Vienna, August 27 – By recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, Moscow has passed a second “point of no return” -- the first was its invasion of Georgia -- a step that threatens the Russian Federation itself more than anyone else, according to a prominent Russian analyst.
And his views are increasingly being echoed not only by other analysts but by social organizations like the Soldiers’ Mothers Committees which have objected to the way the war was conducted and by opposition political groups like the Unified Civic Front, which is headed by Gari Kasparov.
In a comment to the “Novyy region” news portal, Pavel Salin, an expert at the Moscow Center for Political Conjuncture, said that “if the West reacts to the decision of Dmitry Medvedev by isolating the country, the Russian Federation could revert to autarchy with an authoritarian power more harsh than” under Putin (www.nr2.ru/moskow/193183.html).
“On Tuesday,” Salin continued, “the Russian elite passed a second ‘point of no return’ not only in relations with the West but also in its internal policy. The first was passed when it was decided to introduce forces in the then still unrecognized republics, although to the last moment, [Moscow] retained the possibility of ‘pulling back.’”
But that possibility appears to have been thrown away, the Moscow analyst said, and if Western reaction continues to be “super-tough and ensures the international isolation” of Russia, “then this will give additional trump cards to forces which are insisting on autarchy and reliable exclusively on [Russia’s] own forces for modernization.”
The only way for these groups to dominate the situation and for this strategy to have any chance of success, Salin said, is for the political regime in the Russian Federation to become “significantly more authoritarian than its analog of the times of the second administration of Vladimir Putin.”
It is not entirely clear whether Salin’s analysis is intended as a warning to Russian leaders and the West about what will happen if the former maintain their current course and the latter impose tough sanctions on Moscow, but there is no lack of clarity on these points in the declaration of Kasparov’s United Civic Front today.
The Front declares that the Kremlin’s latest move “contradicts the plan for the peaceful regulation of the situation in South Ossetia proposed by French President Nicholas Sarkozy and signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.” According to its declaration, Russia has only itself to blame for “dragging our country into a new cold war.”
Because Russia will become more authoritarian, because it will be confronted by separatist challenges within its own borders, and because it will lose access to Western financial markets, the statement continues, the Kremlin’s actions will have “catastrophic consequences” for the people of Russia (www.sobkorr.ru/news/48B500AC25693.html).
These predictions are based on the assumption that the Russian government won’t change course or offer the West something it wants on another issue and on the assumption that the West’s current toughness in response to what Moscow has done will in fact continue for a significant period of time, something that many in Western countries are already arguing against.
But however that may be, Russia is already suffering a number of immediate costs as a result of its actions and will suffer more regardless of whether either the Kremlin or Western governments change course or find some reason to agree on “larger issues” that will lead to the sacrifice of the principles each says it holds dear.
First, the Russian stock and exchange markets continue to fall to two-year lows, hitting the Russian elite in its pocketbook and making new investment more problematic (www.moscowtimes.ru/article/600/42/370448.htm), a problem compounded by the chorus of Western experts who warn that it is now too risky to invest in the Russian Federation (www.barentsobserver.com/-risky-to-invest-in-russia.4503589-16149.html).
Second, Russia is already experiencing a “domino effect” in its own ethnic republics, with an increasing number of non-Russians not only frightened by Moscow’s increasingly nationalist course but also convinced that they are “no worse” than the Abkhazians or South Ossetians and thus deserve independence (www.olvia.idknet.com/ol270-08-08.htm).
At the very least, Moscow will have to deploy even more forces than it does at present in the North Caucasus and perhaps other regions in order to contain this and to demonstrate that it won’t allow anyone inside the Russian Federation to assume that they have the “rights” the Russian government has recognized in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
And third, not only NATO but Russia’s neighbors are suspending military-to-military cooperation and thinking about increasing their defense budgets (www.barentsobserver.com/all-military-cooperation-is-suspended.4502985-16149.html), a situation that will force Moscow to respond in kind, especially since its military won in Georgia with numbers rather than quality
(On that not unimportant point, see the analysis of Anatoly Tsyganok posted online today (http://www.polit.ru/analytics/2008/08/27/vol.html) and the discussion in today’s “Novyye izvestiya” suggesting that Russia is spending ever more on defense but getting less defense capability for it (www.newizv.ru/news/2008-08-27/96780/).
Addendum: The Azerbaijan news portal, 1News.AZ, reports that Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the Russian opposition, has declared on his blog that “as a result of Medvedev and Putin, we are being deprived of Russia,” adding that if Moscow continues on the path it is following now, Russia and Russians will suffer even more (1news.az/world/20080827043630243.html).