Monday, December 7, 2009

Window on Eurasia: CIS Countries Becoming West’s ‘Cordon Sanitaire’ to Contain Russia, Moscow Specialist Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 7 – Tomorrow is the 18th anniversary of the Beloveshchaya accords by which the leaders of the three Slavic republics agreed on the disintegration of the Soviet Union, but the most important meeting about the region on that date this year, a Moscow analyst says, is a European Union ministerial on the Eastern Partnership.
That is because, Sergey Zhiltsov writes in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” the former Soviet republics are “step by step being transformed [by the actions of the West, objective processes in Eurasia, and Russian mistakes] into a ‘cordon sanitaire,’ called upon to restrain Russian geopolitical ambitions” (
Zhiltsov, who heads the CIS Center of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy, suggests that there are three reasons why this is so. First, he says, “the Soviet inheritance on which by inertia Russia still tries to operate is ceasing to work,” because the national elites want to have the advantages of integration with the West.
Second, “over the past 18 years since the moment of the disintegration of the USSR, a stratum of the population, above all young people, has emerged with sees relations with Russia in an entirely new way.” Not all of them are opposed to Russia, but more of them look to the West and the broader world as the defining elements of their futures.
Such attitudes among the rising generation, of course, are being encouraged by national elites who have approved textbooks that show Russia in a bad light or at least minimize both the contribution Russia has made in non-Russian areas or present any “positive” forms of cooperation with Russia “in a distorted way.”
And third, Zhiltsov says, “the process of establishing national states in the former Soviet republics which began almost 20 years ago, is gathering force.” That is exemplified in the efforts of the CIS countries to “create their own history and tear down Soviet monuments, despite the protests of Russia.”
All this taken together, he continues, “why over the course of the years of its existence, the CIS has not been converted into an effective regional organization.” Instead, “the weakening of Russian influence in the 1990s was conditioned not only by the mistakes of Russia but also by a number of objective factors.”
These “processes” within the individual CIS member states -- and particularly those connected with “strengthening ties with Western governments” -- have fragmented the post-Soviet space which “has lost its geopolitical unity.” And because these are so strong, Russia has been unable to do much about it.
Moscow’s efforts to promote a Union State or the Eurasian Economic Community or the Customs Union “have slowed the disintegration of the post-Soviet space, but it is hardly possible to speak about the formation of a long-term trend in this direction.” “The exit of some countries from the CIS and the participation of others in alternative groups” shows that.
At the moment Zhiltsov concludes, “formally the zone of Russian influence is limited only to the partners in the Eurasian Economic Community.” But even there, Moscow’s ability to get others to follow its line on many questions is extremely limited. At the same time, however, the European Union is not about to include CIS countries as members.
“It is evident,” the Diplomatic Academy scholar says, “that the former Soviet republics will not be full partners of the European Union. The depth of cooperation with them will be defined by their readiness to be friends against Russia.” The Eastern Partnership, Zhiltsov says, is one of the means to promote this, but only one of them.
Taken together, these “instruments” are intended to show Moscow that it is not in a position to use these countries to promote its own “geopolitical ambitions” and must “cease to consider the post-Soviet space as a zone of its special interests.” That can open the way for cooperation between Russia and the West, but it has another meaning.
This shift, Zhiltsov concludes, means that “the countries of the CIS, which are gradually being converted into ‘a cordon sanitaire,’ are called upon to restrain Russian geopolitical ambitions,” in much the same way, his use of this term implies, that Europeans sought in the years before World War II to surround Soviet Russia with a similar “cordon.”

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