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The Tails Wagging the Kremlin Dog?

MOSCOW – Imagine a crank who tries to pass himself off as a nineteenth-century Russian baron. He grows sideburns, wears a long frock-coat, and carries a walking stick. Anyone who runs into such a figure would sneer and mock him. Now, suppose that same crank attempted to treat passersby as if they were his serfs. In that case, he would risk getting a beating, though perhaps a few beggars would indulge his fantasies in the hope of duping him out of his money.

Something of this sort now characterizes relations between Russia and several former Soviet republics, for the foreign-policy doctrine that guides today’s Kremlin is a preposterous mix of nineteenth-century Realpolitik and early twentieth-century geopolitics. According to this view, every great power needs obedient satellite countries. Under such an approach, NATO’s expansion is represented as an extension of America’s sphere of influence, to the detriment of Russia, of course.

In order to compensate for its growing inferiority complex, Russia has cobbled together the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which, by its title and constitutional principles, is a parody of NATO. For all this, the Kremlin is not in the least embarrassed by the fact that the CSTO is essentially a mechanical connection of bilateral military agreements between Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Russia.

Nobody knows what vision of collective defense is to be implemented: one needs a fertile imagination to imagine Belarusian paratroopers defending the Tajik border. Moreover, the constitutions of a number of CSTO countries expressly prohibit sending troops outside national territory. But the Kremlin’s myopic concentration on military matters, and its pointless attempts to play a zero-sum game with the West has turned Russia into an object for manipulation by its junior partners.