Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Bear With A Sore Head
Careful, Volodya, or someone might confuse you with a Bear of Little Brain
There is enough superficial pleasure for bombastic Russians in the Georgia stand-off, for them to be happy for a while. Subtle chess-players though they may be, there was never much subtlety in the political imagery they get served up with, as Putin's public tiger-taming (" 'it's the biggest cat on the planet!' said Putin") reminds us.
But it's all a short-term fix. Russia's ambition is to be a modern power, manufacturing and exporting high-technology goods, respected in the councils of the world. So, whilst throwing around its petrodollar-inflated weight can be satisfying at a basic level, it leaves the big itch unscratched, the big issues unanswered; and worse, it probably sets them back, too. They aren't as good at learning the ways of the world as the Chinese; and now they are in the dog-house.
However ... in the background, Plan B is proceeding almost unnoticed, by way of a fully-developed insurance plan: see this important story (which we may cover in more detail later). Russia as provider of natural resources: it's not how they want to make their future, but it may have to do. It's playing to their strengths and, frankly, it's pretty much all they're good at, these days.
To be successful at this, in the very long run, they must be seen to be reliable. In terms of simple deliveries-on-time, actually, they have been very reliable over 30 years (until gas for Italy got switched off during the chastisement of Ukraine in 2006). But those events, and subsequent actions, have raised the more disturbing question of geo-political reliability.
And here's the rub. When the gas-buying public of Europe thinks carefully about the Russia they know: the Russia that understands only win-lose and trial-of-strength; the Russia that is never defeated or converted or persuaded, but only ever retreats into its limitless depths of surly self-sufficiency ... what could Russia ever do to be seen as politically reliable ?
This will simply fester for many years to come, because Germany cannot wean itself off Russian gas by any means whatsoever in the medium term: and it will do whatever it takes to keep it flowing. Put away the tranquiliser-gun, Volodya, and start figuring out how nations like Norway and Australia manage to be raw material suppliers we are happy to rely on.
Posted by Nick Drew