Monday, July 19, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russia Sending Politicians as Ambassadors to CIS Countries Just as the USSR Sent CPSU Officials to Soviet Bloc States

Paul Goble

Staunton, July 19 – What had appeared to be a trend is now becoming a policy: Moscow will be sending political ambassadors to the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a reflection of their multi-level relationships, much as the USSR dispatched CPSU officials to Soviet bloc countries a generation or more ago.
In an article in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Andrey Molchanov, the chairman of the Federation Council’s Committee on CIS Affairs, argues that the high level of “mutual understanding” of the leaders of the CIS countries “does not require the participation of professional diplomats for the resolution of important intergovernmental questions.”
And the assignment of senior Russian politicians to these posts, he continues, has the additional virtue in that “they act and are viewed not only as bureaucrats and diplomats but more as public politicians.” As a result, “frequently the level of their independence and at the same time responsibility is much higher than a career diplomat.”
It would have been “a counterproductive” mistake to set up a special “Russian Ministry for the Affairs of the Post-Soviet Space,” Molchanov says, because, according to him, “paternalism as an instrument of Russian foreign policy was sent to the archives a long time ago” (
But at the same time, he continues, “no one would deny that the relations of the Russian Federation with other former republics of the USSR for many reasons have a special and historically established character,” reflecting the fact that they were within “one state for many decades or even centuries.”
Moreover, “the infinite number of ties, the powerful stratum of Russian-language culture, education and science, the common sufferings and losses during the war and the common Great Victory, the close trade and production cooperation, which has not been destroyed completely even with the appearance of new state borders” all make this relationship special.
Much of this has been preserved by the CIS which despite all its shortcomings, Molchanov says, has slowed centrifugal tendencies in the region and made “the divorce process” more “civilized.” If the CIS did not exist, he argues, the Eurasian Economic Community, the Organization of the Treaty of Collective Security, and the Tariff Union would not have arisen.
But the CIS has “not exhausted its potential” even now. A major reason for that conclusion, Molchanov insists, is “the close personal association of the leaders of the highest levels which arose as a rule long before the collapse of the USSR” as a result of similar careers in the party-political and economic sectors.
This common past, of course, “does not mean there will be agreement on all questions,” the Federation Council committee chairman says, “but it makes the achievement of agreements much easier.” Moreover, “the presence of such mutual understanding often does not require the participation of professional diplomats.”
“With the passage of time,” Molchanov continues, “it has [nonetheless] become clear that the personal association of [the most senior] leaders is simply physically insufficient for the planned work for the resolution of a multitude of questions, especially those which bear a long-term character.”
As a result, “the logical solution, at least from the view of the Russian side has become the institution of political [ambassadors], of people whose experience of administrative and/or economic (and not just diplomatic) activity allows them to speak as intermediary heavyweights with the highest leadership of the partner states of the Russian Federation.”
This practice has already found expression in the assignment of such people as Aleksandr Surikov to Belarus, Vladimir Babichev to Kazakhstan, Valentin Vlasov to Kyrgyzstan, Ramazan Abdulatipov to Tajikistan, and most famously, Viktor Chernomyrdin and now Mikhail Zurabov to Ukraine.
Molchanov notes that the use of such political ambassadors “justified itself already in the Soviet period.” Soviet ambassadors “to the countries of the socialist camp where inter-party ties played a key role” were typically “senior party and Soviet workers, who were, as a rule, members of the CPSU Central Committee.”
Their appointments, he says, “not only sent a signal about the priorities of Soviet foreign policy but also provided the leaders of the socialist countries with a direct channel of communication with the highest Soviet leadership.”
But in post-Soviet times and in the CIS countries, the use of political ambassadors has another justification: Such people, Molchanov says, “act and are viewed not only as bureaucrats and diplomats but more as public politicians.” And because that is so, they often can act more independently and authoritatively “than a career diplomat.”
That in turn “is especially important for our policy in such post-Soviet countries as Moldova and Kyrgyzstan where there exist especially complex political situation[s].” In such places, political ambassadors can act more quickly in response to rapidly changing events because of their ties with the leaderships of both countries.
The experience of his committee shows, Molchanov concludes, that “the practice of political appointments to the posts of Russian ambassadors in the CIS countries has completely justified itself.” And he adds that “the continuation of this line will correspond to the increasing importance of the countries of the CIS in the foreign policy” of Russia.

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