Tim Snyder, writing in today’s Foreign Policy, makes some interesting observations, though where the Crimea is concerned, many are already outdated.
His most provocative point may come in the labeling of the relationship that China has with Russia, which he terms “colonial”:The Chinese economic relationship with eastern Siberia is a colonial one: China buys raw materials and sells finished goods. Beijing actually invests more in eastern Siberia than does Moscow.
It takes a bit of an intellectual meander to link this point to the bardak in Crimea, but the observation, so far as it describes the arc of domestic policy in Russia now and in the future, is worth pondering. In short, what it means is that the Kremlin is obsessed with its relationship with the West, policies informed by whim, insecurity and general peevishness, geared to the short-term, rather than a coherent long term strategy to prevent Russia from imploding under the weight of its demographic crisis and rampant corruption that impoverishes the general population, enriches insiders (often criminals) and undermines the integrity of the state.
China is perfectly happy to get the fuel for its economy (not just oil and gas, but timber, coal, subsurface minerals) on the cheap, as raw commodities. Hell, they have no interest in seeing Russia get organized to create value-added manufactured finished goods (such as refined gasoline, or finished lumber products). That would be more expensive for Chinese industry, who capture the added value of Russian commodity goods and then export the products abroad.
How does this relate to Ukraine? A better question is how does it relate to Sochi. Sochi was a whimsical project by VVP (“pharaonic” is a good descriptor). He wanted to impress. He wanted to boast. He wanted to brag and preen and show-off. The world– the West, in particular– was the audience.
When your policy decisions are made based on nostalgia, psychological insecurity and paranoia, then you end up making short-term decisions that are either ineffectual, wasteful or both. (maybe Putin’s having a midlife crisis, and Sochi is the equivalent of a $51 billion sports car?)
Ukraine is the same way. The Kremlin views the Crimea as if the 1856 war just ended yesterday, with Russian forces humiliated by the French, the British and those wily Sardinians. (Turks also, let’s not forget).
Last thought: Snyder also raises the issue of China’s investments in Ukraine, particularly in agriculture, as being reason for Beijing to take a greater interest in what’s happening in Kiev. Bollocks. Agriculture investments are peanuts (so to speak), compared to oil and gas. Wheat imports aren’t what’s made the Chinese industrial economy so robust for the past decade plus. If China were to actively get involved, and upset the Kremlin, Moscow, I’m sure, would be happy to suddenly find leaks in the pipelines out east. Beijing’s not interested.