Russia seems to be alienating old friends and struggling to make new ones these days. Its free trade zone, a rival to the European Union, has only a handful of members, and few countries are knocking the door down trying to join. And Ukraine, a country that is very special in the concept of the Russian nation, looks set to reject Russian threats and entreaties in favor of joining Europe.Losing Ukraine to Europe would be a punch in the gut for Russia. As Peter Pomerantsev recently wrote, in great article in the London Review of Books, “Recent moves by the Kremlin to bully and blackmail Ukraine into not signing an Association Agreement with the EU (set for 29 November) are not only about Russia fighting for influence in its ‘near abroad’, but about the validity of the Russian national story. There is no Russia without Kiev.”As Moscow continues to fail to bring neighboring countries into its customs union it has looked farther afield for friends. Vietnam has expressed interest:
“We agreed to accelerate the negotiation process so as to conclude this agreement in the near future,” Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang said after Russian-Vietnamese talks in Hanoi on Tuesday.Hanoi welcomes the progress already made in this process, he said.The talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin were fruitful, he said.The two leaders also talked about international issues of mutual interest, he added.
Moscow will count this as a win, but the truth is Russia’s foreign policy is failing, especially in its near abroad. Ukraine’s move toward Europe would be a huge defeat, and other, smaller nations are pushing back against Russia in surprising ways. Germany has replaced Russia as the dominant power in Europe. In Central Asia, Russia is losing out to China in the competition for influence and riches. In light of these losses, adding Vietnam to its small customs union doesn’t look like much of a triumph for Putin.[Putin photo courtesy of Getty Images]