The 'Sick Man of Europe' Resurges

By Rasizade, Alec | Contemporary Review, Autumn 2007 | Go to article overview
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The 'Sick Man of Europe' Resurges


Rasizade, Alec, Contemporary Review


THE row between Britain and Russia over Moscow's refusal to extradite Andrey Lugovoy, the former Russian security officer accused of fatally poisoning his ex-comrade Alexander Litvinenko last year in London, has evolved into a diplomatic stalemate accompanied by sharp political statements. London expelled four Russian diplomats in protest against the extradition refusal and Moscow responded in kind, expelling British diplomats. Russia has formally refused to extradite Mr. Lugovoy citing its Constitution, which prohibits the extradition of Russian nationals. This led the new British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, to suggest in the House of Commons on 16 July 2007 that Russia should amend its Constitution to enable the extradition of Mr. Lugovoy.

President Putin mordantly retorted on 24 July that 'the British officials are making proposals to change our Constitution that are insulting for our nation. London forgets that Great Britain is no longer a colonial power and that Russia has never been its colony'. Putin charged further that 'about thirty people in London, such as Berezovsky and Zakaev, are sought by our security services for serious crimes. The British authorities have not lifted a finger or even thought of extraditing them. But from other countries, including ours, they make impossibly high demands'.

This Anglo-Russian diplomatic altercation is a reflection of the overall resurgence of Russia as a great power after fifteen years of her attenuation caused by the collapse of the USSR. Vladimir Putin has himself described this phenomenon at his 24 January 2007 meeting with the Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, in the these words: 'As Russia's economic, political and military capabilities grow in the world, it is emerging as a competitor--a competitor that has already been written off. The West wants to put Russia in some pre-defined place, but Russia will find its place in the world all by herself'.

In the late summer Western newspapers carried numerous stories, often with lurid headlines, about Putin's actions. Russia made a claim on the North Pole by saying that some of its underwater territory, the Lomonosov ridge, brought the oil-rich region (larger than France, Germany and Italy combined) into its territorial ambit. This has particularly infuriated Canada and the United Sates both of which are prepared to put forward their own claims in that area. Putin also ordered the Russian Air Force to resume flights by powerful bombers. He announced in mid-August that '14 strategic bombers took to the air from seven airfields across the country, along with support and refuelling aircraft'. At joint military exercises with China in the Ural mountains he told reporters: 'In 1992, Russia unilaterally ended flights like this by its strategic aircraft to distant military patrol areas. Unfortunately, our example was not followed by everyone. Flights by other countries' strategic aircraft continue and this creates certain problems for ensuring the security of the Russian Federation'. A few days later two RAF jets were scrambled from a base in Lincolnshire to warn of two Russian Bear-H bombers which were coming close to British territory. On 6 September eight Russian bombers were monitored by Norwegian planes and then by the RAF jets, but the Russians turned back before entering British air space. The mid-air manoeuvres provided some spectacular photographs for the British press.

We shall explore in this article the foundations and ramifications of this Russian revanchism, which has caught many in the West by surprise. I will try to explain it from the Russian point of view, which is less known in the West, and in the words of Russian officials and ideologues themselves, for neglecting their attitude and analyzing their policy by Western standards makes it unpredictable for the West. An essay format allows me to avoid excessive politeness and the need to speak in the roundabout terms of political correctness, and to say what I really think about Russia's resurrection.

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