Thursday, September 23, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Lavrov’s Rhetorical Shift Suggests New Approach to ‘Already Not So Newly Independent States,’ MGIMO Professor Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, September 23 – Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is “a common historical resource of Russia and the other countries” in it, a formulation, a leading Moscow scholar says, that points to “a new conception of relations with the already not very newly independent states.”
In today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Aleksey Bogaturov, the pro-rector of the Foreign Ministry’s Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), argues that this rhetorical formula opens the way to a more realistic approach to developing relations among these states (
That is because, the MGIMO professor continues, “for the first time is established a logically explicable relationships between nostalgic emotions and rational calculations concerning the CIS,” one that does not ignore history but understands that the future will be build not only by using it but also by moving away from it.
As Bogaturov notes, “20 years ago, Russian political thought gave birth to the slogan, ‘civilized divorce,’” which long ago ceased to have much explanatory value. Meanwhile, “Western colleagues also have not distinguished themselves,” constantly referring to “’the neo-imperial ambitions’ of Moscow” without wanting or focusing on “innovations.”
Lavrov’s new formula, the MGIMO expert says, helps overcome these problems by drawing attention to the incontestable importance of “the lengthy and close co-existence of the former union republics” in the past, recognition of the combination of “positive and negative” phenomena in that past without any suggestion of “a common state future” for them.
That is important because it allows for integration without threatening the independence of the countries involved. Indeed, it makes the path to integration easier. As Bogaturov points out, “with the exception of the European Union, nowhere in the world does integration presuppose the establishment of [combined] single states.”
And “the understanding of the common historical resource also contains practically useful guidance on the genetic similarity of the economic and political processes on the space of the CIS” while calling for “a reasoned restraint” based on the recognition that “by their origins, the processes [in these countries] are similar, but the course of their development is not.”
Bogaturov suggests that Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan are proceeding along the path of the development of the market together with what he calls “a conservative consolidation” of political power, a path that combines “a super-powerful state with limited elements of liberal norms and formal democratic procedures.”
Kyrgyzstan and Moldova in contrast “are living according to a special rhythm.” The first has been passing through “spasms of adaptation of a tradition system to democratic procedures; the second has faced difficulties because of deep divisions within its society, the Transdniestria problem, and the question of unification with Romania.
Georgia – which has withdrawn from the CIS – represents “a curious case,” Bogaturov continues. There, “the authoritarianism of Saakashvili which is supported by foreign budgets seeks economic liberalism.” And the situations in Ukraine and Armenia are equally diverse, reflecting both domestic problems and foreign ones.
“An important component of the conception of a common historical inheritance,” Bogaturov argues, “is its highlighting of the common pool of problems involving border security.” While some deny it, “the borders of the present and former countries of the CIS and also the borders of certain Baltic states have a common historical and instrumental origin.”
That is, he suggests, because “they were drawn [in Soviet times] arbitrarily and kept in place by force or threats.”
“From this point of view, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, the states of the Transcaucasus and Central Asia and, let us say, Lithuania are genetically similar states.” Their borders were drawn by others: This is a historical legacy, but it is “not an imperative of future development.” Instead, “it is the basis for showing mutual tolerance.”
In addition, Bogaturov says, Lavrov’s formulation has a cultural component, one that rests on the common Russian-language space that the Soviet system established, a space across which information and ideas can move more easily than across the external borders of any of these countries in any other language.
And consequently, he concludes, the term “common historical resource” for these countries represents “a base of experience and precedent-setting comparisons for the improvement of the strategy of the consistent but careful, pragmatic, and selective coming together” of these countries in various sectors.

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