Friday, June 1, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Post-Soviet Borders May Again Begin to Change, Analysts Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 1 – An American Russian specialist said on “Ekho Moskvy” that the post-Soviet states “have entered into a period of the revision of political geography,” one in which “borders will change” possibly in rapid and unexpected ways and with unpredictable consequences.
Nikolai Zlobin, a senior analyst at the Washington World Security Institute, asked rhetorically “Who said that the collapse of the Soviet Union would occur according to the borders of the Soviet republics and then stop at this?” All the more so, he added, because many of these borders are “unnatural” (
Vladimir Falin, the head of the Ukrainian office of the Center for Conflict Research at the Institute of Problems of Globalization, agreed and then offered his own explanation for what he described as the pause in border changes in the post-Soviet region between 1991 and now.
“The disintegration of the post-Soviet space stopped,” he argued, on the one hand, because the United States was involved with other issues and in other conflicts and therefore did not focus on Russia and, on the other, because “abnormally high oil prices” allowed the Kremlin to retire Russia’s debt and build up reserves.
Now, however, Falin continued, the United States “intends to so reformat the Russian Federation that it will be easy to achieve the external regulation of its resources and territory,” something that will be easier and more convenient for Washington if Russia is broken up into “small fragments.”
Therefore, he argued, a drive for “the territorial dismemberment” of the Russian Federation is “again on the order of the day.”
There are at least three reasons lying behind what many will see as the hyperbolic comments of Zlobin and Falin. First, one of the major causes of the worsening of tensions between Moscow and Washington involves the West’s commitment to a Kosovo independent of Serbia, something the Russian government actively opposes.
By pointing to the possibility of border changes in the even more politically sensitive post-Soviet region, these analysts and others who share their views are putting the West on notice that any change in the status of Kosovo could set off a chain reaction in the post-Soviet states with all the obvious security consequences that might entail
Second, such comments also appear to reflect Russian anger about Estonia, the first country in many years that a majority of Russians say is “unfriendly” to their state (, and the backing it has received from its fellow NATO and European Union members in the dispute over “the bronze soldier.”
Moreover, and reinforcing that anger among many Russians, are concerns in the Russian security elite about the consequences of possible ratification – now put off -- of an accord between Moscow and the Western alliance that could permit NATO forces on Russian territory (
Many Russians think that any such Western presence on their territory would be a prelude to the dismemberment of their country. Consequently, warning about border changes is a way of reminding Western governments in general and the United States in particular that border changes could entail unpredictable security consequences.
And third, such comments may also reflect a desire by some in Moscow to remind other post-Soviet states that their borders are not cast in stone, that it is quite possible that the Russian Federation could benefit in Ukraine, Belarus or Kyrgyzstan, for example, from redrawing these lines at their expense.
But sending such a message even by implication is likely to be counterproductive for the Russian government: To the extent that Moscow is seen as behind such changes, those in these countries who believe that Russia represents a threat to their national survival will likely be able to generate more support for an independent line.
However all that may turn out to be and whether the borders of the post-Soviet states do in fact change in the coming years, there are two important realities that the Zlobin-Falin exchange has the effect of downplaying.
On the one hand, the United States was one of the most powerful voices opposed to the independence of any territory or group on the territory of the Soviet Union that Moscow had not classified as a union republic.
That policy, which reflected fears at the time that further fissiparousness would lead to “loose nukes,” was announced in February 1992 when the first Bush Administration said that there must be “no secession from secession,” a position that put it on the side of regimes against any attempts at further national self-determination.
And on the other, the United States was not responsible for the dismemberment of the USSR: the peoples of that region -- and Russians first among -- them were. It is true that Washington backed the recovery of independence of the three Soviet-occupied Baltic countries.
But it is not true, the desires of many Americans and political rhetoric on occasion notwithstanding, that Washington made a major and longstanding commitment to the destruction and independence of the12 union republics, as anyone who recalls President George H.W. Bush’s “Chicken Kyiv” speech should know.
If borders in that region do change again, they are more likely to do so because of the demographic and political behavior of the peoples there rather than because of the actions of the Americans or any other outside force. To suggest otherwise is to ignore history, foster xenophobia, and downplay the achievements of the peoples of that region.

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