Are the US and its allies taking a page from the Soviets' playbook to enforce their political will upon Russia?
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says so – and warns that the West's "economic warfare" tactics could push the world into a new cold war as a result.
In a lengthy interview with Bloomberg published today, former President Medvedev was clearly making an effort to project indifference towards the looming threat of deeper sanctions over Ukraine. He was also adamant that Russia is not "pivoting" to Asia, despite a massive energy deal currently being negotiated by President Vladimir Putin in China, but merely taking advantage of business opportunities wherever they arise.
But his temper did seem to fray a bit when speaking of President Obama. During Mr. Obama's first term the two leaders jointly ushered in a period of "reset" in US-Russian relations that produced a new nuclear arms reduction treaty, cooperation over Iran and Afghanistan, and a general easing of tensions. But Medvedev now accuses Obama of forgetting how to talk with Russia in a respectful way.
"I believe that President Obama could show more political tact in discussing these issues [the crisis around Ukraine], and a number of decisions taken by the United States’ administration disappoint me," he said. "A competent politician knows how to make reserved, careful, subtle, wise, and intelligent decisions, which, I believe, Mr. Obama succeeded at for a while. But what is being done now, unfortunately, proves that the US administration has run out of these resources."
"We are slowly but surely moving toward a second cold war, which no one needs," Medvedev added.
Medvedev criticized the Obama administration's discouragement of US corporate leaders from attending an international economic forum, to be hosted by Mr. Putin, in St. Petersburg this week.
"This is bringing ideology to market relations and the economy, which is exactly what the Soviet Union did in the past, when it adopted bans on trade with particular countries because their ideology didn’t suit the government. This is exactly what the US administration is doing now. This is a path to a dead end," he said.
As for sanctions against Russia, they would be painful, but would not succeed in bringing down Russia's economy or changing its political calculus on Ukraine, he added.
In fact, they would cut both ways. "These sanctions are a sharp knife for European business, and American business doesn’t need them either. The only ones who want sanctions are politicians."
Some Russian experts have argued that the Kremlin might actually benefit politically from the imposition of tough sanctions, because it would provide an alibi for Russia's already stagnating economy.
"The Russian leadership fears that difficult economic times are coming and popular living standards will suffer," says Alexander Konovalov, president of the independent Institute for Strategic Assessments in Moscow. As such, Medevedev's interview, which has been widely picked up and republished in the Russian media, "makes good sense."
"He's saying that Russia is a reasonable country, we do not invite conflict, but if the West insists on imposing its arbitrary punishments upon us, we shall find the ways to endure," Mr. Konovalov says. "Knowing the Russian mentality, that's a pitch-perfect way to put it. Any bad things that happen to our economy now are the fault of the West."