Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

M K Bhadrakumar, "More battles ahead in Russia's 'gas war,'" Asia Times Online, January 17, 2009.

The cause of any war is difficult to pinpoint. There is always more than one cause. And they could be just causes or ugly causes. There is no objective criterion except that the right cause is constructive while the wrong one is destructive, but then, people define by their standards.

Of course, there is a time for all wars. Finally, there is the problem of war. The same god who sanctioned so much war and violence in the Old Testament bursts into the human situation in the New Testament with a huge promise of hope, forgiveness and reconciliation. We call this "grace".

  "Ukraine is heading toward a twin currency and banking sector crisis that could well bring down most of the economies of Eastern Europe."
Erik Berglof
Chief Economist
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

By these reckonings, Russia's 13-day "gas war" with Ukraine (from January 1 to January13) was largely atypical. True, its causes were not in any serious dispute, but its timing was simply awful, right in the middle of Orthodox Christmas. Russia has a problem with "grace" and could take a lesson or two from China on how to reconcile contradictions involving neighbors. Russia's image surely took a beating in the Western media, which eagerly puffed up the controversy.

Unsurprisingly, the ubiquitous Americans promptly put on their trans-Atlantic leadership mantle and appeared on the scene to finger-point at the unreliable, unscrupulous, venal Russian "bullies". Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute came up with a most ingenious thesis that actually the Russians were conspiring to make Ukraine a corrupt country, destabilize it and make it unsafe for democracy.

But it was most certainly a war and the Russians likely won, as Old Europe did not take the cue from Washington. The win remains indeterminate, though. That is because it has been ultimately about geopolitics, where you don't conclusively win and can only avoid losing, and as China's People's Daily newspaper noted, Russia cannot turn a blind eye towards "NATO's [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] greedy expansion" and the dispute between the United States and Russia will only become "more and more intense".

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