Thursday, May 3, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Response to Estonia Threatens Russia, Muslim Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 3 – The dismantling of the Soviet war memorial in central Tallinn continues to reverberate throughout Russia, with most of that country's residents – including Muslims – outraged by Tallinn’s decision and especially by its timing immediately before the May 9th commemoration of the anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.
But some analysts in Moscow are already seeking to draw broader lessons from the crisis – see, for example, Sergei Markedonov’s essay at --and one Muslim analyst there has pointedly warned that Moscow’s current approach in neighboring countries like Estonia not only weakens Russia abroad but undercuts its unity and stability at home.
In an essay posted on the webpage, Muslim Abdulkhakov declares that he shares the outrage of all people of good will toward what the Estonians have done in dismantling the Soviet war memorial, but he adds that Moscow’s approach has led it to fall into a trap set by the West (
According to Abdulkhakov, the United States and Western Europe, instead of advancing their interests directly, use their “petty satellites” to provoke Moscow into reacting in ways that have the effect of reducing Russia’s influence by alienating the countries around the periphery of the Russian Federation.
That allows the U.S. and Western Europe, he continues, to avoid responsibility for what they do, and to weaken Russia without directly challenging it, a step that could backfire on them. Moreover, if their satellites go too far, the Western countries are in a position to back away from them in order to prevent any crisis from getting out of hand.
But there is a more significant aspect of this Western policy Moscow neither fully understands nor is willing and perhaps able to copy, Abdulkhakov writes. While the West has invested in developing alternative pro-Western elites in the countries neighboring Russia and even in Russia itself, Moscow has not.
Indeed, he continues, Moscow’s failure to do so – “there does not exist in any of the neighboring countries that very stratum on which [the Russian government] could rely” to promote Russian interests – combined with its obsession about its image is creating a disaster.
Without such supportive alternative elites in these countries, Moscow must act unilaterally and often in ways that offend not only the countries it hopes to influence but the broader international community as well. And Moscow’s approach in these matters profoundly affects the way those who could be its allies behave as well.
In Estonia, Abdulkhakov writes, the ethnic Russian community instead of accepting “the rules of the game” of politics there, something that would give it a chance to influence Tallinn in ways that would help Moscow, has simply and unproductively “stood in opposition to other Estonians.”
Unfortunately – and this is the crux of Abdulkhakov’s argument – Moscow is not in a position to do much anytime soon. Indeed, its approach to its neighbors mirrors its approach at home, reflecting in both cases a concern about face rather than about achieving its goals.
When potential or actual pro-Western elites in the countries neighboring Russia look West, the Muslim analyst continues, they see regimes that are concerned about them and are interested in protecting the rights and interests of ethnic and religious groups linked to these elites but live abroad.
“With us,” Abdulkhakov says, “everything is just the reverse – as soon as this or that people begins to think about what would be not bad for itself … [Moscow] immediately seeks to put it in its place,” something that elites in the non-Russian countries can readily see.
One of the most important of these groups, he suggests, consists of the Muslims, who form majorities in six of Russia’s neighbors and an increasing fraction of the population of the Russian Federation. When the former see the latter mistreated, they are less inclined to support Moscow.
And when the latter recognize that they are being mistreated or that some in the Russian leadership want to promote a “Third Rome” ideology, then they too react, and Abdulkhakov adds, the Muslims of the Russian Federation will not allow themselves to be driven back to a situation in which they are merely “tolerated.”
Consequently, Abulkhakov argues, the only way out for the Russian authorities is to develop a genuine civil society at home, one in which all citizens are treated equally and to promote its interests abroad not by unilaterally and sometimes brutally insisting upon them but rather by using the tactics the West has used against Moscow.
“It is impossible to catch up and pass a Mercedes on a bicycle even if a world champion is pedaling it,” Abdulkhakov says. “But if one shifts into another Mercedes, then the chances for success are equalized.” Moscow might try something else, he concedes, but given the West’s success, there is no defensible reason for it to do so.

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