Time for another reset button? Sergei Lavrov’s latest warning to Ukraine makes it clear that the first model didn’t do much to change Russia’s ideas of sovereignty in its neighborhood. Speaking on RT, Lavrov said that Moscow will use the same strategy employed in 2008 in their reaction to Georgia’s lurch to the West if Ukraine gets out of hand:
Russia will respond if its interests are attacked in Ukraine, as they were in South Ossetia in 2008 which led to war with Georgia, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.
“If we are attacked, we would certainly respond,” he told state-controlled RT television in an interview.
“If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in accordance with international law.”
Lavrov did not elaborate further on what the response would entail but the reference to Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia strongly hints at the possibility of military action.
That’s not exactly a surprise. Despite the reset button, Russia has never changed its approach to its former Soviet republics. They have barely recognized their sovereignty, especially during the Vladimir Putin era. The 2008 war with Georgia took the blinders off of the Bush administration — belatedly — about the imperial ambitions of Putin and his oligarchical cronies, even if the current administration put them back on until the last few weeks.
The Washington Post also belatedly notes a revival of Soviet nostalgia — and not just nostalgia, either:
Gone these 23 years, the Soviet Union is suddenly alive and well again in the minds of a giddy cohort of the Russian elite. Not the ideology, please — but the gravity, the cold-eyed assertion of power abroad and at home, and the allegiance demanded by the state.
The equinox of Russia’s “Soviet spring” coincided with the appearance of the men in green who took over Crimea for Moscow. It blossomed with a wave of patriotic denunciations of fellow citizens and a torrent of new restrictive legislation.
On Tuesday came another sign: media reports that the Interior Ministry was banning foreign travel by every one of the nation’s police officers. And other law enforcement agencies were said to be following suit, so that as many as 4 million state employees may find themselves unwelcome to leave. And maybe their spouses and children, too.
Easy foreign travel has been the great advantage Russian citizens enjoyed over their Soviet counterparts. About 40 million Russians went abroad last year. But Tuesday’s report, semi-
denied or half-qualified by the authorities, suggested that restrictions are creeping back.
It’s not so much that ordinary Russians sympathize with stranded police officers, but they fear a reintroduction of the old Soviet exit-visa system, which left would-be travelers at the mercy of the bureaucracy.
Is this really news? The Russian Olympics featured a gigantic hammer and sickle during the opening ceremonies, which NBC passed off as a salute to “one of history’s pivotal experiments.” Putin has been lamenting the collapse of the Soviet Union as a terrible mistake ever since taking power. This isn’t new; it’s just that most of the West hasn’t been paying attention.
The only reason Russia hasn’t asserted itself before now is that their economy couldn’t match the demands of imperialism. And the only way to stop it — at least while Putin and his clique are in charge — is to make sure it can’t in the future, either. That would require the West to stop treating Russian imperialism as strictly nostalgic and get serious about Putin.