The Russian Giant Returns

[Ha'aretz] Shlomo Avineri - This war, above all, is a symbol of Russia's return to the playing field of the Great Powers. Lacking a civic society, without representative or elected frameworks, the disintegration of the Communist regime led to the anarchy and chaos of the Boris Yeltsin period. Putin must be credited with the rehabilitation of the Russian state, the subordination of local bullies to the rule of Moscow and the restoration of some assets, mainly in the field of energy, to central control. It wasn't done by persuasion, but with brutality and aggressiveness: The free press was reined in, the opposition parties were pushed aside, although not eliminated, the parliament was neutralized and moguls with political ambitions were expelled from the country or arrested. Although Russia as a country was rescued, a duplicate of the authoritarian czarist regime emerged. During Yeltsin's time the West became accustomed to seeing Russia as a giant cut down to size. The EU and NATO expanded eastward without hindrance. But this proved a passing weakness. The entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated the limits of U.S. power, while soaring oil prices gave Russia a tremendous economic advantage, as well as European dependence on Russian gas. This is not a return to the Cold War, since Putin's Russia is not the bearer of a universal ideology like the Soviet Union; however, it will attempt to establish its own regional hegemony. The era of ignoring Russia has come to an end. The writer is professor emeritus at Hebrew University and former director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

2008-08-15 01:00:00

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