Russia-America: Rediscovering Realpolitik

As Russia returns to its logical, regional, strategic roots, the US under Obama is slowly waking up after its neocon nightmare.

The irony in current relations between Russia and America is that the US has been far more ideological, perversely so, in the past two decades than Soviet foreign policy ever was. Russia is now expanding its economic and political relations with its former comrades both in the “near abroad” and in the Middle East without any of the scheming subtexts of Washington’s manoeuvring in the recent past.

One of the many signs of this is the rapid realignment of Ukraine since the election of President Viktor Yanukovich. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin not long ago floated the idea of merging Ukraine’s national energy company Naftogaz Ukrainiy with the Russian gas giant Gazprom — a move, gasped critics, that would put Ukraine’s strategic network of gas pipelines effectively under Moscow’s control.

Gazprom Chairman Alexei Miller said Gazprom is considering asset swaps with Naftogaz that would provide Gazprom with access to control over the transit pipelines and underground gas storage facilities in exchange for Naftogaz’s access to production assets inside Russia as well as the development of new gas fields. Ukrainian pipelines carry about 80 percent of Russian natural gas exports to Europe. If the deals go ahead, this would mean the end of the Nabucco pipeline, and Gazprom would probably abandon or scale back the South Stream pipeline.

Putin and Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov agreed to create a joint holding company which would give Russia effective control over the nuclear power industry in Ukraine and provide Russian access to Uranium ore deposits. Russia and Ukraine would build a nuclear fuel enrichment facility in Ukraine and provide a $5 billion credit to build two nuclear power generators at the Khmelnitsk nuclear power plant. There are also acquisition deals in the works in aviation and shipbuilding and steel and pipe manufacturing.

In addition to the renewal of the lease of the Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol till 2042, Russia hopes to re-open a Soviet-era submarine base in the Crimea and establish naval bases at Nikolayev and Odessa on the Black Sea coast. “The planned expansion of the Black Sea Fleet is Russia’s response to the NATO expansion to the East,” said Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, former Black Sea Fleet Commander, referring to the establishment of NATO bases in Romania and Bulgaria. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev is expected to sign an agreement on upgrading the Sevastopol base when he pays an official visit to Ukraine next week.

Vladimir Belaeff, president of Global Society Institute in San Francisco, says, “The current rapprochement between Ukraine and the Russian Federation has been long coming.” Compounded by the Western financial meltdown, former Soviet states are now turning to Moscow to renew capital and business ties. Ukrainian-Canadian economist Vlad Ivanenko stated at Russian that it is “inappropriate to say that Russia is trying to buy Ukraine because, economically, there are few Ukrainian assets worth buying at current market prices. The need to secure long-term loyalty partially explains why Russia is ready to pay an upfront premium for the right of exclusive use of Ukrainian assets.”

This is a “pragmatic, creative and opportunity-driven relationship” according to Belaeff. The two countries are much closer than, say, the US and Canada, which are now virtually an integrated market with the North America Free Trade Association. He sees the Gazprom and Naftogaz  negotiations as “a rescue project for the Ukrainian gas pipeline network considering the general shortage of capital available”, and along with the other deals will help stave off collapse of the dysfunctional Ukrainian economy. This is a win-win situation for a Europe teetering on the brink of financial collapse, if not for Washington military strategists. 

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s recent visit to Syria and Turkey further confirms that international relations are beginning to make sense again. Medvedev and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad agreed economic deals including arms sales, and Russia will upgrade the former Soviet naval base in Tartus, which along with the Ukrainian naval bases will give Russia a much higher profile in the region.

From Damascus, Medvedev went to Istanbul, and signed deals on building gas and oil pipelines, transporting oil from the Black Sea via the Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline, and building Turkey’s first nuclear power station.

Ukraine, Syria, Turkey — these rapid developments are a renewal of Soviet foreign policy, albeit in a very different form. As for relations between Russia and the West, there is a return to what was traditionally known as detente, most notably the signing of the renewed START treaty and the ongoing Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty conference in New York, where the main agenda item is to make Israel join, with both the US and Russia in agreement. This is realpolitik at its best.

The Bush-Clinton-Bush leadership abandoned realpolitik to try to force the new, weaker Russia to accept a subservient role in the new world order, a la Britain or Latvia, and when this failed, tried to revive the Cold War. The Putin/Medvedev policy is to patiently push ahead with a European project, restructuring the economy along European lines, all the while maintaining an independent military force, using groupings like BRIC, the SCO and CSTO to keep from falling into the B-C-B trap. The Gorbachev/Yeltsin white-flag period is now behind, though it will take decades for Russia to undo the damage they caused.

Obama is being forced by events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Israel to come to terms with this reality. Russia accepted the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the heat of the post-9/11 frenzy, but will not accept further NATO encroachment or a US invasion of Iran. It allows NATO supplies to pour through its territory on their way to Afghanistan, and grudgingly allowed the US base in Kyrgyzstan a year’s grace period, but its red lines have been clearly drawn.

It could do little as NATO swallowed up Eastern Europe and bits of the ex-Soviet Union, and allowed Ukrainian NATOphiles five years to wreak their havoc until Ukrainians came to their sense themselves. But just as Napoleon and Hitler were destroyed by overstretch, so NATO and the US itself are living on borrowed time (and increasingly meaningless US dollars). What looks like “one step forward, two steps back” in Obama’s relations with Russia is really an indication that the NATO/US retreat has already begun.

Despite the inertia of the Bush legacy, the world is rediscovering traditional balance-of-power international relations. The responsibility of Russia is to make sure the retreat happens in a way that does not result in all-out war.

Eric Walberg is a journalist who worked in Uzbekistan and is now writing for Al-Ahram Weekly in Cairo. He is the author of From Postmodernism to Postsecularism and Postmodern Imperialism. His most recent book is Islamic Resistance to Imperialism. Read other articles by Eric, or visit Eric's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. MichaelKenny said on May 20th, 2010 at 10:03am #

    This a good analysis and a radical change from Mr Walberg’s previous view that the American Empire was omnipotent, invincible and eternal! It ‘s a bit exaggerated to say that the EU is ” teetering on the brink of financial collapse” but Wall St’s attack on the euro is another part of the US/Nato retreat. How could Wall St have been so stupid! The political ramifications of its attack are enormous! The US financial elite has openly attacked so-called “allies” and tried to wreck their economies! Instead of stampeding EU leaders, that attack has rallied them. They know they have been deliberately attacked. They know by whom. And they are fighting back. In other words, the worst case scenario from Washington’s point of view. And any further attacks will only make things worse! Add the public humiliation of the Japanese PM to that and you can see that the US no longer has “allies”. It can obtain nothing without bullying and blackmail. Like Hitler after Stalingrad, the fight may go on for a while yet, but the outcome is clear. The WWII alliance broke up and spawned the cold war. The cold war alliance is now breaking up to create a new all-European alignment.

  2. bozh said on May 20th, 2010 at 11:11am #

    I do not know whether gorbachev was a socialist or not; however, i do not think he had been as gulity as asocialistic [fascist] yeltsin in hanging out the white flag to the West and US.
    If gorbachev and his team had been fascist in ? ’89, one cld blame him for helping to destroy socialism building in USSR.
    However, we don’t know that soviet leadership abandoned socialism because of fear of evanescense in just minutes. It must have been a factor in proclaiming glasnost; which means, i think, speaking loud and freely.
    Wld walberg elucidate us on this factor; i.e., fear of disappearing or being attacked? tnx

  3. efgh1951 said on May 20th, 2010 at 1:52pm #

    hi bozh,
    you asked about whether gorby et al lost their nerve and gave up? it’s a very complex issue, but it was more a faction of the soviet elite deciding life was too short and they wanted all the tinsle of the west. there was no political mechanism for renewing the spirit of socialism and people just took it for granted. i have written about this at my site “The good guys lost the Cold War”.

    hi michael,
    yes, when the going gets tough, the US true colours are revealed to its euro-vassals. maybe they will finally wake up and throw off their shackles. and their own banker elite (who always benefit no matter how bad things get). now if only the US people would do the same. sigh.


  4. Maxwell Black said on May 20th, 2010 at 10:39pm #

    Well done. Here is the work the author mentions in comments:
    and his comrade:

    We need to rethink the meaning of the Cold War.

  5. Rehmat said on May 21st, 2010 at 6:02am #

    Since the USrael empire is on run in the Middle East – Russia has started re-establishing its old links with the remaining socialist regimes (Syria and Yemen) in the region plus mending its relations with its past adversaries (Turkey and Saudi Arabia). Moscow has been allying with Islamic Iran for its natural resources and to stop Tehran supporting Muslim resistance in Chechnya.

    While, Russia as acknowledged to new regional powers (Iran, Turkey and Syria) – Obama is still licking Israel Lobby’s feet.

    Middle East’s new heavyweights

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain said on May 21st, 2010 at 10:34am #

    Russia and China are playing a wise game against the psychopaths of the crumbling US Reich and its Zionist controllers. One would hope that the justified hatred that the US and Israel engender would have them mend their ways and seek a path to living in peace with their neighbours. Unfortunately the ruling elites in the US and Israel see themselves as superior beings, a higher form of existence that has the right to kill without mercy, to destroy whole countries and to defy the entire world, and threaten them if they refuse to bend the knee. They constitute the greatest threat to humanity ever, just at the time that mankind requires co-operation to confront ecological collapse and resource depletion. However,if, by demeaning and threatening every other state, but the few Western Quislings controlled by Zionism, these gangsters force the rest of humanity, led by China and other emerging powers, to collaborate to avert disaster and protect themselves, a nascent development one can see in the Brazil-Turkey-Iran engagement, then their belligerence and viciousness might lead to happy developments. A world free from the demented doctrine of Western racial and cultural supremacism cannot but be a better world than that which we currently inhabit.

  7. bozh said on May 21st, 2010 at 11:23am #

    but what wld have happened had USSR emplaced N-missiles all around US and US unable to reciprocate. What ab the possibility or even probability that of too many cripto-socialists entered politics or became party members.

    For yeltsin to have won mayoralty in moscow, he had to have been a party member? Yet, he turned out to be as strong asocialist.

    It also seems that vast number of croatian and serb communists were in fact strongly asocialistic. This was definitely a cause for break up of the country and serb and croatian efforts to augment their respective territories.

    I believe that tudjman also wanted to grab a chunk of bosnia-hercegovina. I saw it that way and was quite unhapy ab it. But even croatian church was against it and croat offensive against bosniaks [muslims]

    He gave up i think after, i suppose, he had been warned that if he grabs a part of BH, europe wld allow serbs to grab a chunk of croatia and BH.
    In 92, just beforen serb onslaught against bosniaks, milosevic and tudjman met and worked out an agreement to divide bosnia. tnx

    We’ve had some cases in canada of crypto-socialism, as well. As ?lenin had said the best way to destroy a party is to lead it.
    Isn’t that the case also with democratic party in US? tnx