Name of the publication: The New Cold War: how the Kremlin menaces Russia and the West (Der Kalte Krieg des Kreml: Wie das Putin-System Russland und den Westen bedroht)
Compiler: Edward Lucas
Publisher: Riemann Verlag, München
Publishing year: 2008
Edward Lucas is a correspondent for the British weekly The Economist. He focuses on the countries stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea. He speaks fluently four languages: English, German, Polish and Russian. He has been covering the region since 1986. He monitored the fall of the Iron Curtain in the former Czechoslovakia. In the period from 1998 to 2002, he headed The Economist bureau in Moscow. Since 2006, he has been also the deputy editor of the Economist’s international section.
Edward Lucas’ book is supposed to be a wake-up call to the Western powers. According to the author the West has been either sleeping or aiming predominantly at the war on terrorism in the recent years while Russian bear has been sharpening its claws.
It might seem at the first sight that the book is neither primarily about Vladimir Putin nor about the return of the Russian Federation (RF) to authoritarian regime. It’s a portrait of Russian ruling class, which remembers the KGB era and created a corruption old-boy-network capitalism, as it were, based on domestic mineral wealth. This is the author’s concept of the perception of current relations among economic and top level political elites which were partially exchanged after President Putin’s power assumption. The essence of the relation is the permission to run a business and expand on domestic Russian market and to penetrate into foreign markets in accordance with the Kremlin’s official policy as well as its blessing.
Russian economic expansion policy pursued since Putin’s power assumption is understandable. The country’s economic power as a tool of influence strengthening has substituted military power that dominated in the second half of the 20th century and the importance of which decreased in 1991 after the dissolution of the USSR. Nevertheless, economic orientation hasn’t change. It focuses primarily on surrounding countries, the former members of the USSR and COMECON as well as western European energy materials costumers. The reinforcement of economic influence, however, has to be limited by a principled attitude of the countries in question. And this is the apple of discord because it’s the non-existence of the mentioned attitude which is the West reproached for in the book. According to the author we have found ourselves in a situation in which the strongest Russian point is concurrently our weakest one, namely the money. Today, we should dread the billions in Russian accounts in the same way like we used to dread Russian military force in the past.
The expressive name of the book “The New Cold War” is based on the “old” Cold War, which was dominated by the fear of nuclear weapons. Energies are in the centre of interest of the “new” Cold War. Power engineering is the key topic of the whole book. Nowadays, the EU is dependent to a large extent on Russian earth gas supplies and since Russia possesses the largest deposits of this raw material in the world and moreover, the consumption in the EU will grow, the dependence will be stepped up as well. Anyway, this relation between two “business partners” isn’t based solely on economic factors. The RF is aware of its power and it’s been learning to handle this power.
An indisputable fact is that the RF uses the supplies of energy materials as one of the most efficient tools of its foreign policy to a still larger degree. The basis of its vision was introduced by Vladimir Putin in his dissertation as early as 1997. According to him the administration of raw materials is far too important and therefore it cannot be in charge of private companies. In practice his theses mean the prevention of European source diversification, the stepping up of RF’s influence on the international earth gas market, the acquisition of share in energy activities in western countries and the exertion of political pressure via acquired company shares (page 282).
Notwithstanding the fact mentioned, Russia keeps on emphasising that it’s a reliable supplier and partner of western countries. The secret of this conflict consists in its selectivity – the supplies for main western consumers aren’t interrupted indeed. Among those endangered are Eastern European countries which are much more dependent on Russian raw materials from the historical point of view and in many cases they haven’t got any other raw material sources (page 250). In this situation, the easiest thing for the RF is to stop the supplies and shift blame onto bad technical condition, sabotages or natural disasters. Typical instances are oil supplies from Russia to Lithuanian refinery Mazheiku or Latvian harbour Ventspils, which were stopped in the aftermath of similar statements. Predominantly political objectives have been pursued in these cases.
Not just power engineering itself is behind the growth of RF’s power in the author’s opinion. Following the dissolution of the USSR, Russia had nothing to offer to other countries except for those where dictators and authoritarian regimes had been ruling. The author classes also Slovakia prior to 1998 among this group, which can be hardly agreed with. The question of criteria according to which the author selected the countries isn’t dealt with further in the book. Although the Slovak Republic found itself in certain international isolation owing to domestic policy, it was the consequence of the influence of domestic political elites rather than any intentional foreign political activity of any state.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, the power of the RF, which makes its presence felt, for example, by the consolidation of positions in Central America, has been growing along with oil prices on world markets. Certain empty space was created by EU enlargement in 2004 and in the aftermath of growing dissatisfaction with new member states (page 229). The author is highly critical of new member states and describes their unpreparedness for the entry into the alliance from the mental as well as economic point of view. But for the political commitment to enlargement, the countries of old EU-15 could have proceeded effortlessly with integration which has been hampered by some new members now. Russia takes advantage of this situation struggling for separate negotiations with individual EU states about issues concerning the entire community. At present, apart from power engineering also the instance of Kosovo or US anti-missile shield can be mentioned in this context. According to the author these are the reasons for the RF flirting with the idea of European double-speed integration, the conduction of which would impinge upon the overall development of the community (pages 273 – 277). He presents the agreement on the Nord Stream gas pipeline concluded between Germany and Russia behind the back of new members. The subject matter of the agreement is the bypassing of transit countries some of which are already EU members. This is an example of possible double-speed EU development. According to Lucas it is only the portent of what would happen later.
In the case of power engineering the author’s affirmations coincide with the widely spread opinion supported by the media in the Western Europe, which is primarily orientated against RF’s steps in this field. Those parts of the book dealing with the Nord Stream gas pipeline may serve as an example of this thinking. Its possible conduction isn’t in reality based just on the bypassing of transit countries but also on the struggle to enter the largest continental gas market and to cover the growing consumption of earth gas in Europe in the future. The decision making process on the construction of gas pipeline is intricate and the author tackles only those aspects which fit the book’s overall negative view of Russia. In order to secure better balance, it would be suitable to analyse all factors. I don’t challenge the primary objective of the gas pipeline which is the direct interconnection between the producer and the customer.
Lucas’ second main target of criticism is the West itself as well as its relation to a country rich in raw materials. Among those lambasted the most are politicians and businessmen from Germany who deceive their own country because of the illusion of profitable contracts. Lucas calls for moral restoration, highlights liberty and despises the power of money. It’s an imaginary appeal underscoring the freedom of decision and economic freedom of EU countries. In his opinion, it is undermined by short-sighted decisions on the conclusion of important energy contracts without any wider European discussion and joint stance. It puts EU into a situation in which some countries will have stronger position as for negotiations with the RF than other ones. These will be then more vulnerable. According to the author it is the power of money which controls relations with Russia for the sake of which negative development in this country remains unseen. A greater weight of responsibility is attached to politicians because the largest energy enterprises in Germany are in private hands. Big energy contracts between these enterprises and Russia cannot be realised without political support of both states. The author deals with publicly known projects in which German and Russian enterprises cooperate. However, he doesn’t mention, for instance, the circumstances under which German E.On Ruhrgas entered Gazprom and doesn’t reproach other European companies and states for collaborating with the RF either. The project South Stream is as crucial for the EU and the RF as the already mentioned Nord Stream. In this context the author’s reproaches towards German politicians would turn against Italy.
Mainly the former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is shown in a bad light. After leaving the office, he has become the head of the project the realisation of which he was arranging yet as the Chancellor. The Chancellor Angela Merkel is put into a contrast to his stance. She is along with Nicloas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown among new EU leaders and is willing to criticise the violation of human rights in Russia. This stands for an evident difference between the present time and the period when the main European countries were headed by Schröder, Blair, Chirac and Berlusconi. In the book, Lucas connects the questions of power engineering with the whole scale of other problems, like the violation of human rights, RF’s policy on Chechnia and surrounding countries. The analysis of these aspects, however, isn’t thus much in-depth as in the case of energy policy. They stand rather for associated problems or side issues. Some passages from the book aren’t tackled precisely enough and approach journalistic popularisation style. Lucas analyses also other tools that the RF uses in terms of foreign policy. Apart from the mentioned energy policy, the book deals also with military power, the acquisition of shares in western companies, ethnic Russian minorities living in surrounding states including the Baltic countries and non-governmental organisations financed by the Kremlin.
Usually, military pressure is under way through military exercises in border areas and the flights of military aircrafts over the territories of sovereign states. Such Russian actions have predominantly an psychological impact and serve for provocation because they breach official valid documents and agreements only rarely. In this connection the author highlights Georgia and the problematic region of Abkhazia the most. The reactions of the West are weak in his opinion and the majority of countries have been just making statements and voicing concerns. In this way Russia tests whether it is likely to face some political consequences if it violates the sovereignty of small surrounding countries. Despite the weakness of these protests, Lucas thinks that similar actions may cause the palling of western countries’ enthusiasm for close links with the Kremlin (page 254).
It is the Baltic states which have been along with Georgia and Moldova the most politically and economically endangered countries according to Lucas. They gained this qualification mainly thanks to their complicated internal political situation, numerous Russian minority, economic dependence on the RF, foreign political orientation and separatist movements. There will be always potential for conflicts with the RF in the countries in question. Latent though it may seem, the potential will be always present. Owing to the countries’ relative weakness and small size, it is necessary that western countries back them. One of the causes, which Lucas describes as the reason for conflicts, is the integration of these countries into western structures. He pays attention primarily to stances and statements of Russia pertaining to such efforts which are based on confrontation statements and uphold the interest in integration even more. In the book, he lays more stress on smaller states although, for instance, Ukraine has to face similar problems too. At this point, the author’s inclination to weaker states, that may spring out from his personal experience as he worked there most of his professional career, can be felt.
After Russia was received into the Council of Europe, the chance of exerting western influence through this institution turned slimmer and Russian entry itself is considered a catastrophic mistake by the author. He also assesses negatively Russian entry into G-7 group and its subsequent enlargement to G-8. If an organisation is a club of large countries, China, India and Brazil should be members as well. If rich countries are supposed to be members, Russia should remain aloof (page 368). In the author’s opinion, this selective approach illustrates the unprincipled attitude of the West which is based overwhelmingly on short-term advantages. Nonetheless, struggling for the support of democratic development in some country, it remains a question whether it’s better to let this country join the ranks and influence it as a legitimate member, or let it outside and exert pressure on it as an external partner. Western approach preferring the first possibility underscores EU and NATO enlargement process during which countries unprepared for membership became members.
The book is an interesting contribution to current topics and discussions concerning the election of the new President of Russia, Russian economy growth and energy situation in Europe. It follows up this trend and, obviously, it strives to make the best of it. However, it’s an independent contribution of an author who has his own opinion and rich experience.
It’s such a discussion which is needed and its results should resonate in the highest political posts. The election of new Russian President Dmitry Medvedev without any genuine rival turned out to be the confirmation of a part of his opinions. In spite of this, there are passages in the book which should have been analysed better and which one cannot agree with completely. Some parts are written in an expressive language. However, the reason is that this book isn’t intended solely for experts in discussed topics but also for lay public.
For instance, it’s hard to identify with the statement that each Russian foreign investment, as the author himself claims in the book, is considered to be politically motivated upholding the country’s foreign policy. It’s not conceivable to generalise when making such statements, but Lucas didn’t avoid generalising. Football may serve as an example. Roman Abramovich is the owner of the club Chelsea FC. Gazprom is the major sponsor of the German football club Schalke 04. By means of this partnership, Gazprom strives to improve its image of gas producer and gas seller in the country. Anyway, it’s almost certain that Abramovich hasn’t been pushing through the interests of the current leadership of Russian state. In his case, it is more a prestigious investment and a profitable deal.
According to Lucas it’s necessary to perceive Russia an authoritarian country, like Kazakhstan or China, and not a member of the western community. Nowadays, the country is weak and therefore unable to pursue efficient and independent foreign policy in the author’s opinion. It’s linked with a new political situation that arose after the dissolution of the USSR and COMECON, the decrease of the value of the country’s military force and the integration efforts of NATO and the EU that the RF tries to equal and react to them adequately. Russia wants to become a respected, reliable and friendly partner, however, in view of this commitment, it doesn’t behave appropriately. It compensates for its real weak points by the creation of the feeling of dread of its own power. From this point of view the threat of a “new Cold War” isn’t comparable to the threats of the original one although such development is unsatisfactory for the West. The more rich and authoritarian the country is, the more difficult will be to solve its problems. Russian influence in Europe will be growing but the readiness of the countries involved will be sinking. The means of economic pressure will be become less efficient. Unless the West understands that there’s still the possibility to win the current “new Cold War”, it will be yet more difficult for it in the future. If the West staked on confrontation course, it may stir up economic damage and political unrests. Nevertheless, the situation gives at the same time a chance to form a new relation with Russia that wouldn’t be based on feelings but on real conditions as well as the orientation towards an objective and not future wishes. According to the author this was EU’s attitude in the 1990’s when it often acted emotively and had idealistic notions of the RF as regards its transformation into a democratically administered country in accordance with western standards. At this point, the question arises whether the country, which has never experienced such a form of rule and which developed in a different way in view of its own historical position, will be capable of living up to the western countries’ and the author’s expectations.
Europe has still the possibility to resist Russian expansion. In the conclusion, however, Lucas analyses the possibilities of potential resistance only generally. The precondition is the comprehension that in the RF the most important value isn’t political and civil freedom but economic stability. This implies what the West is supposed to focus on. The times when western countries could influence domestic policy came to an end when President Yeltsin was substituted by Putin. The EU and the US have to weather common problems emerging from different attitude to the War on Iraq, the Middle East policy and climatic changes. The RF spurs these discrepancies and strives to achieve the chill in mutual relations. Europe and America must stick together. They cannot let themselves tear apart.
Russia is obliged to keep to world standards in the economy area if it wants to take advantage of free trade and the free movement of capital. It also has to participate actively in this movement. It is to secure the protection of investments and private ownership, i.e. institutions which western countries have been accepting for ages. To put it simply, it must adhere to standards valid for all states. In this sense, Lucas calls for the restriction of Gazprom’s monopoly on domestic gas pipes, the granting of the entry to foreign companies and the de-politicisation of energy sector.
Since energy security isn’t just about external raw material supplies, the EU has to achieve the establishment of an internal market with earth gas and diversify its supplies either through new pipes or LNG supplies. In practice this means this means not to build Nord Stream but Nabucco. The building of both lines has been motivated politically from the very beginning, which doesn’t contribute to reasonable discussion. The influence of both possible gas pipelines is exaggerated. The discussion on which route to construct is hampered by further problems of European power engineering (the growing influence of states on energy companies, paternalistic defence stances, slow progress as for the establishment of internal market, the reconciliation of manifold interests and opinions). These problems diverted also Lucas’s attention away from European domestic energy problems. He analyses these problems only marginally although it’s necessary to solve them so that broader context can be understood.
Towards the end of the book Lucas proposes the West to take a “strategic break” in further negotiations with Russia and thus show that unless the country is prepared for cooperation, further progress will be postponed. However, it is diplomacy and cooperation which amount to European tradition, not confrontation suggested by the author. This isn’t even needed. The EU has still time and room for self-confident policy as well as posture as for Russia. Anyway, the room will shrink gradually in the course of time. It may result in a condition in which the EU will become just one of the regions of Russian raw materials exports. Thus it will lose the possibility of exerting pressure. Errors rectification will cost much more effort and morality under such circumstances. Unfortunately, future generations of politicians are sure to lack them much more than the current ones.