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Schadenfreude – Russia has serious ambitions in the East

Russia may be expelled from the G8 and athletes may boycott the Sochi Paralympics. So what? Moscow has achieved its purpose and sent out a clear message to the other eastern republics. The EU is out of the running – writes our secret columnist in Brussels Schadenfreude

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1985, one of the strains had been the steep fall in oil prices following the Saudi decision to increase production. Russia was a heavy loser and replaced barter trading within the bloc by sales of oil for hard currency. This was one of the collection of pressures, which combined to produce the end of the bloc in 1996 when Soviet satellites declared their independence.

As part of the process, the satellites transferred back to Russia nuclear weapons it had installed on their territory. In recognition of this action, the Western powers formally guaranteed the independence and nuclear-free status of the former satellites – including the Ukraine – that had housed the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal. The United Kingdom was one of the guarantors.

Some 20 years on, the new Moscow leadership has ambitions to recreate an eastern zone under Russian leadership or – as a minimum – to discourage the members of the former bloc from being drawn more closely into the Western camp. The European Union for its part wants to establish closer relations, short of EU membership, with the countries to its east – which could historically be described as European.

Moscow reasserted itself when the EU proposed to the Ukraine a closer relationship that was not yet a preparation for membership. The EU inexplicably seemed to disregard the corruption of the albeit-elected leadership. As in 2008 in Georgia but more subtly, Russia intervened in the Ukraine – ostensibly to protect the Russian-speaking population.

The guarantors look on and deplore the Russian takeover. They know that their guarantee is worthless. All they can promise is that there will be ‘costs’ to Russia. It may be expelled from the G8 and athletes may boycott the Sochi Paralympics. So what? Moscow has achieved its purpose and sent out a clear message to the other eastern republics. The EU is out of the running. Did it not foresee consequences?

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