Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Failings Transforming FSU from a ‘Post-Soviet’ to a ‘Post-Russian Space,’ Paper Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 16 – Moscow’s failure to provide an attractive model for the former Soviet republics or to consider their distinct interests and its aggressive behavior toward many of them are transforming the Post-Soviet space into a “post-Russian” one, in which Russia will not be able to count a single state there as its reliable ally, according to a leading Moscow newspaper.
In a lead article published yesterday, the editors of “Gazeta” argue that “Russia is entering the stage of the final loss of influence in the post-Soviet space” because it has failed to take the interests of the other countries into account or offer them “attractive” economic and political projects (www.gazeta.ru/comments/2009/06/15_e_3210751.shtml).
What makes this editorial so intriguing is that it comes at a time when many Russian officials and commentators close to them are suggesting that Russia is expanding its influence over the former Soviet republics, a view that more than a few Western governments and analysts appear to have accepted.
The “Gazeta” editorial, of course, was prompted by the refusal of Belarus and Uzbekistan this week to sign on to Moscow’s latest collective security project, but the “Gazeta” editors suggest that is only a symptom of a much larger problem – the rapid decline of Russian influence across the board over the last ten years.
The Baltic countries as members of NATO and the European Union are beyond Russia’s orbit despite Moscow’s occasional effort to “defend” Russian-speakers there. In the last decade alone, the editors note, Moscow has managed to alienate Ukraine. And the Russian invasion of Georgia led that country to break relations with Moscow.
Moldova, despite the presence of a communist leadership “ideologically close to the current Russian powers that be, total poverty, and Transdniestria” has not become a close ally, the editors point out, adding that “Armenia and Azerbaijan both are conducting a multi-vector policy and in the most active way are attempting to diversify their trade.”
“And now,” the paper says, “after Belarus joined the European Union’s ‘Eastern Partnership,’ Moscow is rapidly moving toward the loss of even such a quasi-ally as [President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka.” And, the “Gazeta” editors write, the situation in Central Asia is not that much better.
“The absence of real economically and politically attractive projects for the post-Soviet space in conjunction with the continuing aggressive efforts of Russia to put pressure on the CIS countries had led to a situation where almost the last outposts of Moscow’s influence on that space are Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”
The editors detail various other Moscow shortcomings, and then they point out what may be the most serious one: “It is naïve,” they write, to think that Moscow’s war with Georgia demonstrated its influence on the post-Soviet space. In fact, by that action, “Moscow only still more frightened all the remaining former Soviet republics.”
As a result of Moscow’s use of force, they were “forced to seek various forms of geopolitical defense” against the possibility that Russia would use it against them. And as a result, they have take steps that reduce the significance of “the post-Soviet space” as a separate geopolitical region.
Yet another indication of “the real level of influence of Russia on the post-Soviet space is the absence in power in the former Soviet republics of even a single politician who could be called ‘pro-Russian,’” something many in Moscow are inclined to blame on outsiders like the United States and the European Union but in fact is the product of Russia’s own failings.
“Neither the US, nor the European Union have the possibilities of seriously getting involved in the post-Soviet space,” “Gazeta” suggests. “Those military bases of the US in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan were set up for the delivery of cargo to Afghanistan and not in order to ‘separate’ Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan from Russia’s zone of influence.”
Moreover, the paper’s editors say, “the US is not involved now and has not been involved in the establishment of its own orders in Central Asia and to reduce all the processes in Georgia and Ukraine to color revolutions ‘planed by the State Department’ would also be an oversimplification” and a mistake.
At the very least, the editorial suggests, “Russia did not offer these peoples any acceptable alternative.” And it warns: “If Russia itself does not learn to conduct its affairs with the former Soviet republics as with completely independent states, where the elites have their own interests … the situation will only become more complicated.”
In that event, “the post-Soviet space” people in Moscow and in some Western capitals talk so much about “will finally become a post-Russian one,” something that will leave the Russian government far more isolated and with far fewer possibilities than it has even now, a development that should lead the Russian regime to revise its entire approach.

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