Trumping the Russian card

  • 2000-07-20
  • Memo Merlino
The interesting thing about Russia is that, in spite of shedding several republics and allowing them to become independent countries as a buffer between it and Europe, it is still an empire. All other empires, including the British one, have disappeared from the face of earth, though some Brits still hang on to it with often an illusory memory.

Vladimir Putin understands the concept of empire. He is faced with a huge country dominated by crooks, or oligarchs as they prefer to be called, a population enslaved to poverty, an army that is in tatters, ageing missiles and the list goes on. Putin is therefore resorting to the only thing that Russia has ever known - dictatorship and centralized power.

Democracy is not a system that can be superimposed on a dying empire, certainly not in 10 years' time. It has taken Mexico 70 years to understand what democracy really is.

Russia will never understand it unless the country is literally dismembered into many smaller countries, which is the eventual fate of all empires.

A democracy is healthy when the legal system is vibrant and fair, the tax system efficient and, yes, unforgiving, and the political system is not corrupt even though most have a certain degree of corruption built in. Putin has none of this to work with. He says he will impose the rule of law. But what law?

It must be given that Putin will roll back the clock and empower himself to fit the Russian tradition. He will not bring back communism because he is intelligent enough to understand that it does not work, but he will get closer to a different model with a Russian flavor, yet still a dictatorship.

Putin needs the West and the capital markets to improve the pitiful state of the economy he is currently dealing with. This will keep him tame for a very long time because there is no money for new military technologies. He must have been smiling when he got news of America's second anti-missile test failure recently.

Historically, the Baltics have been the geographic window of the Russian empire. So said the Russian czars at one time or another throughout history.

During the times of the Hanseatic League, the Baltic area enjoyed prosperity. Trade flourished between the Balts and the Russian territories.

The Baltic countries, contrary to initial Russian expectations, did not fit Russia's concept of a buffer zone and soon will be part of the European Union and NATO. While this was a miscalculation on the part of Russia, it really does not cause Russia a huge problem - strategically, that is. Rather, both Russia and the Baltics have a historical opportunity to develop massive trade in the next few years, and not just transit trade but real export-import trade.

Much will change in the Baltic countries in the next few years, after the countries join EU, which is eyeing the Russian market as a great potential.

Many businesses can be transferred to the Baltics to serve the Russian market and the Baltic countries have a well-educated population that will be eager to be part of the action.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are more than ever coordinating their foreign policy as one entity. This will help a lot in identifying this region as united. This region has the potential of developing much prosperity for its hardworking people, if the Russian card is played right.

While fearlessly independent and protective of their cultures and languages, the Baltic countries need to have a vision of the future that is devoid of fear of Russia. Economic development is what counts at the present time, not tanks and missiles.