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Moscow News
January 22, 2009
In stupidity we trust
By Daria Chernyshova

In this sense Russia has always differed from the West. Western countries regarded themselves as more developed and generally more advanced, while Russia was seen as backwards, barbaric and foolish. In spite of this negative view of Russia, our approach has proved surprisingly effective over the centuries. But what happens when stupidity doesn't face cunning tricks, but the same stupidity? It's well known that just as opposites attract, like forces repel each other - and that's exactly what has happened in Russia's gas dispute with Ukraine. This time, unsually, it was Russia's turn to play the sophisticate against their supposed country cousins in Kiev. But two slavic nations share the same unpredictable heritage, so how would they cope going head-to-head in a crisis?

The regular gas war between Russia and Ukraine lasted longer than usual this year, despite a colder January than in the past couple of years. Isn't that a symptom of stupidity? With Europe used to this annual wrangle, Ukraine opted for a show of strength and dug in. Prolonged negotiations left families shivering before an unsatisfactory deal left neither side able to claim victory.

In the end the quarrels merely undermined the reputations of both sides. Opinions differ as to who won and lost, but in essence nobody comes away with much to show for their efforts. Demonstrating an inability to negotiate in front of the watching world helps neither side. Following the latest sage, Russia can't be regarded as a reliable partner, while Ukraine's bold and contentious ambitions to join NATO and the EU are unlikely to be fulfilled any sooner. Meanwhile, in the teeth of an economic crisis, Gazprom lost billions of dollars in vital gas sales to Europe.

One obvious flaw in the negotiations was the lack of planning. The difficulties have long been evident, yet talks did not begin until the old contract expired and the gas taps had been turned off. Back on December 26 Gazprom warned of a possible problem ... but no further action followed.

Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Valery Yazev insists the conflict has been settled now. But with Europe stepping up its search for alternative energy routes and Russia's reputation taking another hit, what have we gained? Of course there are always circumstances which make common sense' impossible. But our national unpredictability seems to be stronger in every sphere of our lives. We are Russians, and Bismarck knew what he was talking about. The latest gas row supports his claim and the countries involved have shown their underlying character. As Ukraine's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko swallows her passionate support of the Ukrainian language to speak Russian in Moscow, Russia itself is in danger of losing trading partners.