Russia on the Rise

by Joshua Foust on 8/23/2006 · 4 comments

The Post finally chimes in on the nasty games Russia is playing with its gas and oil supplies, something I’ve been banging the drum on for almost a year. Naturally, Lukoil, the state-owned oil monopoly, is trying to squeeze out a Polish company from buying refinery facilities in Lithuania, which, like most former Eastern Bloc states, is reliant on Moscow for its energy supplies. It is similar to the games Gazprom played with Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, and it is eerily similar to the sketchy Baltic Bed pipe inked by Gerhard Schroeder.

Russia already considers its ascension complete. For a while now, it has been able to bully its neighbors and former vassals with zero consequence, right down to piously preaching “energy security” at the last G8 conference in St. Petersburg. In a sense, this is par for the course, as Russian pride was never very comfortable with the country’s fall from respect in the 90’s. But in another sense, this should deeply trouble policy makers, who have spent so much energy trying to shift their stance on Russia, trying to keep it down by expanding American influence right to their border, that no one seemed to have imagined Russia pushing back.

Some have. In a class last year, I read several articles on the impact NATO expansion and new alliances in Central Asia and the Caucasus were having on the Russian psyche (many of which were referenced in my literature review of the new geopolitics in Central Asia). Russia is at its smallest extent, in both territory and influence, in 300 years. It should be unsurprising that they are pushing back, trying to regain some of the lost glory and respect they once commanded.

For Central Asia itself, this spells further trouble: the region is a tangled morass of shifting alliances right now, with Kazakhstan growing closer to China and the SCO, Uzbekistan warily looking on and starting to move back to a pro-Russia bent, Kyrgyzstan a complete mess politically, and Turkmenistan coming into conflict with Gazprom (and reducing exports) as it tightens its relationship with China. Russia is looking for a way to reestablish its strong influence in the near abroad, and since the U.S. no longer has the monopoly on influence it did after September 11, expect Putin to make stronger moves in the region.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 4 comments }

Brian August 29, 2006 at 11:53 pm

It reads like you have too many former Cold Warriors teaching your classes, or the air is too thin in Boulder. Lukoil is 20% owned by a large American company called Conoco-Phillips. Oil politics are much more complex than ‘good guy-bad guy’ scenarios of 30 years ago.

You, as with most US-policy pundits and desk jockeys, are completely omitting – either on purpose or out of limited vision – the practical aspects of SCO and the economics of Central Asia. At what point in time, do you estimate, was the United States going to become a major economic partner with Uzbekistan? Russia currently accounts for upwards of 50% of Uzbekistan’s export revenues – many of which are in non-strategic sectors, such as agriculture and services. The United States has in fact done its best to limit its economic interaction with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on cotton, due to the powerful cotton lobby in DC. Is this the promise of US/NATO alliances? Does Russia threaten the US, economically? Would that motivate intelligent people in DC to change tactics at State, or Commerce?

There are many economic problems in Uzbekistan and some are directly attributable to the autocratic, former ‘Central Planners’ running the show – any naive pundit/blogger can figure that out. You make bold, semi-informed statements, but you do have access to make a better case. Don’t omit from your analysis the practical aspects of ‘global partnership’, the nuances and complexity of strategic issues, and do not insult your readership by underestimating the intelligence of all of the parties in the equation, including Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

You are a student. Work harder.

Joshua Foust August 30, 2006 at 5:18 am

I’m sorry, I don’t get your point. My post can be summarized like this: Russia is expanding its influence, sometimes by using its oil companies. The U.S. is losing influence in Central Asia. The Central Asian states themselves all have differing goals and alliances. The role the SCO plays in this specific analysis is at best peripheral—Russia is involved, but doesn’t use the group as a tool of influence peddling to nearly the same extent China does. And just because Lukoil is partially owned by a U.S. company (they actually own about 8%, with rights to purchase up to 20% in the future) doesn’t mean it doesn’t operate in the interests of the Russian government—just as American companies like Exxon-Mobil do.

I’m not really sure where or how you disagree with this analysis, as everything I repeated just now has been taken from public sources, quoted above and from elsewhere. Also, it’s usually better not to personally insult someone you’re trying to convince—often, they’re much more willing to listen.

Brian II August 30, 2006 at 11:45 pm

1. Your conjecture that SCO and Russia’s influence vis-a-vis SCO is limited, is completely offbase. There have been multiple meetings over the summer in Tashkent – on the same themes that are being discussed with Uzbekistan’s re-entry to Eurosec – that overlap SCO, and its’ new ‘economic development’ platform.

2. Why does this ‘spell further trouble’ for Central Asia? What you are really saying is that it ‘spells trouble for the US as having overriding influence over policy in Central Asia’. That is the fear-mongering bit that is right out of the Cold War playbook. Your analysis omits the view that maybe the US has been a little bit didactic in dealing with Central Asia. Perhaps a ‘fair and balanced’ argument would include the equation that a confident and rich Russia is better for Central Asians – and, in the long run, better for the USA – than a poor, destitute, and desperate one.

Joshua Foust August 31, 2006 at 5:22 am

1) Since its charter was signed in 2003, Russia has not hosted a meeting of the SCO, nor have any discussions focused on Russian interests or concerns. Rather, China and Uzbekistan have taken primary roles within the organization, as both have stated publicly their desire to make the organization a primary focus of their foreign policy. Everything else you mentioned in point 1 refer to Uzbekistan, not Russia. Uzbekistan has taken on a larger, much more active role within the SCO, as has China.

2) Here’s an alternative take: Russia, convinced its newfound oil riches have re-invigorated its status as a superpower, decides that, since it used to own Central Asia anyway, it should be able to dictate matters in the region. Even at its height, the US was reduced to painful, slow negotiations for things like basing rights. And before 9/11, in 1998 to be exact, Alexei Mitrofanov, the Deputy Chair of the Duma Defense Committee, described Russia’s global standing as a “geopolitical Stalingrad,” and said growing American influence in the region would spell doom for Russia (the speech was “Russia’s New Geopolitics” and was translated by Richard Weitz at the Kennedy School of Government; hosted at CIAO Net). So the tug of war between Russian and American influence is a bit older and far more complex than you give it credit here. Plus, how about a historical perspective? A rich Russia has historically acted just like a rich America—haughty, ‘didactic’, and incredibly brutal. Why is one automatically better than the other? Rather, how would either not spell trouble for a Central Asia still trying to get on its feet after more than seven decades of brutal oppression by a foreign power now trying to regain control?

Final points: telling a brutal thug to please stop slaughtering his civilians is hardly didactic, at least in a negative sense (though it could just be the wrong kind of lesson Karimov’s been taught), and where the hell did you get the idea I’m ‘fair and balanced?’

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