Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Putin Gives Up Siberia To Get "Lugansk" Rather Than "Luhansk"

Or maybe you prefer "Novorossiya," ("New Russia") the name given to southeastern Ukraine when Russia conquered it from Turkish control under Catherine the Great, and which name has been revived to cover both of the self-declared republics in the oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk/Lugansk.  I note that what people call this latter is a sign of whether they view it as part of Ukraine, in which case they call it "Luhansk," or part of a Russia-leaning independent or autonomous state or even part of Russia outright, in which case they call it "Lugansk."  If the new ceasefire brought about by the Russian incursion into the southeastern corner of Ukraine that has pushed Ukrainian President Poroshenko into accepting a ceasefire holds, then, in effect, the "Lugansk" outcome will be frozen in place, de facto on the ground, if not generally accepted as such by the rest of the world, which is tightening economic sanctions on Russia further for this latest "incursion."

In any case, in today's Financial Times, Guy Chazam reports that "Sanctions help Russia overcome its China paranoia," which starts out by reminding readers that 45 years ago the USSR and China fought a hot war, if only briefly, in the far eastern Amur region.  Since sanctions began after Russia annexed Crimea, Putin has already signed a natural gas deal with China at a much lower price than he had previously been holding out for, although at the time it was advertized as this great breakthrough that showed how Russia did not need the West.  So now Chazam reports on a new set of deals in which the Chinese state-owned oil company CNPC is buying portions of Russian state-owned oil companies operating in eastern Siberia, most notably Vankor, a subsidiary of Rosneft.  The Chinese had previously been allowed to purchase Siberian coal and timber, but this is the first time the Chinese have been allowed to purchase "stakes in its [Russia's] oil and gas fields."

So, maybe this is not all of Siberia, and Putin has gained willingness of most of the Russian population to suffer the economic sanctions from the rest of the world (none of which openly supports its policy in Ukraine, although some quietly do so, such as China), with his poll ratings riding high at 85%, but it is not at all obvious that the gains, if there are any, from having more political control of the coal and steel complex of the Donbass, will outweigh these longer run costs  It has been a fairly hilarious idea that the EU has somehow been champing at the bit to add yet more out-of-date coal and steel producing capacity to the surplus amounts already bogging down existing EU members.

BTW, that Putin justifies taking effective control of the Donbass by invoking the name it was given when Catherine the Great took control of it should give pause to those who insist that the expansion of NATO in 1999 to include Poland and the Baltic states was part of a plot by western countries.   In fact Poland began requesting to join NATO as early as 1996, largely as a result of watching what Russia was then doing in Chechnya, which of course makes Putin's complaints about the Ukrainian government shelling Donetsk look like the rank hypocrisy it is.  It was Catherine the Great who took control of Warsaw and most of central and eastern Poland also in the late 1700s when that nation was partitioned between Russia, Prussia, and Austria, holding on to it until the end of World War I, with the Baltic states having been conquered earlier by Peter the Great, although they also gained independence at the end of World War I, only to be retaken by Stalin during World War II, that former Soviet leader whom Putin is reported to admire, along with (hack, cough) Peter the Great and Catherine the Great.  That Russia is now invading and annexing territory of neighbors and justifying it on the basis of actions carried out under Catherine the Great only shows that the Poles and the Balts had very good reason to want to join NATO (and I am one who would have been fine with NATO dissolving when the Warsaw Pact did, but, it did not...).

Barkley Rosser

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