Vienna, February 5 – This week, the Russian Federation secured agreement from six former Soviet republics to form a rapid reaction force, an action that some in Moscow see as the emergence of a counterweight to NATO and others as the first step to the restoration of a Moscow-centric empire or even the key to the survival of Russian civilization.
But as other analysts have pointed out, such expectations are beyond doubt overblown, especially because these seven countries are unlikely to be willing to sacrifice their sovereignty, because Moscow has purchased their participation in this enterprise, and because many in Russia itself object to Moscow spending money abroad when there are so many problems at home.
Nonetheless, this move, one by which Moscow has implicitly acknowledged that five of the other former union republics, not to mention the three formerly occupied Baltic states, are not likely to be interested in any reunification of the former Soviet space, at least on a voluntary basis, any time soon.
And thus in the minds of some observers, Moscow’s effort to move beyond the moribund Commonwealth of Independent States by relying more heavily on the EuroAsiatic Economic Community and the Collective Security Agreement may represent an important step forward, albeit not one in quite the direction those in the Russian capital say they want.
Yesterday, a joint meeting in Moscow of the Organization of the Collective Security Agreement and the Inter-governmental Council of the EuroAsiatic Economic Community agreed to a proposal by President Dmitry Medvedev for the formation of a collective rapid reaction military force and the creation of an anti-crisis fund (www.kp.ru/daily/24239.4/438421/).
Although the seven presidents of the seven countries present – Russia, Armenia, Belarus, and all the former Soviet republics of Central Asia except Turkmenistan – agreed to create the force, spokesmen for the group indicated that there had not been any accord reached on how large this force would be or how it would be financed.
As to the anti-crisis fund, Russia agreed to put in 7.5 billion US dollars, Kazakhstan one billion, and the rest, in the words of “Komsomolskaya Pravda,” promised to provide assistance “commensurate with their possibilities,” a formula that suggests they are far more likely to be its recipients than to be donors.
Despite all that, Medvedev and many of the participants welcomed what agreements were achieved as a step forward, at least compared to recent summit meetings of the CIS or even the two groupings that were represented in Moscow this week. But the most enthusiastic backers came from among Russian commentators.
Petr Akopov, the editor of “Politicheskiy zhurnal,” was the most expansive. In response to questions from APN.ru, he said that Russia’s main interest remains “the reestablishment of a single imperial space, if not with the inclusion of the majority of the former Soviet republics within a single state together with Russia, then with their membership of a new confederal state.”
That, he said, would represent an important step forward away from what he described as “the dead CIS” and could be achieved now because under crisis conditions, such major realignments are far easier to achieve. And this accord of the seven, he suggested, is already bearing fruit.
Kyrgyzstan, he pointed out, “is closing the American Manas base. Armenia is thinking about joining the ruble zone, Belarus is creating with [Russia] a common anti-aircraft organization. And all the members of the Organization of the Collective Security Agreement will have their own rapid reaction units” – all of which, he said, are “steps in the right direction.”
As Akopov concedes, many in Russia will object to this new grouping because Moscow is paying an enormous sum for it at a time when Russia has many unmet needs. But such objections, he continues, ignore the reality that this crisis “gives [Russia] a chance to correct the errors and crimes of the 1990s – to reestablish and strengthen ties with parts of the empire.”
Without the inclusion of these “parts,” he continues, “Russia will not regain the status of superpower and not having done so will not preserve [Russian] civilization.” Thus, however difficult and expensive such work is, he concludes, the whole enterprise is worthwhile because “if there is a goal, then there will be a result.”
Some agreed (stoletie.ru/na_pervuiu_polosu/medvedev_sozdaet_protivoves_nato_2009-02-05.htm), but many were skeptical, with a few openly suggesting that Moscow was trying to “buy” friends, a tactic bound to fail (www.ia-centr.ru/expert/3778/) and others noting that the West would adopt countermeasures (www.mk.ru/blogs/MK/2009/02/04/society/392973/).
But perhaps the most sweeping critique so far was offered by Russian nationalist commentator Aleksandr Khramchikhin who entitled his detailed and closely argued but obvious angry essay that was posted online today “A Union in the Name of an Illusion” (www.chaskor.ru/p.php?id=3244).
He makes three points about the agreement just singed. First of all, Khramchikhin points out, each of the signatory countries has serious problems with its own military forces, something that raises serious questions about the contribution any one of them could make to this force or to its projects.
Second, “the countries which today are in [this grouping] have extraordinarily different views on the goals and tasks of this organization.” Some of those reflect geography, some culture, and some possibilities, but there is no common view as to what even the core mission of this new entity should be.
And third, “our partners look at the external world in very different ways,” and those differences are growing and will continue to grow whatever Moscow thinks. The current crisis may cause them to draw together for a time, but the differences will continue to push them apart, again regardless of what Russians want to believe.
Khramchikhin’s main complaint, however, is that the latest accord shows that the Russian government has been unable “to escape from the practice in the CIS when Russia has only obligations and the rest only have rights” because as long as Russia pays for everything, none of the others will think about making the contribution they should.
“Under the conductions of the sharp economic crisis,” he concludes, “Russia is simply paying enormous sums” in order to address “its own psychological complexes. That is all right if the price is limited to money and does not involve the lives of our soldiers in support of our ‘allies’ who will never do anything for Russia.”