Georgian Defense Minister Unveils Plans to Create Entirely Professional Army, Compatible with NATO Forces. The Jamestown Foundation

Below read Giorgi Menabde’s recent article on the Jamestown Foundation about Georgian defense minister’s plans to create entirely professional Army.

Minister of Defense and First Deputy Prime Minister Irakli Alasania, who does not conceal his plans to participate in the presidential elections in October 2013, revealed several important initiatives for reforming the Georgian army and future cooperation with the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Alasania proposed switching to an all-contract service army by 2016. “No one needs to serve in the army against his will. On the contrary, the service should be prestigious and not accessible to all. Only people who received professional education and are prepared to give up their lives for their country must serve in the army,” the minister stated on January 7, in an interview with the Georgian paper Kviris Palitra.

Until now the Georgian armed forces have been manned on a mixed basis of a professional and a conscript draft system. Five infantry brigades that are made up almost fully of contract soldiers make up the backbone of the military force. However, at the same time there is a functioning military draft system that stipulates drafting all males who reach 18 years old. Obviously, in a country with a population of 4.5 million, where the number of military servicemen does not exceed 35,000, not all young men are drafted. According to the law, any Georgian citizen can buy an 18-month adjournment from the conscript service for $1,200 ( Such a “financial operation” can be performed repeatedly, up until the person turns 27, when he stops being considered for draft in peacetime.

Therefore, through this selection process, young people from the most impoverished families end up serving in the ranks of the military. They perform only auxiliary functions and do not really add much to the combat capabilities of the Georgian army. Alasania’s idea is to transition to a 100-percent professional armed force. At the same time, the minister has not made any statement on the abolition of payments by the conscripts who want to adjourn their military service. These payments bring significant revenues to the defense budget. However, Alasania hinted that the defense budget would be replenished by cutting top commanders’ benefits. “Our military, which is performing its duty and protecting the interests of Georgia in Afghanistan, never received any bonuses, while the officers from the administration of the defense ministry received $25 million in bonuses and benefits,” Alasania indignantly stated ( He proposed increasing military pay and allowances for Georgian soldiers serving in Afghanistan. In 2013, the monthly salary of a private will be $1,000 instead of the current $715 per month; corporals’ monthly salaries will increase from $780 to $1,040; junior sergeants’ salaries will go up from the current $845 to $1,079; sergeants—from a current $910 to $1,118; and senior sergeants—from $975 to $1,157. Higher ranking military personnel serving in Afghanistan will also receive a pay raise in the range of 9–12 percent (

Alasania’s reforms are also interesting because they appear to signify the government’s desire to maintain continuity in Georgia’s foreign policy and its commitment to deepening ties with NATO and the US. Many observers expressed their doubts about Georgia’s foreign policy orientation after the opposition, Russian-made billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition, came to power on October 1, 2012. Experts predicted that the new government would pull Georgian forces from Afghanistan, which are stationed in the provinces of Helmand and Kabul. As of January 2013, there are 1,600 Georgian military serving in Afghanistan. By sheer numbers of military personnel committed to the coalition’s operations in Afghanistan, Georgia is ahead of many NATO countries. Anders Fogh Rasmussen emphasized this repeatedly, calling Georgia’s contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission to Afghanistan “unique” ( After three years of participating in ISAF, 19 Georgian servicemen were killed (Civil Georgia, January 7).

Such Georgia-NATO cooperation began during the presidency of Eduard Shevardnadze, who sent 2,000 servicemen to Iraq, where the Georgian forces were at that point the third largest serving contingent after the United States and the United Kingdom (

And yet such Georgian alacrity to participate in the Western coalition’s war effort did not secure a NATO Membership Accession Plan for the country, either at the Bucharest (April 2008) or at the Chicago (May 2012) summit of the North Atlantic Alliance. Moreover, the Georgian military’s participation in these peacekeeping operations did not have much influence on the combat capabilities of Georgia’s forces, according to experts. “In the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Georgian military personnel were trained how to fight terrorists, de-mine objects and set up checkpoints; they did not receive any skills for waging a war against a conventional army,” the editor-in-chief of the analytical journal Arsenali, Irakli Aladashvili, told Jamestown. According to the expert, “The Georgian military may not return in time from the faraway Afghanistan, if Russia were to launch another aggressive [attack] against Georgia.”

Still, Irakli Alasania has expressed Georgia’s commitment to the ISAF mission and signaled that the Georgian military will stay in Afghanistan even beyond 2014, when NATO’s operations will be over. “I want to underscore that our mission [after 2014] will not be military or combat. Our military forces will not take part in combat operations. Our task will be to help build up Afghan security and troops and share our experience, [as well as] allow them to receive an education in our defense academy,” Alasania stated (

It is obvious that both initiatives—the transition to an all-professional army and the decision to stay in Afghanistan along with the US after the ISAF mission ends—are part of Tbilisi’s strategy for developing closer military ties with Washington and NATO. American instructors who prepare Georgian personnel for the mission in Afghanistan are already stationed in Georgia. However, most members of the Georgian Dream coalition are skeptical about Georgia’s membership in the North Atlantic Alliance or a deepening military cooperation with Washington within the framework of the US-Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership (, which was developed under President George W. Bush at the end of 2008 but signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later. Furthermore, the efforts of Minister Alasania, whose pro-Western credentials are beyond doubt, may soon become moot, as the defense ministry establishment retreats before the new policy of the Prime Minister Ivanishvili whose main stated priority is improving relations with Russia (

New Russian Legislation Undermines Moscow’s Claims to Strengthen Country’s Unity. The Jamestown Foundation

Below read Valery Dzutsev’s recent article in the Jamestown Foundation. Valery Dzutsev is a doctoral student in political science at Arizona State University. Mr. Dzutsev is a native of North Ossetia.

On January 9, President Vladimir Putin proposed amendments to existing legislation that are widely seen as tightly restricting movement within the Russian Federation. The new amendments will apply to foreign migrant workers and Russian citizens alike. Russian citizens will have to register with the government within three months of moving to a new place. Observers see the new legislation as an attempt to revive one of the Soviet era’s hallmarks—the institution of the internal passport or “propiska.” The amendments introduce the concept of “fictitious registration,” mandating punishing tenants who rent living space without the intention of living there and the landlords who knowingly let it happen. Fictitious registration will be punishable by fines of up to the equivalent of $16,000 or up to three years in prison. Living without registration will be punishable by fines of up to $100. The head of the state migration agency, Konstantin Romadanovky, further proposed that those who do not live on their property site for three consecutive months be declared fugitives. The note accompanying the amendments cites the problem of so-called “rubber houses” as the main reason for tightening legislation. A “rubber house” is a living space at which dozens of people are falsely registered but do not actually live on the premises. Having registration entitles them to receive work permits and social benefits (

The newspaper Kommersant pointed out that in 2010, when Putin was Russia’s prime minister, he said it was “a bit too early” to introduce “liberal forms of registration of citizens” via the Internet in Russia. The new legislation significantly increases the penalties for not complying with administrative rules and practically criminalizes non-compliance with more stringent registration rules (

In the meantime, experts say that the declared objectives of the restrictions on migration in Russia are not about fighting “rubber houses” but about tightening control over people. The head of the rights organization Agora, Pavel Chikov, told the website that the new amendments practically make it impossible for a person to change his or her location without receiving permission from the authorities. Moreover, they break the Russian constitution’s provision that declares freedom of movement for Russia’s citizens. The Memorial human rights organization’s expert on migration, Svetlana Gannushkina, told that the “rubber houses” appeared in the first place because the government does not comply with its own legislation. Namely, a number of rights, such as the right to work, the right to education and the right to medical service, are still illegally tied to a Russian citizen having registration. So in order to obtain these rights, which supposedly do not depend on a Russian citizen having or not having registration in a particular town, migrants have to get the cheapest possible registration, often through the “rubber houses” (

Although the new registration rules will apply to all Russian citizens and foreign migrants, the authorities now will have an easier way to control the migration of certain individuals. In the past several years, Russian nationalists as well as the police have regularly targeted migrants from the North Caucasus in Russia proper. Now, the new rules will make it even harder for North Caucasians to move to Russian cities in search of opportunities. So, while the initial drive of the Russian government was to keep the country together by any means, the government through its own actions is deepening the divide between the ethnic Russian regions and the non-Russian regions, especially the North Caucasus. In December 2012, Russian nationalists held protests in several Russian cities against what they called “ethnic criminality” and to commemorate the Russian nationalist uprising on Manezh Square in Moscow in 2010 ( In marked contrast to Moscow’s move to put more restrictions on the movement of its own citizens from the North Caucasus, Georgia introduced a visa-free regime for the region in October 2010 (see EDM October 20, 2010). So, paradoxically, while it is harder for the North Caucasians to travel within the Russian Federation, it becomes easier to travel to foreign countries, such as Georgia.

It is unclear whether the Russian authorities are trying to use the migration issue as a ploy to distract the Russian public from more pressing issues or if Moscow is trying to respond to the Russian public’s genuine quest for greater ethnic homogeneity in the country. In the fall of 2012, Muscovites were unpleasantly surprised by an enormous turnout of Muslims in Moscow for celebrations marking one of the Islamic holidays. The Levada Center polling organization found that only 21 percent of the voters in Moscow would vote for the United Russia party, while 13 percent would vote for a “new party that defends [ethnic] Russians’ interests in Russia” ( If voters feel this way in the relatively cosmopolitan city of Moscow, one can only imagine what the feelings of Russian voters are on the Russian periphery.

Along with Russian citizens from the North Caucasus, migrants from Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, especially those from Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, are yet another category of people widely disliked in the country. To contain the influx of migrants from Central Asia, Moscow could have introduced a visa regime for them. However, since Putin cherishes the idea of creating a Eurasian Union, introducing a visa regime with CIS countries would not be logical and could ruin his dream of recreating a semblance of the Soviet Union on a new footing. So instead of visas, the Russian government appeared to have come up with a half-measure for containing the inflow of migration from CIS countries, which is to tighten registration rules.

The latest proposal to introduce more stringent migration rules illuminates how little depends on the government’s whims to control the development of the country. Moscow adopts laws that clearly point toward strengthening administrative borders and ethnic identities within Russia, as well as distancing Russia from the CIS countries. The processes of the separation of the North Caucasus from the rest of Russia and the decline of Russian influence in the CIS countries appear to be proceeding according to its own schedule, independently of the plans of the Russian government.

The EU should have a greater role in Nagorno Karabakh conflict resolution. Franco Frattini

International community closely follows the negotiation process over Nagorno Karabakh conflict and pays a lot of attention to it. According to Azerbaijani news agency the statement was made by former Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.

“I myself carefully follow the developments in the process and think that the EU should be eager to find peaceful resolution to the conflict”, said Frattini.

Former EU commissioner also noted that all the actions should be taken according to the international law even if it causes economic losses.

The former FM is confident, any situation requires an answer and that answer shouldn’t be forced, it should come from people.

Protests in Azerbaijan are organized by the Government. Expert

Today, on January 14, at the meeting with the journalists, an expert in Azerbaijani issues, Sargis Asatryan said that the demonstrations and the protests in Azerbaijan connected with the death of a soldier are actually organized by the government itself.

The expert noted that the Government in this way wants to show that there is civil society in the country. It is interesting to note that the policemen talk to each other in Kurdish dialect, which means that they are not Azerbaijani. This is actually a violation of Azerbaijani law.

Another expert, Alik Aroyan, noted, Azerbaijan and Georgia relations are not as close as they were under Saakashvili’s rule. “Georgian PM has an interesting strategy in saying that he is not very experienced in politics and makes mistakes all the time.”

As for Ivanishvili’s visit to Armenia, Aroyan noted that various issues will be discussed and the PM will have better understanding of Armenia-Georgia relations. He concluded, Georgia tries to improve its relations with Armenia.

Putin Activates Anti-American PR Campaign. The Jamestown Foundation

Below read Pavel Felgenhauer’s recent article on Jamestown Foundations about the US_Russia relations and recent developments.

Moscow politics were dominated last month by the angry reaction of Russian officials to the Magnitsky Act. Adopted by the United States Congress in mid-December, this legislation bars US entry to Russians accused of involvement in the death in custody of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and other alleged rights abuses as well as freezes any assets they may have. Initially the authorities promised to draw up a similar list of undesirable Americans, but during the passage of the bill in the Duma, additional clauses were added, banning Americans from adopting Russian children and outlawing human rights organizations that receive any private or public support from the US or employ any US citizens. The bill swiftly and with overwhelming support passed the Duma and upper Federation Council and was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, taking effect from January 1, 2013 (RIA Novosti, December 28, 2012).

Putin initially tried to somewhat distance himself from the anti-adoption bill, publicly insisting that it was “an emotional response” by Duma deputies to “American provocations.” He claimed not to have initiated the bill and was not familiar with its text but broadly “understood” and supported it (, December 20, 2012). These explanations did not sound plausible, as the anti-adoption bill was rushed through with obvious Kremlin support. Eventually, at a meeting of the State Council, a presidential advisory body, Putin fully backed the bill, attacking the US and its treatment of adopted Russian children and invoking nationalistic rhetoric: “There are probably many places in the world where the living standards are better than ours. Will we send all children there? Will we also move there?” (RIA Novosti, December 27, 2012).

According to opposition internet TV channel Dozhd, the additional controversial clauses were added to the Russian bill opposing the US Magnitsky Act by deputy presidential administration chief Vyacheslav Volodin, who is in charge in the Kremlin of internal politics and the suppression of the anti-Putin opposition (, December 22, 2012). The clause in the bill allowing the authorities to seize the assets of and outlaw nongovernmental organizations that receive any support from the US or employ any US citizens threatens most if not all existing human rights advocate organizations, including the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG), the independent Levada polling center and the Moscow branch of the anti-corruption group Transparency International. The longtime head of MHG Lyudmila Alexseyeva (85), a prominent Soviet-era dissident, was expelled in 1977 and granted US citizenship in 1982. Alexseyeva returned to Russia in 1993 and now holds a Russian as well as a US passport. Alexseyeva believes the anti-adoption bill was specifically crafted to ban the MHG and her, since she is the only US citizen heading a human rights group in Russia. Alexseyeva and other human rights activists plan to challenge the bill in court as unconstitutional, though in Russia the courts are absolutely servile and loyal to Kremlin demands (Kommersant, January 9).

Banning Americans from adopting Russian children may have been a PR clause to stir up anti-US emotions to gain additional public support, while the main political thrust of the anti-adoption bill is to gain legal leverage to arbitrarily outlaw human rights groups the Kremlin dislikes. This calculation seems to have backfired badly: anti-Americanism is a strong public trend in Russia, but the anti-adoption bill that will make more miserable the life of thousands of abandoned Russian children has caused widespread moral indignation, also within the ranks of the Russian government itself, with several ministers publicly voicing their concern (RIA Novosti, December 25, 2012).

More than 650,000 children are considered orphans in Russia, and according to official figures some 110,000 live in state institutions. Lena Spelman (20), a university student in the US who was adopted seven years ago together with her younger brother from a state institution in Arzamas, in an interview with the semi-official news agency Interfax explained that she visited Russia to meet her mother and older brother in Arzamas. Her Russian mother is an alcoholic and her older brother an aggressive one, so Lena was forced to flee Russia back to the US after several days. According to Lena, only five percent of the children from the state institution in Arzamas that were once her companions and were released to live on their own after reaching 18, more or less succeeded in life. The rest are either on drugs, alcoholics or in prison, while some are already dead at 20 (Interfax, December 16, 2012).

The dismal state of the orphan welfare system is well known in Russia. The pro-Kremlin Public Opinion Foundation poll has registered 56-percent support for the ban on US nationals adopting Russian children, but 21 percent strongly opposed the prohibition (RIA Novosti, December 25, 2012). In December the Novaya Gazeta newspaper collected over 130,000 signatures in an online petition against the anti-adoption bill. The petition was delivered to the Duma and ignored. This week, Novaya Gazeta has gathered more than 100,000 signatures under another petition, calling for the Duma to be dissolved in favor of new elections (ITAR-TASS, January 10). The Coordinating Council of the anti-Putin opposition parties and groups, formed after last year’s massive protest demonstrations, has called for a mass protest march against the anti-adoption bill in Moscow on January 13, reversing a previous decision to postpone mass public protests until warmer weather in the spring. The Moscow authorities have allowed the march to go ahead (Intarfax, January 10).

Russia today seems to be a small speck on the political horizon in Washington, which is overwhelmed with financial deficit squabbles and President Barack Obama’s cabinet appointment confirmation controversies. But in Moscow, the United States is at the forefront of policies, genuinely feared or involuntarily used as a boogie man by the Kremlin. Massive public indignation against the use of destitute Russian orphans as political fodder is interpreted by the Kremlin as extra proof of a US-led conspiracy to oust Putin and instigate regime change. As a result, the Kremlin does not seem to be in any mood at present to compromise with the internal opposition or be accommodating with Washington on any international or bilateral issues.

Azerbaijani Community of Nagorno-Karabakh does not want opening of Turkish-Armenian border

Today Chairman of the coordinating council of the union, Orkhan Akbarov announced that “The Azerbaijani Community of Nagorno-Karabakh” Public Union does not want the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border.

“Turkey has repeatedly stated at a high level that the Turkish-Armenian border will not be opened until the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is resolved in favor of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and that these terms will not be the subject of discussion,” he said.

He said that various circles have repeatedly put forward initiatives to open the border, but failed.

Kharabakh conflict resolution – not a priority for Russia: Russian expert

Azerbaijani reports Russian political expert Ilya Konstantinov stated Kharabakh conflict resolution is not a priority for Russia. The expert stated Kharabakh issue is a rather subtle one in the regional conflict resolution context and he will be extremely cautious on expressing any thoughts about it.

Konstantinov added the politics Russian government leads today is exempt of ideological or humanitarian component and is based on pragmatism solely. Hence, it makes no sense to expect Russia demonstrate a charity proposals to any of the sides, since Russia’s priority is solving its own economic and socio-political problems.

Georgia Promises to End Military Conscription. EURASIANET

Joshua Kucera in his analyses on EURASIANET writes, that Georgia’s new defense minister has said the country will eliminate military conscription and move to an all-professional army within four years, reports

“We plan to move fully on professional army in four years. The term of compulsory military service will be gradually reduced [from current 15 months] to 12 months, and then we will fully move to a contract-based army,” said Irakli Alasania, who is also the first deputy PM.
“We should not be forcing anyone to be enrolled in the army,” he said, adding that only professionals with relevant education should be serving in the army.
Professionalization is one of the key steps in moving from a Soviet-style military to a Western-style one, but it’s much easier said than done, and countries in the ex-communist world invariably take much longer to fully professionalize than they plan. To take just one example, in 2007, Georgia said it would move to a fully professional army by 2009. All of the former Soviet states, except the Baltics, still have compulsory military service, though Ukraine just announced today that it will end conscription this year.

He goes on elaborating.
“And just a few months ago (while the previous government was still in power), Georgia actually increased the term of conscription from 12 months to 15. From IWPR:
The moves seem to mark a pause, if not a halt, in the trend towards building an entirely professional army. Conscription numbers have been falling as more volunteers sign up for the military, under reforms designed to bring the armed forces more into line with the NATO model of highly-trained professional soldiers, rather than the old Soviet conscript army.
Experts say the change comes down to a failure to recruit enough volunteers, the burden of contributing troops to the international force in Afghanistan, and a sheer lack of funding.
According to Teona Akubardia, head of the non-government Civil Council for Defense and Security Issues, “The increase in numbers of conscripts and the extension of the term of service is taking place against the backdrop of falling numbers of professional units.”
Those behind the bill acknowledge that funding is an issue. It is much cheaper to pay conscripts a pittance than to hire professionals at wages that start at 800 laris, around 470 US dollars, a month.

“Shifting to a completely professional army would be a luxury,” Sukhishvili said. “It would require massive budget spending, and the government doesn’t currently have the ability to do that.”

Alasania didn’t appear to give any details about what might be different now, that would allow Georgia to move to a professional army. So we’ll believe it when we see it.”

John Kerry’s Record On Central Asia And The Caucasus. EURASIANET

Analyst Joshua Kuchera in his recent article on about John Kerry’s diplomacy concerning Central Asia and Caucasus. According to Kucera, a review of his record shows that in any case, he’s pretty firmly in the mainstream of the Democratic Party, and his views don’t differ much (if at all) from those the Obama administration has already been advocating. Most characteristically, this means high-minded rhetoric about human rights and democracy with less indication of how those principles can stand up when confronted with the realities of running international military operations.

Kucera writes, “In Central Asia, Kerry has consistently advocated democratization and human rights. He was among a small group of senators to write then-Kazakhstani Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev to complain about the treatment of human rights activist Yevgeny Zhovtis.
In 2010, Kerry wrote an op-ed here on EurasiaNet entitled “Washington Must Show Commitment to Kyrgyz Democratization,” in which he argues that “the security-democratization debate is not a zero-sum game”:
There has been a growing worry within Kyrgyzstan that the United States cares more about its security needs than those of the Kyrgyz people. We must prove this perception false, with actions rather than with rhetoric….

As Kucera notes, Kerry, in sort of wishful thinking, would be following directly in the footsteps of his predecessor-to-be Hillary Clinton. To go out on a limb a bit, there seems to be a common affliction among high-level Democratic foreign policymakers — both Clintons, Madeleine Albright and Kerry are all examples. Among these sorts of people, who do strongly care about human rights and in general doing the right thing, when they are forced by the exigencies of power to exercise realpolitik, they seem to need to justify themselves by claiming that their policy is in fact somehow advancing human rights or democracy.

As for Kerry’s diplomacy in Caucasus, Kucera writes in his article, “Anyway, on the Caucasus Kerry also has closely tracked the Obama administration, strongly supporting the reset with Russia while arguing that “this dialogue will not come at the expense of Georgia’s security and sovereignty.”
Some of Kerry’s previous stances derive from the fact that he represents Massachusetts, a state with a relatively high population of Armenian-Americans. So, he defended former U.S. ambassador John Evans when Evans was fired for using the word “genocide” to refer to the 1915 events in eastern Turkey. And he also played a key role in passing “Section 907,” the U.S. law restricting military aid to Azerbaijan.

Still, it’s probably a measure of his skill as a diplomat that more or less all sides in the Caucasus support him, though Azerbaijan seems to be slightly wary. Still, Turkey is enthusiastic about Kerry, Today’s Zaman reports.
Again, though, what Kerry personally believes is not likely to be too relevant to his performance as Secretary of State, as he’ll mostly be implementing White House policy. That Kerry’s views are so consistent with Obama’s, and that he is so well acquainted with all of the major issues and players, even in a relatively low priority region like this one, suggests that his tenure will be, if nothing else, smooth.”

End of the EU-Russia Relationship, As You Know It. Dmitri Trenin

Below read Dmitri Trenin’s recent article on EU-Russia relations and Russia’s aim to position Moscow so as it has more influence in the world.
Trenin is the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and also chairs the Research Council and the Foreign and Security Policy Program.

The EU-Russia summit last week in Brussels seemed almost routine. Gas, visas, Syria, and human rights were all on an agenda that proved largely fruitless. Yet, something is different and no one seems to have noticed. Relations between the European Union and its biggest neighbor are changing fundamentally.
The Europeans, of course, are focused on their own crisis and the restructuring that’s necessary to pull the continent back from the brink. Beyond their own union, they are mostly looking across the Mediterranean toward the Middle East and North Africa.

But it is Russia itself that is Europe’s biggest disappointment.
Until last fall, Europeans believed that then president Dmitry Medvedev was taking Russia in the direction they themselves desired and in the fashion they preferred by promoting modernization through gradually introducing the rule of law, encouraging innovation, and opening up more to the West. Chancellor Angela Merkel wanted Medvedev to succeed so badly that she publicly called him a candidate in Russia’s presidential elections in 2012 before Vladimir Putin had a chance to announce his final decision.

After Putin announced his plan to reassume control, the political mood in Europe began to sour. Europeans were briefly encouraged by the sudden rise in Russian protests last winter, but this was quickly lost when the Kremlin cracked down on protestors, opponents, and foreign-funded NGOs. Merkel has turned openly critical of Moscow and this week’s Economist placed Putin right in the middle of hell in the unholy company of Kim Jong Un, Bashar al-Assad, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Business is running and gas is flowing, but Russia’s behavior is unacceptable in Europe.
Something fundamental has changed on the Russian side, too. Putin believes Europe—and the West more broadly—is in decline, and wants to reposition Russia vis-à-vis the main centers of power in the twenty-first century. Moscow’s “European choice” proclaimed by Putin himself in the German parliament in 2001 has been replaced with a focus on Russia’s near neighborhood.

The idea is not to create a new empire, as Hillary Clinton has wrongly suggested—Moscow lacks the material resources, political will, and social drive for that. But the plan is to improve Russia’s bargaining positions with the two real centers of power in Eurasia: the EU in the west and China in the east. Longer term, Putin hopes for a new compact between the Eurasian Economic Union he is constructing and the European Union. Such a compact, however, should in his view be based on rough parity rather than a Russian association with the EU.

The change on the Kremlin side runs deeper than geopolitics or geoeconomics. Not only is the EU no longer accepted as a mentor—or even a model—but Moscow has also accepted the values gap argument that the Europeans were using for a long time, simply turning it against its critics. The decline of Europe, one hears in elite Russian circles, is due to the Europeans becoming too “soft” and giving up their former strengths that once made Europe the world’s leader in favor of multiculturalism, mindless tolerance, and dilution of national or religious identities.

The Kremlin harbors few illusions about Russia’s own values deficit as Putin focused on it in his address to parliament several weeks ago, but it has no appetite to follow what it considers a failed example. Rather, Putin approvingly cites the handling by the attorney general of Texas of a request from the OSCE to place its monitors at polling stations during the U.S. presidential election in November. The response: come to these stations and get any closer than 300 yards, and you will be arrested.

Putin, always a Russian nationalist, recently mounted a major campaign to stop or severely limit any political influence or interference in Russia from abroad. Moscow is now busy dismantling agreements with Western countries signed in the 1990s that Putin no longer sees as equitable, from USAID assistance programs to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program to children’s adoption.

This is more than a response to the Magnitsky Act just passed by the U.S. Congress, or a way to deter the Europeans from adopting anything similar. In fact, Putin himself has amplified the U.S. legislation by ordering government officials to transfer their private funds from abroad and park the money in Russia. This kills two birds with one stone—it reduces outsiders’ ability to pressure Moscow, and it places Russian officials under even tighter control from the Kremlin.

Russia famously “left the West” politically in the mid-2000s by veering off the U.S. orbit and reaffirming its strategic independence. Now, Moscow is “leaving the West” mentally by finally stopping to pretend that it shares the same values as EU countries and aspires to join them in some creative way.

By clearly dissociating Russia from the West—and the response to the Syrian crisis serves as a perfect example—Putin may be aiming to position Moscow to hold inescapable influence as the world scene reshuffles in the coming century. Russia is too weak to be a major power center on its own, but with strategic independence it may try to tip the scales of the global (or at least Eurasian) balance of power as it wants. If so, this is a serious change and the policy implications need to be carefully assessed.