Los Angeles, December 8 – Presenting the Russian Federation as the Soviet Union of today is “becoming ever more popular not only in Russia but also in the West,” a leading Moscow commentator says, but it does little to help Russia and the other post-Soviet states overcome Soviet thinking at home and define their national interests.
In an article posted online today on the 18th anniversary of the Beloveshchaya accords, Sergey Markedonov explores what he calls “these paradoxes,” all the more potent because “the basic elements of the Western anti-Soviet myth coincide with the Kremlin’s political propaganda (www.chaskor.ru/article/nepriznannoe_gosudarstvo_13217).
In this essay, Markedonov notes that over the last decade with “the strengthening of the power vertical” Russians “have become so accustomed to conflate the Russian Federation with the USSR” that they forget how the opposition of those two formations led to the end of the Soviet Union and the real successes of the Russian Federation in the 1990s.
Under Soviet conditions, he continues, Russia was treated as a step child in comparison with other republics – it lacked many of the institutions the others had and was restrained in pushing the values of the dominant nationality (the Russians) – and consequently in the late 1980s, many Russians saw an exit from the USSR as working to their benefit.
And in the 1990s, which most Russians now view as a time of collapse and retreat, post-Soviet Russian “was able to achieve a non-nuclear status for Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus.” It did not provoke a re-division of inter-republic borders, and it was Moscow and no one else that ended six of the eight armed conflict that did break out on the territory of the former USSR.
More than that, during “the cursed 90s,” Markedonov notes, “Russian dominance on the post-Soviet space was in practice officially recognized by American and European diplomacy,” with Russia being viewed as the leader in democratic transformation and “the gates to Europe (and to the West in general)” for all the others.
Thus, it is “at a minimum unjust” to view the Yeltsin years as an uninterrupted “chain of retreat” and defeat as many Russians now do, the Moscow analyst says. But “at the same time,” one must acknowledge that there were many mistakes and that “Russia was conceived by its own elite as an unrecognized state which was not self-standing” but rather controlled by others.
Because of that feeling, Russian politicians from the end of the 1990s on have tried to correct what they call the Beloveshchaya mistake. “Instead of distinguishing between Soviet and Russian policy, the leadership of the new Russia” chose instead to rally around the Soviet past, as the mark of their legitimacy and the basis viewing the CIS as Russia’s “geopolitical property.”
In recent times, Markedonov continues, “Soviet discourse with each day is becoming ever more popular not only in Russia but also in the West.” In Moscow, it is seen as “a powerful resource for legitimizing the regime,” as a way of linking the current powers that be not with the events of the 1990s but with USSR as a great power.
But paradoxically, he continues, “Soviet values are being stressed not only inside Russia.” In Europe and the US, many opinion leaders speak about the “rebirth of the Soviet colossus” to justify a cautious approach to Russia. Curiously, the basic features of such arguments, Markedonov points out, “coincide with the political propaganda of the Kremlin.”
In both cases, Markedonov says, “the Soviet myth is an extremely useful instrument in the hands of politicians.” For the new Russian elite, it provides a justification for autarky and authoritarianism and a demand to be treated as a super power whatever the country’s actual status may be.
And for “certain circles in the US and Europe,” this myth is useful in order to “justify their own failures” and explain away the expectations these people had for Eastern and Central Europe by holding up Russia as the reason things have not worked out as the West had expected at the end of Soviet times.
For some in both Russia and the West, “contemporary Russia [remains] an unrecognized state. It remains a hostage of the past and cannot pragmatically assess its own (not soviet) resources, realistically understand its national interests, and define its geopolitical allies, partners and opponents.