When he first arrived in Paris in 2000 as the newly elected President of Russia, Vladimir Putin had a simple and reassuring message to convey. “I am bringing you what you need most: a stable and guaranteed source of energy. My oil and my gas will not be cheaper than supplies coming from the Middle East, but they will be much more secure.”
Putin’s implicit point was that “Christian energy,” even if “Orthodox,” would be more reassuringly certain than “Muslim energy” for a Western world jittery about stability in the Middle East.
The Middle East was supposed to be messy and unpredictable, unlike the new and modern Russia of Putin. The problem today is that for Ukrainians, Georgians, not to mention Italians, “Christian” oil and gas from Russia does not seem nearly as secure and as fail-proof as Putin promised.
The key criterion by which its allies and partners should judge Russia is predictability, and, in this respect, Russia is increasingly falling short. When Putin welcomes Hamas’s leaders without consulting the other members of the “Quartet” – the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States – charged with shepherding peace talks between Israel and Palestine, is Russia testing its “nuisance value” or simply performing an “avant-garde” role for the other Quartet members?