Corruption remains rife and many prefer the clannish post-Soviet style of doing business than the more transparent model that integration with Europe would entail. “The Russians know that their way of doing business is widely accepted in many of these countries and that there are people in the business and political elites in those places who would prefer to operate in the Russian way,” says Lough. Lough adds, however that even these elites are resistant to accepting a “diktat from Moscow” and that too much Kremlin pressure could drive them away. And, he says, others already “see what the Russians are offering as a scary proposition.” Nevertheless, Russia appears determined as ever to prevent Ukraine, Moldova, and Armenia from signing Association Agreements with the European Union at a summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius in November. Instead, Moscow is pushing these countries to join a Russian-led customs union that already includes Belarus and Kazakhstan — something Brussels says would be incompatible with an Association Agreement. And at least in the case of Armenia , Russia appears to have been successful. On September 3, Armenian President President Serzh Sarkisian announced that his country would join Moscow’s customs union project, in essence, scrapping years of work toward an EU Association Agreement. Analysts say the unexpected move came after Russia threatened to cut off its military aid to Armenia, which would leave Yerevan vulnerable to its main regional rival Azerbaijan. “The Armenians took the hint: If they signed the trade deal with Europe, Russia might sell more arms to their rival and expel the Armenians who live in Russia,” Anne Applebaum, author of the book “Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-56,” wrote in Slate.com . Counterproductive Pressure But having apparently cowed Armenia, Russia is having less success with Ukraine — which Lough calls “the key prize” — despite placing boycotts on Ukrainian goods and threatening Kyiv with rising gas prices, trade wars, and bankruptcy. And on September 21, Sergei Glaziyev, a senior adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, upped the ante, darkly warning that Russian speakers in Ukraine’s east and south would seek secession if Ukraine goes ahead and signs the Association Agreement. But Glaziyev, who made his remarks at a conference in the Black Sea resort of Yalta, was met with boos, jeers, and catcalls. “For the first time in our history more than 50 percent of people support European integration, and fewer than 30 percent of the people support closer ties with Russia,” Ukraine’s former Trade Minister Petro Poroshenko said in response to the Kremlin adviser according to press reports.
This dramatic shift in the power balance at the UN seems to have been completely overlooked by many of those covering the meeting, who are more interested in wittering on about the proposed Security Council resolution on disarming Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile (it won’t work)or Iran’s utterly transparent charm offensive (they are desperate to get the sanctions lifted) towards some of the world’s more gullible world leaders. But the key to this disturbing realignment in the global power structureis clearly visiblein the draft of the Security Council resolution on Syria, which entirely reflects Russia’s interests at the expense of those of the Western powers. America, Britain and France, the three Western members of the five permanent members of the Council, wanted the option to take punitive action against the Assad regime if, as most observers expect, Damascus does not fully comply with the U.N.’s requirements. (Nor has anyone considered how U.N. inspectors can be expected to examine and neutralise stockpiles of chemical weapons in the midst of a civil war.) But Russia is determined to prevent any form of military intervention in Syria, and to that end insisted that the resolution be watered down to the effect that, if Assad fails to comply, then the issue will be referred back to the U.N. where, as we know from history, it will be subsumed by the organisation’s bureaucratic complacency. In short, Russia has won the diplomatic battle, and the Western powers, after all their threats to bomb Assad into submission,have been made to look weak and impotent. Apply this paradigm to Iran and it is not hard to see why Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has decided to embark on a charm offensive with the West. Just like Syria, the Russians have no intention of allowing the Western powers and that includes Israel to take military action against Iran over its decade-long refusal to cooperate with the U.N. over its controversial nuclear programme, which most intelligence experts believe is designed to build atom bombs, rather than power stations. And with President Barack Obama desperate to avoid a confrontation with Iran, Syria or any of the regions other rogue states, the key to resolving the Iranian crisis lies in Moscow, not Washington or New York.