There has been a remarkable variety of engagements with the West for Russia last week, and it has achieved exactly what it wanted to achieve – nothing.
The highest profile event last week was the Russia-EU summit in Nizhny Novgorod, in which the pre-planned agenda was hijacked by the E. coli outbreak in Germany and Russia’s ban on importing all vegetables from Europe. Putin has apparently concluded that the effectiveness of his political control has been degraded in the last couple of years not by corruption but by the growth of alternative networks and discourses in the bureaucratically unnatural system of dual leadership. A new tightening of discipline is therefore in order in the course of the parliamentary election campaign, which becomes a means for restoring a purer Putinism cleansed from the dubious deviations towards wider choices and freer media. This reversal of modernization, feeble as it was, is disappointing for many Western politicians who invested much effort in networking with the Russian elites anchored to the West by their mercantilist interests. This disappointment typically translates into the proposition that there is no alternative to engaging Russia, but this invariable engagement strategy conveys to Putin the message that his plan for sham elections is just fine. Diplomatic pretences of cordial ever-lasting “resets” are often very useful until they become nonsensical.