Complimentaring StrategyUnit’s post on the Russia-Ukraine Gas sega, StratFor’s Peter Zeihan has an interesting perspective on the possible role and orientation of Dimitri Mendevev, Putin’s newly selected Prime Minister, and his in the Ukraine-Russian Gas issue.
StratFor’s article is interesting because it takes account to the role of Mendevev, whereas Jamestown Foundation, Eurasianet et al have been more focused on Putin or Russia itself.
So, who is this Medvedev?
In mid-November, Russian President Vladimir Putin named Dmitry Medvedev as first deputy prime minister. Medvedev is a rather rare personality in Russian politics, in that he is a modernizer who has not become unrealistically optimistic about Russia ever looking like — much less joining — the West, and a nationalist who has not fallen prey to the debilitating paranoia that often characterizes Russian policy. He also happens to be Putin’s protégé and the board chairman of Gazprom. The Ukraine natural gas crisis was his first Russian foreign-policy initiative.
Medvedev, like all Russians, recognizes that his country’s long-term prospects without Ukraine are, at best, bleak. That means that Russia’s European relations have become of secondary importance — they are no longer an end in their own right, but rather a means to other ends.
According to Stratfor, Medvedev’s motivations are similar to what was mentioned in StrategyUnit’s article: a method to reassert Russia on the world stage, taking advantage of the G-8 chairmanship to set the tone of its chairmanship. In this case it is to force Europe to consider Russia’s interests, power and importance seriously.
Prior to the Jan. 1 shutoff, the Europeans had become complacent, unappreciative of the scope of their dependency upon Russia or how much they have taken a “friendly” Moscow for granted since the end — or even before the end — of the Cold War. Energy supplies to Europe continued throughout the Afghan war, the 1983 war scare, the Moscow Olympic boycott, the putsch against Gorbachev, the Soviet breakup, the Chechen war, the Kosovo war, and the enlargements of NATO and the EU. The Europeans grew confident that as far as energy supplies were concerned, the Russians — while unpredictable in their rhetoric — were rock-solid in their reliability.
Medvedev’s primary goal was to redefine European perceptions of Russia. As of Dec. 31, Western Europeans perceived Russia primarily as an easily dismissed, benign former foe. But with the Gazprom cutoff — which diminished gas supplies needed for heating in the middle of winter — Russia proved itself not only sufficiently erratic to be taken seriously, but also capable of inflicting very real pain with a modicum of effort.
Now, did the Russians want to hurt the Europeans? Of course not. Europe, particularly “old” Europe, remains a potential partner for Moscow, and there is no reason for the Kremlin to introduce spite into an already complex relationship. But did the Russians want the Europeans to know that the Kremlin has the capacity and chutzpah to turn the screws? Absolutely. And doing so at a time of year when the wind whipping off the North Sea is anything but balmy adds that ever-incisive Russian touch.
This is not about establishing trust, but about establishing in Europe a respect for Russia’s strengths and an awareness of Russia’s concerns.
The elegance of Medvedev’s strategy lies in the fact that simply causing the Europeans to think about Russian interests means that the Kremlin has driven a wedge not only between the Europeans and the Ukrainians, but between the Europeans and the Americans. If Russia is to recover what it has lost in geopolitical stature these past 15 years, this is precisely the sort of policy that will give it a fighting chance.
The entire article has more details regarding Ukraine’s motivations and calculations as well as its historic importance to Russia. Most interestingly it points to Yushchenko potential use of the gas issue as a way to play the “anti-Russian” card to boost his popularity for the upcoming March parliamentary elections.
If someone would like to see the article, please let me know and I can forward it. I am unsure if its available freely online.