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Schadenfreude – The future of Russia’s new ‘orbit’

The next addition to Vladimir Putin’s collection could be Eastern Ukraine, with its large Russian-speaking population and enough activists to stir up agitation to rejoin the Motherland’ federation – warns our secret columnist in Brussels Schadenfreude

Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown that with a little care, he can rebuild a Moscow- based bloc. The Western powers talk big but do nothing serious.

The next addition to his collection could be Eastern Ukraine, with its large Russian-speaking population and enough activists to stir up agitation to rejoin the Motherland’ federation. The orchestrated campaign gives Putin’s cover to exercise his favourite intervention to protect his alleged compatriots. The deployment of Russian armoured divisions on the Ukraine-Russian frontier is a reminder that ‘spontaneous’ agitation may need some external encouragement.

The former Soviet republics on the Baltic are, on present dispositions, beyond his reach. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania took the precaution of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which guarantees their defence. Poland, never Russian but ex-Soviet bloc, is also in NATO and has already asked for a contingent to join its frontier defences.

Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova are dangerous insofar as they are Westward- leaning as clients of the European Union, under the European Neighbourhood Policy – not that it has done them or the EU much good. A new initiative, whether by the ENP partners themselves, or by the EU in isolation, to strengthen the tenuous relationships would be a red rag to Putin.

If he did move to bring any of the four into his orbit, the EU would huff and puff but something more proactive would be out of the question. We are nowhere near a new Cold War. But Putin’s Russia wants to be taken seriously and he shows why it should.

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