Thursday, May 8, 2008
Dima and Volodya look East
Amidst all the commentary about the inauguration of President Dmitriy Medvedev and his boss/subordinate Prime Minister (as of a few minutes ago) Vladimir Putin, the bit that struck me as most interesting was President Dima's announcement that he would head east on his first foreign trip, to Kazakhstan and China.
It makes sense. Arguably no country has closer ties with the Kremlin than Nursultan Nazarbayev's Kazakhstan, something that was plain to all of us who took part in the Eurasian Media Forum in Almaty last month - where the few Westerners in the room were repeatedly scolded by a crowd that clearly shared the Kremlin's worldview. Meanwhile, Russia and China have rapidly expanding trade, and last year conducted a large-scale joint military operation. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization looks increasingly like it could be the authoritarian east's military answer to NATO.
There are few places where President Dima would get a warmer reception than Astana and Beijing.
Still, it's worth recalling here that eight years ago, the newly inaugurated and "westward-looking" President Putin chose the United Kingdom for his first trip (after a brief and telling stop in Belarus). Back then, he was accorded the red-carpet treatment by someone named Tony Blair, and was famously received by Queen Elizabeth II.
Eight years on, the dream of Russia joining the West appears dead - buried by Chechnya, NATO expansion, Kosovo, colour revolutions, missile defense and the Alexander Litvinenko saga.
So Dima and Volodya are looking the other way for friends.