Friday, June 08, 2007

G#

Giustino is wondering why Russia is in the G8 while Brazil isn't. To answer both him and my president, the reason why Russia is tolerated in the G8, and Brazil hasn't been invited, is because G8 membership is important to Russia, but irrelevant to pretty much everyone else.

G8 membership was Yeltzin's great public achievement. In the early 90s, G7 countries were the ones most intimately involved with introducing free market values this side of the Iron Curtain. Therefore G7 meetings were always on the news, the decisions made there always seemed pertinent; it was easy to believe that G7 was the club that mattered, the table from which the world was run. Joining the club was a boon for Russia's collective self-esteem, as it was now accepted as an equal to the US, UK, France, Germany... In Yeltzin's time, Russia did have industry - it was outdated, inefficient and crumbling, but it was there. And for all the corruption, violence and nepotism of the time, Yeltzin's Russia was - when it counted - democratic. In Yeltzin's Russia, professional clowns like Zhirinovski or the communist Shandybin could rise to political prominence; a stand-up comedian with a rustic, country farmer public image rode his fame to a governorship; and like so many great authoritarian leaders, Putin himself was elected legitimately*. To the G7, Yeltzin's Russia was a misguided, but promising partner, a project that they felt confident they could manage**. Letting Russia into an organization of large industrial democracies was not a big deal for the others, but it was a massive plus for Yeltzin and his nation.

Today, we live in a different time. The West's biggest issue is no longer incorporating Europe's lost half into an industrial democratic community. That job is by and large done. Most of Eastern Europe is either in the EU or well on its way there. The Balkans appear to have been sorted. Ukraine may still see scuffles between the revolutionary president and other major figures, but overall it has been realigned westwards. Belarus is irrelevant. Transdniester will eventually be sorted out by Moldova, which is to Romania as Estonia is to Finland. Chances are that if Georgia gets an EU invite on the condition that it drops Abhasia, that issue can be solved.

For the Golden Billion, both the major issues and the major weapons are now economic. Noblesse oblige has been re-targeted to emerging markets. Wars have outlived their usefulness; I won't claim that we've seen the last truly massive war, but at this point in time, there is no viable hostile force to challenge the West's domination. The issue is the availability of energy and access to markets.

And Russia aside, the Grand Number does not have a cohesive position in this effort. The EU's previous and early iterations were about establishing a common market; Europe as any sort of cohesive political force has only been around since the Iraq war, when the continent's big players either said no thanks, or made it very clear that they were only sending in a token mercenary force as a personal favor to Washington. If the G7 does not have a common approach to the Middle East, the organization itself does not hold any special significance. It's not really useless, as it's still a good excuse for world leaders to get together and talk about things, but the G8 is a far less important event than the World Economic Forum, let's say.

The reason why Brazil, or indeed China, have not been accepted into the G#, is because they haven't asked. They have nothing to gain from it except the ire of anti-globalist protesters. In terms of international politics, Brazil is naturally poised to assume the same sort of leading position for the non-Arabic Third World as Poland has for New Europe, and G8 membership would only hurt that, without providing any sort of real prestige.

The reason why Russia has not been kicked out of the G8, despite being increasingly totalitarian, is because nobody particularly gives a damn if it's there. Russia enjoys its G8 membership a lot more than the G7 minds it. Europe's attitude to Russian antics is the one Estonia should've taken up in a perfect world: that of confident bemusement. As I've written before, Russia needs Europe a lot more than Europe needs Russia; but that doesn't mean Europe is going to go around hitting the Kremlin in its collective face with a wet trout. While Estonia has the habit of calling Russia's bluff and allowing it to make a fool of itself, Europe simply ignores the pointless dick-waving and humors Putin in irrelevant cases.

Fair enough.

---

* Russia's problem isn't that Putin crushes all viable competitors, it's that there are no viable competitors to consider. The tragedy is that Putin is actually the archetypal Russian leader; history tells us that the country functions under totalitarian rule and falls apart under democratic idealists.

** Remember, Putin came out of nowhere. In hindsight we know that he was involved in St. Petersburg mayoral politics, but shortly after Yeltzin's resignation there was a memorable moment at an international conference where some Western journalist asked, "But who exactly is Mr. Putin?". So the G7 actually had every reason to expect Russia to continue on a democratic path.

9 comments:

Nothing is Free said...

The G7 was only relevant to Yeltsin. He was a sucker for meaningless flattery. Putin is not an alcoholic, so the "Man, I respect you so much" shtick doesn't fly anymore. But one must keep up appearances. Besides, he and his homies are all about money. How does "helping Africa" and "climate change" allow Gazpromia to make more money? I bet he can barely contain his laughter when he hears this nonsense.

Much of your analysis rests on the simplification that the West is one single entity, which it isn't. Maybe during the Cold War, when the threat was idealogical, indeed one set of "shared values" against another, but this is hardly the case now. Russia, OTOH, is a single entity, albeit schizophrenic at times. The other simplification is that Russia is some kind of Northern Saudi Arabia, which is not true. So the assumption that the Western states will stand "shoulder-to-shoulder" and shun the Russian market, refuse her energy, leaving it all to China and Japan, is laughable. Just look at the trade figures. The only exception is America, which doesn't depend on Russian energy, and doesn't have much trade with Russia. That's why her rhetoric is always the strongest.

karLos said...

Transdniester will eventually be sorted out by Moldova, which is to Romania as Estonia is to Finland

this is not my understanding, and the situation there is getting worse, not better - and moldova is washing it's hands of the problem - a problem created by ethnic russians wanting independance, and so carving seedy a convenient enclave out of the east. tdnstra is a problem that won't go away unless russia stop supporting the goons in charge. moldova can't stand up to russia, even if it wanted to. i think the EU will have arrived too late there, assuming it ever does.

Nothing is Free said...

The cause of the Transdniestra secession was the vitriolic Moldavian nationalism. (Ditto, Georgia). Funny how many of those ultranationalists who called for expulsion of Russians, break-up of mixed marriages (their children put in special orphanages, of course), ended up in Moscow. Funny that.

Mait said...

Of course, lest not forget the 'peacekeepers' making sure Transnistria does what it's there for.

And, Flasher - Georgia in EU is undoable right now, just check the map. NATO, more likely.

Flasher T said...

Much of your analysis rests on the simplification that the West is one single entity

Actually much of my analysis rests on the idea that the West isn't a single entity any more, which is why the G7 itself is no longer a united front, so at this point it's just another regular junket.

So the assumption that the Western states will stand "shoulder-to-shoulder" and shun the Russian market, refuse her energy, leaving it all to China and Japan, is laughable.

That's not the assumption. Russia and Europe are inevitably going to trade energy, my point is that Russia isn't quite the dominant force it would like itself to be. China won't pay as much as Europe, and there's the permanent nagging suspicion that China would just as well invade Siberia. Plus there's no eastbound infrastructure.

and moldova is washing it's hands of the problem

Again, this is my point - if Brussels issues Moldova an invitation on the condition that it gives up claims to the territory, it most likely will. Transdniester can continue on as a Russian client state, a nominally independent Kaliningrad sandwiched between EU members Moldova and Romania, and EU-bound Ukraine. At the end of the day, forcing the Russians to tie up resources in supporting a purely political cause is a good thing for the EU - much like the Warsaw Pact overextended the economy of the USSR and eventually lead to its demise.

And, Flasher - Georgia in EU is undoable right now, just check the map. NATO, more likely.

Of course it would be far easier if Turkey provided a contiguous territory. But Georgia is committed to the EU, and with Romania and Bulgaria now providing a massive chunk of Black Sea coastline, Brussels would absolutely love to secure ports on both sides. Georgia is just one short step away from the Kaspian, and a success story there would go a long way to establishing a favourable sentiment throughout the South Caucasus. Georgia is a safe bet for the EU, a fallback while it tries to sort out Ukraine and Turkey, and control over the Black Sea is something the EU needs as a Plan B for access to Kaspian oil reserves.

So, I agree that Georgia is tricky to incorporate into the EU directly, but I do think the EU is there for the long haul.

karLos said...

is georgia really that tricky? perhaps it has some difficult geography that would be hard to make a well defined, monitorable border to meet EU standards, but the EU has islands inside it, literal islands (cyprus, mahttp://www.google.com/translate_t
Google Translatelta) - so why not land islands within land? the practical issue is inflow and outflow of people, goods and money - but first the questions about its readiness for membership... georgia before turkey anyday.

Flasher T said...

Georgia is a mountainous country, and its borders are kind of difficult to control - but then it's no new expertise.

The tricky bit is having an enclave across the Black Sea, bordering on potentially hostile countries, with no contiguous land access to it. Both Malta and Cyprus are in the Mediterranean, where EU countries easily have naval dominance. In the case of a conflict, securing access to Georgia from just the Bulgarian and Romanian coast, with no control of the Dardanelles, can be difficult.

It's not an impossible job, but it would really be a lot easier if Turkey wasn't so suspicious.

Giustino said...

Plus there's no eastbound infrastructure.

Aren't you forgetting about the two-lane kruusi tee to Vladik?

Flasher T said...

Hardly a decent way to run oil, though I guess after the Tallinn-Tartu road it feels doable. ;)

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