Two.
Here is a recent sample of Kissinger's geopolitical arts: "The role of China in a new world order is crucial. A relationship that started on both sides as essentially a strategic design to constrain a common adversary has evolved over the decades into a pillar of the international system... The Sino-American relationship needs to be taken to a new level. This generation of leaders has the opportunity to shape relations into a design for a common destiny, much as was done with trans-Atlantic relations in the post-war period."
No doubt Kissinger believes every word he wrote, but his ideas also honestly articulate the aspirations of his customers.
It is just that not all customers have the same motives. One wants to put its hooks into a further trillion dollars that it can pick away at, while the other wants to become "a central construct of the system of international relations".
But, in both cases, the customers are getting the influence for which they are paying.
Andrei Piontkovsky is a visiting fellow with Hudson Institute.
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