Staunton, September 13 – By turning on Ukraine which he had earlier presented as Russia’s closest partner, Vladimir Putin has sent a message to all of Russia’s remaining allies that he could turn on them at any point, however warmly he speaks of them now, a message that is likely to cost Russia its few remaining allies, Vitaly Portnikov says
In a commentary for Radio Liberty yesterday, the Ukrainian analyst argues that in this way “Putin is building a scaffold for himself with his own hands” because just as no one can trust his words on anything else, no one can trust his professions of friendship and thus ever fewer countries will oppose sanctions (radiosvoboda.org/content/article/27243030.html).
Portnikov draws these conclusions on the basis of what has happened to the Southern Flow gas pipeline project. Launched because of Putin’s obsessive desire to ensure that Russian gas would bypass Ukraine on its way to Europe, this project is now dead in the water; and Putin is seeking to promote the Northern Flow through the Baltic instead.
When Putin began pushing the project, “a large segment of observers immediately began to speak of the unprofessionalism and fantastic quality of the project.” It couldn’t make up for a loss of Ukrainian routes, and was “in a literal sense, a path to nowhere” except in the sense that the Kremlin leader could use the alternative to put pressure on Ukraine.
Putin’s decision to kill the project has had “some positive sides” but not for him, the Ukrainian commentator says. It has become “’a cold shower’” for Serbia and Hungary, two “devoted supporters of Russia.” And now that he has moved in this direction, both have reacted in ways that suggest their view of Moscow has changed.
On the one hand, Hungary has found it easier to support sanctions against Russia. And on the other, Serbia has “accelerated the process of reaching agreement on European integration.” In short, both “Serbs and Hungarians have become convinced that Putin could ‘throw them over’ at any time.”
Moreover, Portnikov says, Putin’s decision to kill the pipeline through Turkey has complicated Moscow’s relations not only with Ankara but with Athens. The Turkish leadership had expected Russia to cooperate and it hasn’t; and Greece now sees that Putin’s promises about assistance aren’t going to come through.
The Russian government made it even worse for itself because it did not inform the Greeks or the Macedonians that it was killing the project. (Macedonia was the alternative route to Bulgaria.) And when problems arose in both countries, Moscow predictably blamed the Americans.
Finally, by pushing the Northern Flow in order to somehow bypass Ukraine, Putin has worsened relations with Slovakia, another one of its allies within the European Union. And this means, Portnikov says, that yet another country will not speak out against sanctions.”