Russia’s Evaporated Soft Power

Yesterday’s surprise endorser for Georgia in NATO was Angela Merkel. Today’s in Eduard Shevardnadze:

War could have been prevented, says Sheverdnadze – The Irish Times – Mon, Aug 18, 2008
But Shevardnadze supports the enlargement of Nato to former Soviet republics: “There was a referendum in Georgia and 70 per cent of Georgians said Yes to joining NATO. It’s true the Russians don’t like it . . . But I don’t consider Nato an aggressive organisation.

The Atlantic alliance had its reasons for dampening Georgian and Ukrainian hopes for rapid membership at the Bucharest summit in April. “Our democratic development didn’t correspond to their standards,” Shevardnadze said.

“But if we had been members of Nato, what is happening today would not have happened. All the countries who refused support our membership today.”

As if to confirm Shevardnadze’s words, German chancellor Angela Merkel, who arrived in Tbilisi yesterday afternoon, said Georgia should join Nato.

Shevardnadze (the former President of Georgia, and before that the Soviet Union’s Foreign Minister) is, along with Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, Islom Karimov of Uzbekistan, and Viktor Yushchenko, part of a constellation of post-Soviet leaders that were formerly closely tied to Russia. Russia’s “soft power” was made possible by Boris Yeltsin, the last President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and the first President of hte Russian Federation. Yeltsin, along with Lukashenko, Karimov, Yuschenko, and others, grew up in the Soviet system, and were used to a world where Moscow acted as a model and guide for the smaller republics in eastern Europe and central Asia.

Unfortunately for Russia , this web of soft power was dismissed as the oligarchs by internal revolutionaries, such as Vladimir Putin. Similar to the British National Party after the fall of the British Empire, or the National Front after the fall of the French Empire, Putin’s factions set about building a national identity by destroying the remnants of the old cosmopolitan empire. One should give thanks for Putin to the extent that one has suspicion of Russia’s ability to function in the global economy neighbor.

Putin’s invasion of Georgia is only the latest of his seemingly calculated attempts to weaken Russia as much as possible. With Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein dead, Vladimir Putin must have decided thank the world needed another incompetent goon for everyone to unite against.

Obviously, such an analysis is predicated on other actors behaving rationally. But as we’ve seen from Russia’s former employee and client Eduard Shevardnadze’s endorsement of Georgia-in-NATO, a rational reaction may be just what Russia gets.

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