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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Geopolitics for Swindlers

President Dmitry Medvedev visited Ulan  Bator on Aug. 25 and 26 and signed a commercial agreement with the Mongolian authorities. Hardly a month passes without Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin or, in rare cases, Medvedev visiting one exotic country after another and signing ground-breaking commercial agreements. This summer alone, Russia also closed big deals with Nigeria, Cuba and Venezuela.

These commercial deals are a direct reflection of Russia’s foreign policy. Our friends are the countries that are willing to sign a deal directly with Russia’s leaders. Our enemies are the countries whose leaders refuse to sign such deals. But the most surprising thing is that none of these deals has been carried out, and this is mostly Russia’s fault.

In March 2006, then-President Putin wrote off Algeria’s $4.7 billion debt to Russia. In return, Algeria signed agreements with Gazprom and state arms exporter Rosoboronexport. Andrei Illarionov, former economic adviser to Putin, and other analysts believe that the deal in which a debt owed to the federal budget was waived in return for payments to companies headed by Putin’s friends is a cover for a classic corruption scheme. But Gazprom simply failed to carry out its end of the bargain. What’s more, Algiers was unhappy with the quality of the MiG jets it received from Rosoboronexport and sent them back to Moscow. In January 2008, Putin paid a visit to the socialist government of Bulgarian leader Sergei Stanishev, who signed a range of agreements, including a commitment for Russia to build a nuclear power plant in the Bulgarian city of Belene. But no sooner had the ink dried on the agreement than Russia raised the price for the plant from $3 billion to $10 billion. With a new Bulgarian government now in power and the old one widely accused of corruption, it is obvious that the contract with Russia will be broken. So far, nothing has been built.

In April 2008, Putin forgave Libya $4.5 billion in debt in return for profitable contracts signed between Libya and Gazprom, Russian Technologies and the Russian Railways — state-controlled companies run by friends of Putin. One year has now passed since Russian Railways was supposed to have started building a 500-kilometer railroad between the Libyan cities of Sirt and Benghazi. Not a single track has been laid.

The Kremlin declared Russia to be a “raw materials superpower” after signing an agreement in 2005 for construction of the Nord Stream pipeline. Despite the fact that Nord Stream is a European project — which, you would think, would demand a more responsible approach — Moscow is using the same tactics as it has with Libya and Venezuela. When it needed an agreement from the German government, it hired former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. When it needed Finland to sign off on the deal, it hired former Finnish Prime  Minister Paavo Lipponen. But neither Schröder nor Lipponen could help. The Nord Stream project is at a standstill. Hopes for the South Stream project have collapsed, plans to pipe additional gas supplies from Turkmenistan to Russia through the Caspian Sea region have yet to be realized, and Putin’s pipeline agreement with China remains a reality on paper only.

The failure of those agreements cannot be explained away by the complex logistics of these projects. Russia simply does not have the technological or financial resources to carry out these projects. And in its corrupt deals with countries such as Nigeria and Algeria, Russia has the dubious honor of being the one who is swindling its partners.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.