MOSCOW, Russia -- Analysts and diplomats name Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia as former Soviet republics where Russia has succeeded recently in rolling back Western influence.
Belarus, which flirted last year with the West, is tracking back toward Moscow and has agreed, together with Central Asian powerhouse Kazakhstan, to join Moscow in a customs union.
The West, preoccupied with financial crisis and keen to keep Russia as an ally in tackling problems such as nuclear proliferation, has acquiesced.
“It’s extremely important to Putin to reassert Russian influence in the (former Soviet Union),” said Maria Lipman, editor of the Pro et Contra journal at the Moscow Carnegie Center. “Europe can’t compete with that.”
In Ukraine, newly elected leader Viktor Yanukovich scrapped plans by his predecessor to pursue NATO membership and did a deal extending the lease of a Russian naval base in Ukraine by 25 years in return for a 30 percent cut in gas prices.
Emboldened by his success, Putin suggested last Friday that Kiev should merge its state gas company Naftogaz — which owns the pipelines taking Russian gas across Ukraine to the West — with Russia’s state-controlled giant Gazprom.
Georgia’s Western allies have largely deserted President Mikheil Saakashvili after his disastrous attempt in 2008 to retake the rebel province of South Ossetia triggered a war with Russia and a crushing military defeat.
Saakashvili has lost public support too over the affair and Georgian opposition politicians, some of whom favor less confrontational policies with Russia, have already traveled to Moscow for exploratory talks with Putin.
In the poor Central Asia republic of Kyrgyzstan, former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev blamed his fall in a popular uprising on Moscow, saying the Kremlin was dissatisfied that he had backtracked on a promise to close a key U.S. military base.
These developments mean all three of the “color” revolutions, in which mass protests swept pro-Western governments to power in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, have been reversed or seriously compromised.
“The collapse of the “Orange” administrations in all countries except Georgia, which is now isolated, the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the re-booting of relations with the U.S. and the new strategic pact with Ukraine together create ... ideal foreign political conditions,” said Gleb Pavlovsky, a political analyst with close ties to the Kremlin, in comments on his website kreml.org.
Two years ago, the situation looked very different.
Then, former U.S. President George W. Bush was aggressively pursuing the expansion of NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia, U.S. anti-missile systems were planned for Central Europe and the Kremlin howled about Western plots to encircle Russia.
But the election of Obama and the global financial crisis brought different priorities to Washington. Moscow became a key player which needed to be won over to an agenda of global diplomacy rather than a Cold War-era foe to be contained.
Publicly, U.S. officials bridle at the idea that they are acquiescing in a renaissance of Kremlin power.
But privately, those advancing the Obama agenda describe the Bush-era policies of confrontation with Russia as misguided.
Such sentiments chime with a mood on continental Europe which favors pragmatism with Russia, allowing Europeans to exploit lucrative business opportunities unhindered by sour political grapes over human rights or democracy.
“There is a growing feeling in most of Europe that the time is right to seek a new consensus with Russia which is not based on the old adversarial lines of NATO and human rights, but along a common agenda for cooperation,” one European ambassador said.
The rapid changes in the ex-Soviet Union should not have come as a surprise — the Kremlin was never shy about its agenda.
President Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s junior partner in the ruling “tandem,” told Western journalists and academics in September 2008 that “we will work to extend our contacts with those nations with which we have traditionally been close...If that doesn’t please everyone, what can I do about it?.”
The U.S. Republicans and some eastern European nations are indeed not pleased, but not everyone shares that view.
Proponents of Ukraine’s deals with Moscow say that Russia agreed to gas price discounts worth up to $40 billion to secure the naval base — a gift for Kiev’s struggling finances.
U.S. diplomats hail a new START treaty with Russia cutting nuclear arms, deals to allow supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan to cross Russia, and signs Moscow may back sanctions against Iran as fruits of the new, better relationship.
“It was gradually realized in the West that provoking Russia does not yield positive results,” the Carnegie Center’s Lipman said. “We can benefit from being on better terms with Russia.”