Relations with the West are approaching the “X hour”
We can only dream of peace – this seems to be the main informal slogan of 2022. As soon as the crisis in Kazakhstan faded into the background, two horror stories from the last weeks of last year took its place – the Omicron strain threatening to increase the number of new cases of covid to astronomical values and the prospect of a sharp escalation of confrontation with the West.
But here is the fundamental difference between these three crises. The rampage of “Omicron” is a natural element, the future scope of which a person can only guess. The process of an avalanche-like collapse of power in Kazakhstan also began unexpectedly for most of the leadership of the republic. But in the approach of our relations with the West to the “hour X” there is not a single gram of surprise. So far, everything is going exactly according to the schedule developed in the Kremlin.
There is such an English catchphrase – go through the motions. It means performing all the required actions and movements, but without any hope that they will give the desired result. The January talks between Moscow and the West at three venues (the Ryabkov-Sherman dialogue in Geneva, the dialogue with NATO, and the dialogue at the OSCE platform) are exactly go through the motions on our part. There is a thinly concealed impatience in many statements by Russian officials. Like, have you talked? We talked. Did not work out? Did not work out. Wonderful! We didn't expect anything else. Let’s move on, therefore, to what might actually work—Putin’s notorious “Plan B.”
I will make a reservation right away: this plan has not yet been put into action. We are in the middle of another delay. Russian diplomacy is waiting for a precise written response from the United States to its proposals, where everything will be set out point by point: what is accepted (yes, for the sake of diversity, it could theoretically be), what is rejected out of hand, and what can be a subject for further discussion. But this delay seems to be purely technical. Having taken the position before the start of negotiations “either all our demands are accepted, or go through the woods” and “no delay”, Moscow clearly showed in advance that it does not count on a “good agreement”.
“Our patience has run out. We are very patient, you know that we harness for a long time. We harnessed for a very long time, now it's time for us to go. We are waiting for the coachman on that wagon to answer us specifically on our proposals, ”Sergey Lavrov said today at a press conference. Translated from the diplomatic: give us your piece of paper as soon as possible! We can't bear to do the real thing, and not this endless transfusion of yours from empty to empty.
The expectation of this “real thing” has indeed become painful for a long time. It is impossible to constantly be in a state of permanent uncertainty and suspension. But at the same time, I'm waiting for “real things” without any joyful anticipation. The constant declaration of the thesis “our cause is just” is not enough to achieve success in politics (it does not matter – in international or domestic). Success requires resources, allies, and a plan that can work. Official Moscow behaves as if it has all this. But what exactly is this belief based on?
With allies in Europe, we are now very tight. At the press conference, Lavrov made a number of other interesting statements: “The US and NATO are hindering the attempts of the European Union to achieve autonomy in security matters.” I agree, they interfere. But aren't we helping the US and NATO in this task? Didn't we “lose our patience” too quickly?
Back in the early autumn of last year, there was no question of any fateful confrontation with the West over NATO expansion. But suddenly everything on our side changed in the most radical way. Now the question is put like this: either pan or gone. In my opinion, such a decisive and not fully understood plot twist – why did our patience run out right now, and not six years ago? contributes to our isolation in Europe.
If a diver ascends from a great depth too quickly, he may experience decompression. Now, it seems to me, we are witnessing a political decompression. During the past butts with NATO over military infrastructure in the old world in the 70s and 80s, the USSR had such a strong ally as a powerful anti-war movement in countries that were and still are US allies. Now nothing of the kind is observed. Public opinion in Europe is consolidated on anti-Russian positions. And I believe that we have made a very significant contribution to this consolidation. In terms of pushing Sweden and Finland towards the North Atlantic Alliance, Moscow has done no less than Washington.
Who else can be seen among our reliable allies? Belarus? Well, well, the very phrase “Lukashenko is a reliable ally” contains a deep internal contradiction. Kazakhstan? Now ranting about “understanding the importance of allied relations with the Russian Federation,” the new Minister of Information of the republic, Askar Umarov, is in itself an answer to the question of how deep these relations are. And these countries are not of that caliber, with all my deepest respect for them.
The only potential serious partner of Russia in terms of confrontation with the West is China. By announcing Putin's talks in Beijing as early as early February, Lavrov made a bid for a very serious intrigue. But so far, there are no signs that Russia and China are conducting a multi-move with the West, acting “in concert”, there is no evidence. Instead, we still see a “flight in parallel courses”, coupled with a constant expression of mutual respect, respect and moral support.
Of course, in a sense, it's good that we do not see what kind of cards are in the hands of Putin. Who is forewarned is forearmed. Who warned – he disarmed. But here’s what I personally miss so much is the confidence that we really have strong trump cards in our hands that can ensure the achievement of Moscow’s strategic goals. GDP has raised the stakes in the game so much that bluffing is no longer an option.