Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Some Thoughts on Russian Strategy in Europe

Brian Whitmore was kind enough to include some of my thoughts and comments on Russia's long-term strategy in the Balkans--focusing especially on the economic and business angles--in his RFE/RL Special Report. I liked the phrase he coined--"banks not tanks"--to note how the main instrument of Russian power projection is changing.

I also felt it was important that we move away from the old cliches about "Orthodox-Slavic" unity as a motivator for policy. (If Orthodoxy was a key factor one would expect the best of relations between Russia and Georgia, whose Orthodoxy is the cornerstone of national identity. Putin and Saakashvili both went to church on January 7--it is not really a common bond between them.)

Russia is cultivating a whole group of new partners in Europe on the basis of good old fashioned self-interest. Hungarians have discovered they can forgive 1848-49 and 1956 to position their country as a major hub for Russian energy exports in the 21st century. No common cultural ties connect Russia with the Netherlands, the Austrians, the Norwegians, or the Italians; and it bears noting that Russia has more of a business presence in Catholic Croatia than in Orthodox Serbia (although that may change).

Several years back, I began incorporating a component into some of the classes I teach on Russia's business diplomacy. Perhaps this is now a subject worthy of its own course.

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