08.02.2005
From Global Controversies to Regional Conflicts
№1 2005 January/March

The disappearance of the Cold War standoff between two
ideological superpowers has developed into a conflict between
civilizations as the new source of global competition. While the
global competition of the past was a confrontation between state
military organizations, the competition of the present implies a
clash of networking structures oriented at one or another
civilization. (The scope of these networking structures embraces
financial, public, religious, and criminal organizations, as well
as secret services which are acting more and more independently
under the pretext of fighting terrorism.) The specificity of the
networks blurs the contours of global competition, manifesting
itself in scattered and limited – that is to say, regional –
conflicts that are protracted, smoldering, and unrelated to one
another at the same time. The powerful surge of these conflicts,
together with the attention that the world community gives to them,
delimitates new zones on the world’s great chessboard.

In the past, the competition between the two superpower systems
was ideological rather than economic. The struggle was aimed at
winning over peoples’ souls in order to get as many supporters as
possible. Presently, however, global events are being driven by the
realization that the scanty natural resources make development
based on past technologies and past growth rates impossible. The
competition between civilizations thus turns into a struggle for
resources.

This resource deficit, albeit only hypothetical for many
countries at the present time, whips up a policy of expansionism
and spearheads it at regions where control over resources is loose
and where countries do not have enough strength to develop their
mineral wealth. These comprise primarily African nations and the
former Soviet republics, including Russia.

CREEPING PEACEKEEPING

The open formalization and simplification of the mechanisms of
managed democracy, created in Russia over the past few years,
demonstrate to the West that the newly emerging Russian state
cannot integrate itself into the Western system of values in
general and the Euro-Atlantic community in particular. Western
decision-makers have comprehended this fact and will unlikely try
to revive any patterns of interaction that they had with the former
Soviet Union or today’s China; the Russian Federation is too weak
for that. It seems probable that what we will witness are attempts
to bring Russia back into a universal condition of formal
democracy.
Expanding civilizations are exploring Russian territory
differently. In the first place, this is being accomplished
economically by engaging Russian partners in multinational
corporations which implement projects like the Caspian Pipeline
Consortium, or work under production-sharing agreements. Another
such method is to exert pressure on Russian projects, such as the
export oil pipeline from East Siberia. Furthermore, some
civilizations also use networks (drug rings, political lobbies, and
religious organizations, primarily Islamic and Roman Catholic), as
well as ethnic factors.

Not infrequently, international peacekeeping missions that are
activated to help settle conflicts and confront accompanying
terrorist activity also become an instrument which serves this
purpose. The use of regional conflicts as tools for affecting the
system of government was a problematic type of pressure for the
Soviet Union and remains such for Russia. Primarily, these include
regional standoffs on the former Soviet territory outside the
borders of the Russian Federation, popularly referred to as the
former Soviet Central Asia (this region is becoming part of the
Broader Middle East), and in the Islamic regions of Russia
proper.

A good example is the country of Georgia, where a nationalist
euphoria is being generated by its President Mikhail Saakashvili
who is pushing for the reintegration of rebellious South Ossetia
through the use of force. The numerically small South Ossetian
forces will be unable to rebuff Georgia’s U.S.-trained crack units
which make up its advance guard. This will create an extremely
unsavory dilemma for Russian President Vladimir Putin: any efforts
to defend Russian citizens living in South Ossetia (56 percent of
its residents by official count) would inevitably mean a quarrel
with the West, which would throw their support behind
Saakashvili.

A choice between the interests of Russian citizens and those of
the Western countries will simultaneously be a choice between two
groupings within the Russian elite: Western-style liberals versus
the proponents of the military and security machinery. The latter
may add fuel to the conflict in the hope that Putin will eventually
opt for defending Russia’s compatriots living in South Ossetia and
reject the liberals. However, it cannot be ruled out that Putin,
whose foreign policy line copies that of Mikhail Gorbachev, will
opt for friendship with the West at the decisive moment.

There can be little doubt that the use of force to settle the
South Ossetian conflict would be accompanied by the inaction of the
Russian peacekeepers; they will be told to stay away. Thus, the
result will be a bloody guerilla war, where the republic will slide
into chaos, and there will be endless suffering for both Georgians
and Ossetians. If this happens, the introduction of an
international peacekeeping force will be the only way out of the
situation, and those peacekeepers will most probably wave the NATO
flag. South Ossetia is a small region and a large contingent will
not be needed there, while the local population, ridden by terror
and brainwashed by propaganda, will eagerly undersign the demand
for international forces in spite of its patriotism.

Following such an event, any terrorist act in the North Caucasus
will arouse waves of demands by the “progressive world public
opinion” that multinational peacekeepers be introduced into the
region as the only instrument for maintaining peace.

The “terrorists’ swords” will clear the way for NATO forces
being activated in the North Caucasus, and its separation from
Russia along the lines of the Kosovo scenario will become just a
matter of time. The logic of global competition makes Tatarstan and
Bashkortostan – both key technological areas that are crossed by
energy supply routes from Siberia to the West – the next two
vulnerable regions, control over which has vital importance. The
Islamic element of those constituent republics of Russia makes them
suitable for staging destabilization scenarios as well. Tatarstan’s
and Bashkortostan’s dependence on Russia’s strategic rivals will
turn Moscow’s jurisdiction over West Siberia into a pure formality
then, and a challenge to the Russian identity of Siberia and the
Far East may get on the agenda soon thereafter.

To sum up, a refusal (under whatever pretext) to defend the
rights of Russian nationals living outside Russia in favor of
relations with the West may produce a domino effect. The resultant
domestic political crisis may undermine the legitimacy of the
president as the key figure of Russian statehood. To thwart such a
scenario, Russia must prevent Georgian aggression in South Ossetia
by any means.

At this stage, a strategic goal for Moscow would be to bring the
process of the Soviet Union’s disintegration to a logical end. This
would entail international recognition of the right to
self-determination for those peoples living in the post-Soviet
area, including those willing to be incorporated into Russia. South
Ossetia, as well as Abkhazia and the breakaway region of
Transdniestria in Moldova, may also integrate into the Russian
Federation on condition that their peoples express the will to do
so. In the case of Transdniestria, its integration is possible if
Moldova decides to merge with Romania and if the European Union,
NATO, and the U.S. provide written guarantees of the region’s
immunity as a Russian territory.

Meanwhile, Russia is unable to defend its national interests,
nor is it able to respond to the menace of a NATO-led (mostly
U.S.-led) “peacekeeping aggression,” which may jeopardize the
territorial integrity and the very existence of Russia.

The tragic inadequacy of Russia’s foreign-policy mechanisms
(from the academic curricula for students of diplomacy to the
structure of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Security Council)
to pressing domestic and international problems is becoming
increasingly apparent. Like generals who are preparing for military
conflicts of the past, Russian strategic planning of foreign policy
fails to react to the new realities.

The fundamental rejection of a uniform system of elaborating
foreign policy priorities lies at the root of a highly fragmentary
foreign policy line. This leads Russia to commit remarkable
mistakes wherever there is a direct clash of interests; this is the
case even in its own backyard.

The situation in Abkhazia provides a graphic example. Russian
leaders, who totally lack the ability to analyze alternative
positions, or to even adequately train reserve cadres,
automatically put stakes on the ruling clan in that region. This
clan represents the toughest anti-Georgian position and is the
least likely to cooperate with other groups. But even the use of
what is known in the former Soviet Union as the “administrative
resource,” and the relentless support from Moscow, did not earn the
candidate of the “power party” the presidency. Tensions in Abkhazia
reached the boiling point, while Russia found itself discredited.
As a result, developments may proceed according to the following
scenario: the oppositionist and hitherto pro-Russian clans will
eventually begin building bridges to the West. There, they will
naturally receive a hearty welcome, while Russia will lose Abkhazia
the same way it lost Adzharia, to say nothing of the Soviet Union
before that. The recent events in Ukrain have graphically
demonstrated that the situation across the entire post-Soviet space
will be developing for Russia according to this scenario.

AN ANTIDRUG COALITION

The disintegration of the Soviet Union, together with the
emergence of newly independent states in Central Asia (each having
different legal systems), created the perfect environment for the
drug trade. Drug barons have played, or continue to play, a crucial
role in the present history of Tajikistan and some other Central
Asian states. The Taliban’s arrival to power in Afghanistan (with
backing from the Pakistani Armed Forces and the financing from
heroin revenues) became the last building block in Afghan drug
transits to Europe via Central Asia, Russia and, eventually, Kosovo
after the latter had been torn away from Serbia’s jurisdiction.
Like any transit country – especially in this case a country where
the social structure is degrading and offering little resistance to
drug abuse – Russia is suffering heavy losses. The spread of
addiction is threatening the very existence of Russian society. The
Russian Interior Ministry has stated the admissible risk level of
the addicted population stands at one percent, yet the actual
number is at least double that figure. Furthermore, the growing
political influence of the drug rings can, in the foreseeable
future, trigger a number of bitter conflicts in Central Asia and on
Russia’s territory proper.

However, no sensible measures have been implemented to combat
this real evil (an exception is that direct trains between
Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe and Moscow have been cancelled). On
the other hand, an “opium train” is still cruising between Dushanbe
and the southern Russian city of Astrakhan, while the number of bus
routes has increased, as well. The removal of Russian border
patrols from the Tajik-Afghan border facilitates the shipment of
drugs right at the moment when the liberalization of drug
production in the post-Taliban Afghanistan may heavily slash the
price of heroin and make it far more widely accessible. In the
background of all this, the expansionism of drug networks, so
dangerous for Russia and so painful for the European Union,
furnishes Moscow with a unique opportunity to take real leadership
in pooling efforts for a solution to this problem. More than that,
Russia can relatively easily get a mandate from the global
community for it to exert some kind of supervision over Central
Asia if it so desires. It may even aspire to a political domination
in the region in order to defend Europe from an inflow of
drugs.
But this will not be a “liberal empire” busy implanting an alien
ideology in Central Asia (which is even more alien to that region
than it is to Russia) which, under the pretext of defending human
rights, would defend the interests of variegated minorities to the
detriment of society as a whole. It will be a universally realized
categorical imperative that will unite Russia and Europe under the
motto of fighting drug networks and international terrorism. One
can plainly see the political correctness of such an initiative,
and the U.S., our strategic contender, would have no legitimate
arguments against it.

In reality, however, the implementation of such a policy is
contingent on the requirements that President Putin’s vertically
integrated state power a priori falls short of. The administrative
reform has paralyzed the entire system of state government for the
immediate future and rendered its machinery ineffective. This
factor does not allow Moscow to use this historic chance at the
present time.

CHINESE MYSTERY BOX

Regional problems are also looming over the Russian Far East.
Presently, uncertainty surrounds the prospects for the
Angarsk-Daqing pipeline that China pinned great hopes on. This
casts a shadow over future Russian-Chinese relations in general,
especially if viewed in the light of the recent scandal involving
the expulsion of the Chinese from the privatization of the Slavneft
oil company. Until recently, the Chinese leaders tended to regard
Russia as a partner who has enough reliability and who can honor
contractual obligations despite certain internal discords and a
sometimes puzzling conduct. President Putin’s statement about
possible participation of the China National Petroleum Corporation
in the management of Yuganskneftegaz, a former YUKOS asset now
returned to the state, comes as an attempt to smooth over the
negative impression Moscow’s former decisions made on Beijing.

And yet China’s disposition toward Russia may change soon
enough. That change will be propelled by the Russian leaders’
inconsistency and connivance at the appetites of some regional
governors and at the pressure that Beijing is subjected to by
Tokyo. Washington, too, may be pulling at strings behind Japan’s
back because of its fears of China’s further rise. The true impact
of a compromise on the one-and-a-half islands that Russia has ceded
to China is also unclear. The Celestial Empire may start perceiving
Russia as a weak, passive, and half-dependent owner of great
mineral riches. Let us recall that the Chinese have historically
treated the alien and weak very pragmatically and without any
sentiments.

Beijing adjusts its foreign policy to the considerations of a
global positioning of forces and global competition to a much
greater degree than Russia does. China seriously treats the
forecasts which show that the global consumption of crude oil will
exceed its production from easily recoverable reserves in the
not-so-distant future. China proceeds from the assumption that its
strategic competitors are interested in restricting its access to
energy resources and that this kind of interest will increase as
the amount of easily accessible deposits of fuel decrease. Analysts
in China say in private conversations that the failure of the
Angarsk-Daqing project might be the first instance of such
restrictive tendencies.

If the Chinese leadership develops confidence in Russia as a
reliable strategic supplier of energy resources over a period of
four to six years, relations between the two countries will remain
at the current level. Simultaneously, the Russian government will
have to consider the gradual closure of the Chinese market for
Russian manufactured goods as China increases its domestic
production of import-substitution goods; furthermore, Russia can
expect the eventual exhaustion of defense technology exports to
China. But if Beijing realizes that it cannot rely on fuel supplies
from Russia, it will begin looking for alternatives – from
Kazakhstan to West Africa – as well as for its own instruments of
impact on its northern neighbor. The story of the oil corporation
YUKOS, a major supplier of crude to China, does not help Russia
raise a high profile in the eyes of its clients.

China still holds out hope in the new assessments of crude
resources in Siberia. The case in point are the reserves undeclared
by oil companies and the so-called “sideline pipes” – old abandoned
local pipelines that hold many millions of tons of crude; these
were regularly concealed and delivered to refineries illegally. But
for Russia, the disillusionment of such hopes would mean that a new
source of regional tension has appeared.

* * *

The curtailment of Russia’s external influence, which first
began in the name of “general human values” (which apparently meant
the interests of our strategic rivals), was later dedicated to
slashing the budget deficit.  In more recent years, this
curtailment continued due to the sluggishness and incompetence of
the ruling bureaucracy and the selfish interests of the oligarchy
dominating the law enforcement agencies. Finally, this policy has
ultimately borne fruit: Russia has lost meaningful influence
outside the territory of the former Soviet Union. Even those
countries where the officials are most benevolent toward Moscow are
showing a tendency to deny Russia the right to defend its
nationals.

Russia’s weakness in the international arena has sharply
narrowed its agenda for talks with the U.S. and European countries.
This in turn boosts the significance of regional conflicts. The
pressure of global competition is a “great constant” of modern
history, and insufficiently strong countries, unable to take part
in global processes, have to tackle that competition at a lower,
regional level. Those who are reluctant to defend their interests
at distant outposts will eventually have to perform the task at
close frontlines.