The bear is back

As of January 1, Russia has been at the helm of the G8 group of industrialized nations. It is a potent symbol of Russia’s rise from the status of an «Upper Volta with ICBMs,» to cite former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt’s disparaging phrase, to a power on virtually equal footing with the world’s richest nations. Riding a 6 percent annual growth rate and having the world’s richest natural gas resources and huge oil reserves, Russia has left the chaos of the Yeltsin years behind and is increasingly being regarded as a «normal» power. The rise of Russia, this vast Eurasian landmass, has energized historical Russophobe reflexes. But recent media reports on both sides of the Atlantic against Vladimir Putin have been barely consistent. They slam Moscow’s price hikes as an act of political blackmail when all it did was readjust gas prices according to the much-praised free market laws. Why should the Kremlin subsidize Ukraine with cheap energy when Kiev is about to become a NATO member and host US military bases spying on Russia? Putin’s critics are surely right to accuse him of trying to mug the media. But things are hardly better in the Italy of Silvio Berlusconi. They are also right to criticize his Chechen policy. But have any of Europe’s democracies shown greater sensitivity to their ethnic problems? Regardless of Putin’s authoritarian tendencies, Russia’s comeback gives Europe an historic opportunity to reduce its energy dependence on the Middle East (and indirectly, on the US). Moreover, it raises hopes for a new political and diplomatic counterweight that will help nations striving to protect their national interests. Russia’s positive intervention over the Cyprus issue and Moscow’s potential role in crucial developments in the Western Balkans is something that the Greek government cannot afford to ignore.

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