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Toni Schönfelder
A lifetime of innovation

2000.03.15 this article is in original from…. © 2000, Stratfor, Inc. Putin’s Friendly Face Will Not Last Summary Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a number of conciliatory statements toward the West over the past few weeks. In doing this, Putin not only strengthens his already ironclad election campaign, but also establishes himself as someone with whom the West can do business. This will not change facts on the ground. The West has no desire to assist Russia unless it agrees to conditions that Putin would never accept. The West will refuse to make any economic or political concessions to Russia, and as a result Putin and the Russian leadership will become more vitriolic than ever. Analysis The Times of India reported March 13 that Putin suspended the transfer of sensitive military technology to China. If true, this apparently pro-Western move marks another step in acting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tightrope walk between seeking a less acidic relationship with the West and catering to Russian nationalist passions. For the next few months Putin will lean increasingly toward an open rapprochement, knowing full well that his attempts will fail. But in failing, he will establish in Western and Russian eyes the need for a powerful - and by necessity ruthless - leader in Moscow. Putin’s past actions show he is willing to wield a political stick both at home and abroad in his efforts to establish Russia as a strong state with a strong regime. The war in Chechnya - atrocities and all - vividly demonstrates the lengths to which he will go. His use of less than polite methods of diplomacy in bringing Georgia and Ukraine to heel grant a glimpse into what he may one day be willing to do to increase Russian influence over other areas of the former Soviet world. His willingness to court former Soviet client states shows he is willing to adopt riskier - and much more confrontational - strategies should the West seek to isolate Russia. But in recent weeks Putin has shown a more congenial face. In late February, Putin forced the Russian security services to release Radio Free Europe journalist Andrei Babitsky over the protests of many in the Duma. On March 5 he startled the world by rather flippantly stating that there was no reason why Russia could some day join NATO. His March 11 meeting with U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair was all sunshine and compliments. On March 13 the Times of India - the paper of choice for KGB leaks during the Cold War - cited a report that Putin had suspended the transfer of sensitive military technology to China. If true, it would be a policy shift that would be sure to please the United States. As part of a carefully calculated strategy, the carrot has supplanted the stick. This kinder, gentler face serves a number of purposes. First, it provides an olive leaf to Russia’s battered liberals and reformers. The largely pro-Western liberals were soundly trounced in Russia’s Dec. 19 parliamentary elections and participated in the boycott of the Duma to protest Putin’s embracing of the Communists. Making pro-Western statements could lure liberals into supporting Putin’s presidential bid in the March 26 elections. Putin is already expected to garner more than 50 percent of the votes and thus handily defeat the other 11 candidates without need for a second round of voting; with liberal support, Putin would win a commanding mandate to boot. This would strengthen Putin’s standing both at home and abroad. Putin’s statements target an international audience as well. Russia cannot support its current budget without a new source of funding. First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov is appealing to Western governments and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to agree to both debt forgiveness and new loans. By making conciliatory statements Putin is helping to pave the path. After Putin is elected, there will be a flurry of high-level meetings as Putin and Western leaders size each other up. Russo-American and Russo-Japanese summits are already in planning. The crown jewel of these encounters is the Group of Eight meeting in Okinawa, Japan, June 21-23. Putin’s friendlier face is essential in his attempts to obtain new loans, technology transfers, foreign investment and a seat for Russia at international tables. These are all prizes that Russia desperately needs, and Putin is willing to make sacrifices to achieve them. Putin’s diplomatic overtures will largely fail, and he knows it - even expects it. The Russian economy, despite having grown slightly in 1999, remains corrupted and anemic. The lack of a functioning legal or banking system and ongoing investigations into money laundering will keep foreign investment - both public and private - away. Germany, afraid to lose even more money in the Russian abyss, will refuse substantial renegotiation of Russia’s $43 billion in debt to the Paris Club, a group of governmental lenders. The European Union and NATO, both preparing to expand further east, will continue to turn a partially deaf ear to Russian protests. Even if the West were committed to salvaging Russia, the task is now so mammoth that the combined economic might of the West could well prove insufficient. But Putin’s openness will establish Russia as the party seeking closer ties, and the West as the party that rejected the hand of friendship. This rejection will allow Russia’s leader to again - and justifiably - wield the stick from Moscow. In the months after the G-8 summit - the locale where the West’s rejection will be made clear - there will be subtle splits within the West. Several states - such as France - will seek to engage the new face of Russia. Putin will stretch this policy of smiling, rabid nationalism as long as he can, on one hand building up Russia’s military and preparing for the worst, and on the other continuing a sporadic dialog with Washington and Brussels and hoping for the best. The West is mirroring this policy by simultaneously promoting a greater cooperation while continuing with NATO and European Union expansion. This partial engagement - and the partially friendly face of Russia - cannot last long. Putin’s support base consists of the military and intelligence services, covered with a mantle of nationalism. This will certainly grant Putin the presidency and allow him to carry on the war in Chechnya, yet neither Putin nor his advisors have managed to produce a coherent economic plan. Without continued confrontation and a target for Russian anger, Putin cannot placate the nationalists. Without economic recovery primed by foreign investment, he cannot disarm them. Eventually, the nationalist avalanche Putin started will overtake him, possibly even bury him, and the West can do nothing to help. The aftermath will feature an embittered Russia that the West spurned - and a leader with a very large stick. © 2000, Stratfor, Inc.

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