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Vladimir Putin loves to talk nostalgically about the might of the former Soviet Union-and in annexing Crimea, he has taken a dramatic step toward re-creating it. But Russia’s strongman hasn’t read his history: In truth, the might of the Brezhnev-era USSR was built on high oil and gas prices.
When those prices began to fall in the 1980s—with more than a little help from Ronald Reagan’s White House—Soviet power crumbled with it. Now, a generation later, Western politicians are remembering that energy can be used as a geopolitical weapon.
Putin, it seems, is not the only leader who can play the game of History Repeating. “Putin looks strong now, but his Kremlin is built on the one thing in Russia he doesn’t control: the price of oil,” says Ben Judah, author of Fragile Empire, a study of Putin’s Russia. “Eventually, the money is going to run out, and then he will find himself in the same position Soviet leaders were in by the late 1980s, forced to confront political and economic crises while trying to hold the country together.”
Energy is a potent weapon for the West in the new Cold War against Vladimir Putin-just as it was the last time around. President Barack Obama has already made the first move, announcing last week that he would speed up plans to export liquefied natural gas, or LNG, to Asian and European markets.
He’s also removed 1970s restrictions on exporting U.S. crude oil, goaded by accusations by Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner that the White House’s prevarication on oil and gas export licenses was helping Putin “to finance his geopolitical goals.”
And he’s sold off 5 million barrels of the U.S.’s 727-million-barrel-strong strategic reserve, depressing prices, as a “test release.” (Putin too has played the energy card: On April 1, Russian state-controlled gas giant Gazprom announced a more than 40 percent price hike for natural gas to Ukraine.)
Newsweek: Is negotiation with Russia possible at this point?
Tymoshenko: Yes, but the negotiations should not be between Ukraine and Russia. World leaders should understand that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine concerns the entire world.
Newsweek: How can world leaders help Ukraine?
Tymoshenko: By negotiating. We have the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances [a 1994 agreement between Russia, the United States and Britain guaranteeing the territorial integrity of Ukraine in return for its renunciation of nuclear weapons]…. British and American military forces are the guarantors of peace in our country. This is not a reason to start a war; the agreement should prevent a war from happening.
Brendan Hoffman, on assignment for Getty Images, Instagrams his personal experiences of a photojournalist on the ground in Kiev, Ukraine.
“In the words of the popular proverb, Moscow was the heart of Russia; St Petersburg, its head. But Kiev, its mother…”— James H. Billington, The Icon and the Axe
With 50 dead in Kiev, Ukraine must choose between Russia or the West—unless Putin chooses for them.
Photo credit: Konstantin Chernichkin/Reuters
Pussy Riot members Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were detained in Sochi ahead of a protest performance. They were planning to record a protest song called “Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland.”
The two women, along with several journalists and activists, were released several hours later without charges.
President Vladimir Putin’s martial arts friends have already reaped huge benefits from the 2014 Olympics in Russia.
Marina Litvinenko (Photo: Kate Peters/INSTITUTE for Newsweek)
A Secret Putin Palace on Russia’s Black Sea?
On a recent morning, in the village of Praskoveyevka, located on the northern coast of Russia’s Black Sea, a few hours’ drive from Sochi, host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, a group of activists—some in bathing suits, others in the nude—went for a swim at a public beach. Their goal: to get a closer look at an extravagant mansion, set in the middle of a nearby forest. The house, with its black, iron gate and Soviet era façade, looked surreal, as if someone had transported it from Moscow and dropped it in the middle of nowhere.
As the activists swam toward the mansion, two security guards in black uniforms spotted them from a distance. Soon a motor boat with more men in black appeared, its engine growling ominously as it sped over the water. Hoping to make an escape, activists swam toward a dredge with a “Spetcstroi Rossii” sign on its side, for the special state construction company of the Russian government. Yet as the boat approached, the guards realized that some of the activists were naked. Disgusted, they gave up pursuit. On that day at least, they had no desire to take nude prisoners; instead they simply ordered them to return to the shore. “Tell us when you plan to visit us next time,” one of the guards said snidely.
So this is a wild tale… That palace? It might be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s!