A New Chance for Leadership
No. 4 2008 October/December

Despite the obvious heterogeneity in the evolution of former
Soviet republics, the territory of the former Soviet Union is still
afloat as a unified political and social association. The formally
non-existent post-Soviet political organization is invisibly
interlinked by energy and transport corridors, markets, trade and
economic relations, which took shape back in the Soviet era. The
peculiarities of the administrative and state systems and the
propagation of the Russian language are the results of the presence
of the Russian empire and the Soviet Union.

This territory is unique. There is hardly anywhere else where
one can find such a conglomeration of countries that are linked to
each other not only by a common history and culture, but also by a
common political geography. The Commonwealth of Independent States
has a strategic advantage over similar organizations, such as La
Fr‡ncophonie, which is an international organization of cooperation
among French-speaking countries, or the Commonwealth of Nations.
These consist of territories scattered around the world because
their metropolitan empires were sea powers during the colonial
period of their development. In contrast, the countries grouped in
the CIS have common borders, which allow for the establishment of a
single economic space and a customs union, and free movement of
capital, manpower, goods and services.

The Commonwealth is the only platform that can serve as a
starting point for reintegration projects. The CIS gave rise to the
Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian
Economic Community (EurAsEC) – perhaps the two most promising
projects in the territory of the former Soviet Union. However,
their potential is not being fully tapped.

There are several reasons for this. First, post-Soviet states
are not ready for the establishment of supranational institutions
due to the heterogeneous development of their political systems. In
many of them, corruption and the struggle for power are dominant
elements in the functioning of their state systems, and the ruling
politicians do not want to share their power with supranational
European Union countries are also facing certain problems because
of the different levels of their economic systems; however, their
political development has been reduced to a basic common
denominator – that is, democratic norms. But is a democratic model
really necessary for launching a serious phase in post-Soviet
reintegration? According to the theory of alliances, associations
can group any countries: large and small, democracies and
authoritarian regimes, monarchies and republics.

Russia links the post-Soviet territory and is a guarantor of its
integrity. Having gone through the stage of primary formation, the
former Soviet republics are now at a crossroads: they can either
evolve toward reintegration on a mutually advantageous economic
basis by creating a Eurasian Union patterned after the European
Union, or set up new barriers in a bid to become part of other
integration structures.

The latter choice will inevitably bring about heightened
tensions and a major revamping of the established world system.
Both paths have real and equal possibilities.


Any great power needs a zone of influence of its own to project
its national interests. For Moscow, this is the territory of the
former Soviet Union where it is the locomotive of integration
processes. It is a natural buffer, free from the political and
military-strategic dominance of the West.

In economic terms, adjacent countries are the starting point for
breakthroughs by Russian businesses into world markets, as well as
an outpost and a testing ground (in the best sense of these terms)
for the success of Russian companies’ foreign strategies. The ruble
will not become a global reserve currency if it is not accepted as
a common currency in the CIS.

Russia’s security is inseparably linked with the territory of
the former Soviet Union. This does not imply only the military
infrastructure and military facilities located on the territory of
some countries. The very status of Russia as a great power is
inseparable from the former Soviet territory. It is the bulwark of
Moscow’s real strategic influence in the world, the only existing
remainder of the once-powerful Union, and, finally, Russia’s chance
for global revival. This is why Russia’s National Security Concept
defines the Commonwealth’s territory as a zone of its strategic
national interests.

NATO’s insistent attempts to expand into the CIS can be
explained by its desire to block the Kremlin. The destruction of
the territory of the former Soviet Union would be a serious shock
for all the participating countries and, above all, for their
economies. The security, stability and development of the
post-Soviet territory directly depend on the situation in Russia.
In previous years, major economic crises quickly crossed the
borders of CIS member countries.

Today, when Russia’s policy in the post-Soviet territory is
slowly turning toward integration, the methods of implementing the
foreign policy interests of the West are also undergoing
significant changes. First, these changes include the renunciation
of the practice of changing political regimes by revolutionary
means and of an isolation policy; an active use of double
standards, which even Moscow now does not shun; and bold attempts
to destroy the Commonwealth by means of a policy of alliances
(NATO’s enlargement or the creation of alternative unions without
Russia’s participation).

To retain its positions, Moscow vitally needs to offer an
attractive and competitive model for developing a common territory.
The paradox of the Kremlin’s relations with former compatriots is
that, while recognizing the priority of this aspect, Russia is not
yet ready to seriously invest in reintegration. Thus, we see
numerous misunderstandings and political crises.

In today’s world, where the habitual international law system
has been destroyed and where events are developing rapidly, Moscow
can no longer count on the loyalty of former Soviet republics if it
does not back up its expectations with real and, most importantly,
mutually advantageous proposals. It is also important to overcome
the psychological “Soviet Union complex” and stop viewing
post-Soviet states as loyal by default. Building new relations must
imply sincere willingness to make serious investments in the
economic, political and social systems.

Russia should not involve post-Soviet countries in an
ideological confrontation with the West and the more so to force
them to support Russia’s use of force. Another undesirable
development would be the formation of alliances as a counterbalance
to NATO or other Euro-Atlantic structures. Such alliances are the
first to collapse as they degrade from an effective instrument for
solving problems into a senseless union established for the sake of
ideological confrontation. CIS countries will not likely find a
proposal attractive to establish a structure intended to support
confrontation with the West, while participation in this structure
would not bring its members any benefits except for good relations
with the Kremlin.

Obviously, the task of preserving the territory of the former
Soviet Union amid intense pressure from the West is very difficult.
Moscow does not yet have a wide range of instruments to exert
pressure, except for force. However, the examples of Georgia and
Ukraine show that such pressure does not build the confidence
required for the successful development of relations, and the more
so, it does not help to popularize the idea of deeper

The present situation can be described as a reconstructive
period. The former approach, based on remnants of the Soviet
structure, is being transformed into a new system of interaction,
although it stems from methods that have already been developed. In
other words, the CIS has successfully fulfilled its primary mission
of preserving the post-Soviet territory in a conflict-free and full
format as far as it was possible. This stage is now over. Today,
Russia is acquiring real opportunities for transforming the
post-Soviet territory into an integrated platform of a new type.
Moscow’s main goal should be to create a model for cooperation
where post-Soviet countries would seek mutual rapprochement, as is
happening now in the European Union, without fearing the

The matter at hand is not just bilateral or limited
associations, but a Greater CIS. Here one can combine approaches
proposed by Belarus and Kazakhstan. Minsk, as the capital of the
CIS, stands for integration on a larger scale, including all CIS
countries. Astana advocates integration on a smaller scale, but
does not object to a larger number of participants in individual
integration projects. It is important that a new framework of
relations between post-Soviet states guarantee that their interests
are balanced.


The Heartland Theory advanced by Halford Mackinder back in 1904
[in which he refers to the continuous landmass of Eurasia – Ed.] is
now being uniquely embodied in the territory of the modern CIS.
Apparently, alliances will balance interests in this region in the
next few years. This form of cooperation does not presuppose
aggression by large and strong countries against smaller and weaker
ones. The establishment of an alliance would be mutually
advantageous as it would enable small states to influence the
policies of their strong neighbors.

Participation in an alliance would give small regional leaders a
chance to enter the international arena and have an impact on
global politics. As for influential countries, an alliance would
ensure their stable and constructive presence in the region and
actively promote their interests. The framework of an alliance
would help to resolve conflicts of interest in the best way, while
a flexible alliance policy would help to involve players that
traditionally are not considered to be regional, but which have
goals of their own.

In the territory of the former Soviet Union, the policy of
forming alliances has its nuances. The fundamental principles here
are economic benefits and firm guarantees that each other’s
interests will be observed. Confidence is based on voluntarism as
regards entry to and withdrawal from the alliance. Usually, such an
important element as the possibility of withdrawing from an
alliance at the initial stages is excluded from fundamental
documents or is present only by implication, as until recently was
the case with the EU, for example. Two factors will determine the
effectiveness of the organization: how influence is distributed
among the participants and the level of cohesion and coordination
of mechanisms.

The specific development of the system of post-Soviet relations
today does not allow an alliance to have no leader or group of
leaders. Few doubt that Russia will be the leader and other states
are ready to accept its leadership. But the emergence of a new
association in former Soviet territory will not mean Moscow’s
monopoly over it. The EU experience shows that integration does not
infringe on a state’s right to its own niche in foreign policies if
there are strong guarantees that its interests will be respected.
Moreover, the instruments and influence of individual countries may

Many post-Soviet states are trying to free themselves from
Russia’s influence. The creation of an alliance in which CIS
countries would have real instruments for interacting with their
powerful neighbor, as well as mechanisms for regulating their
political closeness to or remoteness from Russia, could help them
avoid taking rash actions and could ensure the stability of their
development. At the same time, they could integrate into the world
community while respecting Moscow’s interests. Today, however, any
attempt of rapprochement with the West triggers aggressive steps
from the Kremlin. Such a system of relationships has exhausted


EU countries and the United States certainly are not interested
in preserving the integrity of the territory of the former Soviet
Union. Conflicts between them and Russia may arise over energy and
other issues; and the faster Moscow consolidates its global role,
the more probable these conflicts will be. Few people now have any
doubts that Russia has regained the status of a world power. At the
same time, responsibility for any foreign policy moves is markedly
growing, too.

In 1907, the Anglo-Russian Convention defined the two empires’
spheres of influence in Central Asia and actually put an end to the
Great Game between the two powers for supremacy in the region. I do
not advocate, of course, following the example of our predecessors.
Yet two things are obvious.

First, the further constructive development of
the former Soviet territory requires delimiting the degree and
density of the influence of stronger countries, as it is impossible
to get rid of such influence.

Second, today, a hundred years after the
Convention entered into force, the structure of international
relations does not allow for ignoring the interests of former
Soviet republics. During the years of confrontation (including the
Cold War), small states did not have significant levers of
influence over the superpowers, and most of them played the role of
minor actors in crowd scenes. A major reason for that was the
largely ideological essence of the blocs. Now the situation is

The territory of the former Soviet Union has changed after the
short war between Georgia and Russia, after Tbilisi withdrew from
the CIS, and after Moscow recognized the independence of Abkhazia
and South Ossetia. Russia’s traditional partners from among its
neighbors have taken a noticeably wait-and-see position. Ukraine
was actually the only country to express its position promptly and
in a clear-cut manner. Members of the Collective Security Treaty
Organization failed to express a clear and unified foreign policy
line, and this was against the organization’s Charter, which binds
member-states to provide military and, most importantly, political
support to any of them. Meanwhile, Russia, which engaged in
hostilities, needed such support.

The military and economic alliances in post-Soviet territory –
CSTO and EurAsEC, respectively – are organizations that are
structurally similar and that are driven by Russia. They provide a
basis for a new, more powerful integrated entity. However, to
develop these structures, it is necessary to unify joint projects
and turn them into real areas of common interest and active
cooperation, rather than form ideological anti-Western blocs.

Almost all significant economic projects and investment are
impossible without firm and stable guarantees for the security of
their implementation. A stable system of regional security is also
vital for building up the transportation of energy resources, which
is an important element in mutually advantageous uses of the
transit potential.

The establishment of an international forum (a Eurasian
Cooperation Forum) for interaction between Russia, other
post-Soviet states and the West could be an interim step in this
direction. The forum, which could be opened to other interested
parties, can serve as a compromise between Moscow and Western
capitals, creating conditions for the constructive development of
the post-Soviet territory.

Such a forum would help find solutions, balance conflicting
interests and prevent the post-Soviet territory from collapsing.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization can serve as a model here: it
has helped Russia and China to delimit their interests in Central
Asia and channel contradictions between them into a constructive
course, while not forgetting about the interests of Central Asian
states themselves, as well as the interests of regional

Nuclear proliferation, the drug threat, fundamentalism,
terrorism, separatism, the problem of water supply, the Treaty on
Conventional Forces in Europe, and NATO’s enlargement – all these
problems require a solution. The above-mentioned forum could also
contribute to the development of the CSTO – not only militarily but
also as regards its peacemaking missions, which in the future could
be extended beyond CIS boundaries. For now, NATO is in no hurry to
interact with the CSTO, although there are real areas for
cooperation, for example, the stabilization of the southern borders
of the CIS and joint operations in Afghanistan.

Under no circumstances should Russia be interested in
“asymmetric responses” to the West. Such foreign policy moves in
the territory of the former Soviet Union would only undermine, once
and for all, confidence in Moscow among the ruling politicians of
neighboring states. The further development of the post-Soviet
territory is impossible without a powerful
organizational/integration structure. History is giving Russia a
chance – after almost a century – to once again become a center of
constructive attraction. But is Moscow ready to give up part of its
coercive levers of influence in order to reintegrate the
post-Soviet territory?

The present integration processes have predominantly economic
and military aspects. At the same time, social cooperation, which
implies all spheres of cultural and, most importantly, linguistic
interaction, as well as the formation of a friendly attitude toward
Russia, is being relegated to the sidelines. Meanwhile, there are
very few Russian lobbyists in CIS countries.

Practice shows that the successful promotion by a country of its
economic interests is impossible unless it simultaneously works to
form a friendly attitude toward itself. For years, the main
drawback of Moscow’s policy in the territory of the former Soviet
Union was that it limited its contacts to the political forces of
neighboring states or, even worse, only to certain political
leaders and clans which had come to power by accident after the
Soviet Union broke up. So, the replacement of regimes in
post-Soviet countries could result in their giving up a friendly
policy toward Russia. This self-limitation of Russia brought about
irreversible consequences. For example, the pronouncedly
anti-Russian regimes in Georgia and Ukraine are now real and clear
threats of collapse for all the territory of the former Soviet


Until recently, the ways Russia and the West implemented their
strategic interests on the territory of the former Soviet Union
differed significantly.

The West supported non-governmental organizations, created and
actively developed cultural centers, established linguistic and
educational ties, and provided grants for education and the
development of private enterprise. Thus, it supported oppositional
quarters and even helped some countries escape from Moscow’s

Russia, in turn, has achieved the opposite result. Of course,
there were objective reasons for this: Moscow’s setbacks were
directly linked with crises and conflicts inside the country, yet
this factor cannot serve as a justification for the current state
of affairs. Moscow is alarmed by a sharp drop in the number of
ethnic Russians and in the Russian-speaking population in countries
that were part of the former Soviet Union.

First, the proliferation of the Russian language has been
significantly decreasing because there is no longer a great need
for Russian in CIS countries. National languages are replacing

Second, the position of Russian-speaking people – who are not
native speakers in non-Russian countries, yet they are not
necessarily ethnic Russians – has been complicated by their forced
integration into new societies following the breakup of the Soviet
Union. These newly independent states now have a new national
identity, in which Russian speakers are assigned a minor role
compared to the indigenous population.

The erosion of Russian-language self-identification – or even a
common Soviet one – in CIS countries stems from Moscow’s failed
policy in this area. Apart from Russia and Belarus, the
Russian-language identity is only somewhat strong in Kazakhstan.
This is largely due to the will of the Kazakh leader, to the
country’s geographical proximity to Russia, and to common strategic
projects. But basically, the remnants of this identity in CIS
countries rest on splinters of the Soviet past, which has been
persistently and hatefully destroyed in the CIS for over 15

Russia has repeatedly emphasized the strategic priority of the
post-Soviet vector in its foreign policy, which was further
confirmed by the first visit of President Dmitry Medvedev to
Kazakhstan and by an earlier informal CIS summit held in Moscow in
February 2008. Addressing the summit, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
personally assured CIS leaders of the continuity of Russia’s

In practice, however, very important elements of the strategy
are missing. If there were a pro-Western diaspora in some CIS
country, which spoke one language and which were a carrier of a
kindred culture, it would certainly enjoy serious financial, moral
and cultural support. Moreover, its most influential
representatives would most likely be involved in state structures
and would engage in lobbying the interests of respective

Meanwhile, the pro-Russian diaspora in CIS countries, ignored by
the mother country, has actually collapsed – most have emigrated,
while those who remained have formed a new Russian-speaking
community. It is a complicated, although not unpromising,
phenomenon, which requires a special approach, as neither ethnic
nor linguistic, or even legal criteria can precisely reflect the
essence of this socio-political entity. International experience
suggests that a diaspora policy can and must occupy a special place
in plans to achieve one’s foreign policy goals. Meanwhile, the
Kremlin simply has no levers of soft influence over former Soviet
countries, while the Russian-language diaspora could serve as such
a lever.

The status of the Russian language in former Soviet republics
has become a kind of yardstick of the local governments’ loyalty to
Moscow, while the availability of Russian-language mass media has
become a political lever in the hands of the ruling politicians.
Kazakhstan has announced the beginning of the preparatory stage,
starting in the last quarter of 2008, for implementing plans to
replace the Cyrillic script with the Latin alphabet. The switch to
Latin is expected to be completed within ten years. Of course,
Moscow will seek to delay the changeover, but it will most likely
be unable to stop the process.

All five Central Asian countries are intent on adopting the
Latin alphabet. One of the arguments in favor of switching to Latin
is its use for developing banking, IT and innovation technologies.
To a certain extent, Cyrillic impedes their integration into global
economic and information systems and the development of large-scale
international projects.

Meanwhile, such an “innocent” thing as an alphabet change is
significantly increasing the possibilities of Ankara, which has
been seeking to promote its interests in Turkic-speaking regions
since the 1990s. Considering the natural gas rivalry, the strategic
geographic location of Central Asia, and the role played by Turkey
in the West, the possible consequences of these efforts are
obvious. So far, all serious attempts by Ankara to break deep into
Central Asia in the energy and other sectors have been successfully
blocked in the Caucasus by the geographic location of Moscow’s ally
Armenia. Recently, there has emerged one more obstacle to Turkey’s
overcoming the Caspian barrier – that is, the development of a
military-political entity, namely, the Collective Security Treaty

Some noticeable changes have taken place recently in Russia’s
policy of promoting its interests in the territory of the former
Soviet Union, such as the beginning of business expansion in the
form of telecommunications, banking and energy projects. But this
is only a small part of a bigger policy required to form friendly
lobbies in the territory of the former Soviet Union. However, the
social aspect of this policy, which is vital for success, is
nowhere in sight yet.