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Commentary: Yeltsin – Putin And Their Troubles With The West

  • April 27th, 2007
  • Posted by 7thmin

putin-ec1.jpgThe departure from this life of Boris Yeltsin (23.4.07) called to mind episodes in his Presidency of Russia that foreshadowed uneasy relations today with the West.

Lee Duffield writes on Yeltsin and the Putin succession:

Boris Yeltsin made his presence felt just after his June 1991 election as President, with a visit to the European Parliament.

For the occasion he came in a Presidential jet with Russian flag on the tail. The embattled Mikhail Gorbachev, as President of the Soviet Union, was a white haired boy with many Western politicians of the time including some of the MEPs. Seeing this Yeltsin as one of the “embattlers”, they began to heckle the guest, showing what side they were on. Yeltsin’s sudden response was memorable; interrupting proceedings, leaping to his feet, making to walk out, shouting back. This man would be no push-over.

If his chaotic, crime-ridden unchaining of the Russian economy had its enthusiasts in Western Europe; if his courage in putting down the August coup d’etat was admired by all; his war on Chechnya caused serious alarm, even while critics struggled to excuse the personal style – the boozing and bad boogying to music on public occasions.

Mr Yeltsin also objected hoarsely to the encroachments of the Atlantic alliance, NATO, moving to take in erstwhile Soviet allies of Eastern Europe – in the case of the Baltic states, three actual former Soviet Republics.

Resentment over that was inherited by his successor Vladimir Putin, who this week (26.4.07) put in his latest strong objection.

He has announced a freeze on Russia’s compliance with the CFE Treaty (Conventional Forces in Europe), one of the grand and astonishing sudden achievements of the Cold war thaw under Gorbachev.

The gesture lacks the force it might have had in the days of the stand-off between the two great armies of East and West, but has the stink of instability about it that worries, deeply, Western Europeans in positions of authority.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, has hastened to state (26.4.07) he will be talking to the Russians very soon to obtain “clarification”.

The Russian action was taken directly because of American plans to locate anti-missile defences, specifically against any future strategic attack by Iran, in two of the new EU and NATO member states – former Soviet allies, the Czech Republic and Poland.

Mr Putin’s government has been difficult for Europe on other matters in the last year, and before.

EU negotiators have been tirelessly chipping away at bans imposed by Russia on meat and other food imports from Poland and Romania. Some insiders say that action was to some degree on valid sanitary grounds, if the letter of the law be strictly followed; though work was hampered by the sensation that it was also due to ill-feeling about those countries moving off to join the West.

The Russian government, feeling its strength build up on returns from higher oil prices, has acted in four ways not to the taste of its Western partners:- reclaiming ownership of energy resources and exploitation rights from “oligarchs”; demanding a lion’s share of control and equity in major energy projects on Russian territory; demanding greater rights to investment and control in energy industries in Western Europe; and engaging in price disputes with its customers (state energy companies in Belarus and Ukraine), causing sudden and frightening interruptions in the flow of Winter fuel to the West, (See EUAustralia, 21.10.06, 21.1.07).

It has continued with repression in Chechnya.

Mr Putin under the Russian constitution is in his last term as President of Russia, though he has equivocated about whether he will actually be letting go of all power.

He does appear to have an ongoing agenda that would entail further restoration of the state authority he commands.

Picture: Vladimir Putin in friendlier times, hosted by the EU; (EC Audiovisual)