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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Do Not Drink the Water

We are no longer going to drink Borjomi mineral water. And Georgian and Moldovan wines are out too. We're going to drink vodka with patriotically named beer chasers. To hell with our livers! The battle against Moldovan and Georgian exports is becoming a patriotic duty. Komsomolskaya Pravda has even put out a wall calendar urging us to honor the Motherland and not drink Georgian wine. True, you can't tell if the calendar is meant seriously or as mockery. Or both. Nobody believes that Georgian and Moldovan wines are harmful to one's health. The pesticides-in-the-wine thesis sounds extremely unconvincing: Where are the impoverished Georgians and Moldovans going to get expensive pesticides? Nobody has died from these wines, while thousands of people die every year from the fake vodka brought in from Ossetia.

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Makers of Russian wines, which were previously made, alas, from Moldovan "wine materials," are sad indeed. What do they do now? Our winemakers still haven't recovered from Gorbachev's anti-alcohol campaign. But every dark cloud has a silver lining: Perhaps from now on our domestic wines can be made from French "wine materials."

Everybody understands that the ban on imports of Moldovan and Georgian wines is political, an act of economic war against two small countries that have, in the end, nothing else to offer our market. But if this represents an act of major state policy, what is its point?

The administration does not disguise the fact that it is trying to punish former "fraternal republics" for choosing an "anti-Russian course." Clearly, people in the Kremlin are convinced that by destroying these countries' already tottering economies, Russia can win itself enormous popularity among the populations of Moldova and Georgia. We're trying to settle Ukraine's hash through gas pricing. For some reason we're doing the same thing with friendly Belarus, only more so.

The obvious reason for the crises in Russian-Moldovan and Russian-Georgian relations is the "separatism" issue. By supporting the breakaway powers in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transdnestr, Moscow naturally sets itself in opposition to Tbilisi and Chisinau. It's easy to understand the emotions here: The separatism of the autonomous territories was an answer to discrimination against them from the republican centers -- in exactly the same way that the separatism of the republics themselves was prompted by the policies of the Soviet central government.

Only the situation has changed now. Fifteen years of independence in these unrecognized republics has given rise to peculiar economies among whose critical elements figure doctored vodka, trade in contraband goods and piratical privatizations. And the customers are Russian entrepreneurs, in the avant garde of whom marches none other than the father of Russian privatization, Anatoly Chubais, now in the role of manager of Russia's state electricity corporation -- which is buying up whatever objects strike its fancy for a song.

A corrupt economy represents billions of uncontrolled and untaxed dollars as well as the chance to grab resources virtually free and relive the joys of the grand theft of the 1990s, albeit on a limited scale. The Russian oligarchy has specific interests -- and these interests can only summon respect and understanding from the powers that be. Briefly put, this is what is called the politics of national interest. What's good for Chubais must be good for Russia. And if you think otherwise, you're no patriot.

While supporting separatism elsewhere, the Kremlin isn't doubting for a minute that a fight against separatism here at home is currently its highest priority. The Georgians, of course, are not blameless themselves in this. But somehow I don't recall aid to the Tatar separatists and Bashkir nationalists coming from the Moldovans.

The Kremlin is consciously and systematically carrying out a policy of isolating itself across the former Soviet Union. The more pressure it puts on former Soviet republics, the more it hurries them into the arms of the West. The greater the risk of armed conflict in the contested zones, the more interest there will be on the part of the Moldovan, Georgian and Ukrainian leadership in cooperation with NATO and the United States. And the cruder the Kremlin's measures and methods, the easier it is for the governments in Chisinau and Tbilisi to justify their own mistakes and failures: All economic problems become the fault of the evil Russians.

Years ago, Moscow played the decisive role in breaking up the Soviet Union. Today, Russian diplomacy is finishing off the CIS.

Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute for Globalization Studies.