21.11.2005
Russia’s Solitude After the CIS
№4 2005 October/December


The recent
series of ‘colored’ revolutions in several post-Soviet states has
dramatically altered
Russia’s immediate
neighborhood as it has created a fundamentally new geopolitical
reality. Unfortunately, the Kremlin has not attempted to amend its
foreign or domestic policies to meet the new challenges; moreover,
it has failed to rethink the scale of the
changes.

 

THE ‘BIG
SWAP’ PRINCIPLE

 

An
analysis of
Moscow’s foreign-policy
moves during the first five years of Vladimir Putin’s presidency
makes it seem that the Kremlin has been renouncing the possibility
of influencing countries beyond the former
Soviet Union. This policy includes Russia’s withdrawal from strategic
military bases in Lourdes, Cuba, and Cam Ranh, Vietnam, its
conditional position in international organizations, and the
writing-off of colossal debts owed to Russia, which still could be
instruments of influence even though there was no hope the debts
would be returned. The latter move has turned
Russia,
which does not exactly qualify as a prosperous country, into a
major donor to the third world.

 

The
general trend and specific shortcomings of
Russia’s
foreign policy in the last few years have been motivated not so
much by ideological precepts as by the wish to interact with
developed countries – above all the
United States. The
so-called “big swap” principle motivated these moves. The Kremlin
has been pursuing a specific goal of swapping the remainder of its
influence in regions outside the former
Soviet Union (which
the Kremlin inherited from the
Soviet Union but which it
does not really know how to use) for the recognition by developed
countries of its dominant role in the post-Soviet space. This would
exclude the
Baltic
States
, which have been
absorbed by the European Union.

 

Naturally,
the lack of specialized structures in Russia that are capable of
guiding its foreign policy and coordinating it with domestic
agencies and foreign states has had an impact on the quality of
Moscow’s foreign-policy moves. After all, even the famous
“situational reaction” strategy will be unsuccessful without some
general paradigm. Actually, the policy itself may be only half
shaped, but a majority of the participants in the foreign-policy
process must at least understand it.

 

Overall,
the “big swap” principle did work. Throughout the “orange
revolution” in
Ukraine, for
example,
U.S.
officials were uncommonly neutral:
they did not oppose a possible victory of Victor Yanukovich, or the
potential implementation of tougher scenarios that could later be
supported by Russian officials.

In
Georgia, where many believe that Western foundations have
played a major role, a significant part of the revolutionary tasks
at the first – and most important – stage was actually the work of
Russian actors who sought an early solution to several specific
problems. Their goals included, among others, the termination of
flights by AWACS planes along
Russia’s southern border,
and the organization of joint patrols along the Russia-Georgia
border. As for the “tulip revolution” in
Kyrgyzstan in late
March-early April 2005, this event came as a complete surprise to
the developed countries.

 

The West,
it seems, was ready – until the last moment – to turn over to the
Russian authorities the global responsibility for overseeing the
relatively insignificant yet potentially dangerous post-Soviet
space. In the end, however, the plan collapsed. This was due to its
unilateral violation by the Russian officials who demonstrated,
once again, their inability to manage anything. Another reason for
the plan’s collapse was the notorious administrative reform that
paralyzed the state machinery. This was made all the more obvious
by the inefficiency of the bureaucratic mechanisms, which are now
void of any public control.

 

THE
MEANING
OF POST-SOVIET
INTEGRATION

 

Following
the fashions set by some Russian politicians, the Commonwealth of
Independent States is now universally known as a “liquidation firm”
intended to ensure a “civilized divorce” between the post-Soviet
countries and alleviate
Russia’s “imperial
phantom-limb pains.” If the meaning of the CIS has come to be
interpreted in such a narrow sense, then it is obvious that its
mission is really over. It has fulfilled its mission and,
therefore, it must be reorganized into a club of regional leaders
who would occasionally meet to discuss non-binding solutions and
joint humanitarian programs.

 

The aim of
post-Soviet integration as such, however, is not only for the past
but also for the future. For the relatively undeveloped countries,
regional integration is the only way to survive amidst the
increasing international competition prompted by
globalization.
Russia’s need for
post-Soviet integration is purely practical: the
Soviet Union, however heterogeneous its territories were, was a single
living organism, all parts of which were dependent upon each other.
It has been 14 years since the breakup of the
Soviet Union into independent states. Since then, many of the economic,
political and interpersonal ties that linked the former Soviet
republics into a single body have been
disrupted.

 

The CIS
countries have failed to create the appropriate conditions for
their successful evolution. Moreover, despite some individual
achievements, none of these countries displays an ability to
develop independently and, therefore, to function normally in the
future. (
Russia
may be the only exception among them
– with very serious reservations.)

 

The ease
with which Poland, Finland and the Baltic States seceded from the
Russian Empire after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution was largely due
to the empire’s approach to those territories: before granting them
their independence, it had developed them to a level that later
enabled them to exist independently in Europe. One of the basic
distinctions between the Russian Empire and the Western variety is
that the latter often granted independence to nations that were
unprepared for independent development. This state of affairs often
brought about social cataclysms and abject degradation – the very
plague now ravaging a majority of states in contemporary

Africa. The breakup of the Soviet Union was dreadful
not per se, but because so many nations achieved their independence
despite the fact that they were not ready for it – they were simply
not mature enough to shape their own destinies. When

Russia declined to provide further assistance to these states,
it displayed culpable irresponsibility and ultimately brought
innumerable misfortunes to the peoples it allegedly
liberated.

 

Throughout
the post-Soviet states, bureaucracies took over the power of the
state; these mechanisms, however, are never able to ensure
efficient governance in general. None of these former Soviet states
is economically independent and capable of developing on its own
(even relatively rich
Ukraine meets its needs
by stealing Russian gas). None of the CIS countries (besides
the
Baltic
States
, which were immediately
brought under the wing of the European Union) has managed to
achieve even the minimal standards of living, not to mention those
they enjoyed in Soviet times. These difficulties stem

not only
from the totalitarian regime with its “corrupting influence,” they
also result from objective economic
processes.

 

Thus, Russia
now finds itself half-surrounded by
territories that are unable to develop on their own. These states
require outside support in many realms, including financial,
political, organizational and moral. In fact, the post-Soviet
countries, most of which have witnessed the mass expatriation of
ethnic Russians (which in fact is a form of ethnic cleansing),
together with the mass emigration of specialists, are facing the
unenviable task of rebuilding their societies
anew.

 

The
developed countries, however, have undertaken to lend their
assistance to the most civilized part of the post-Soviet space –
the
Baltic
States
. Even the most
optimistic forecasts rule out the possibility that the developed
countries will assume responsibility for the remaining states –
except, perhaps, in tiny
Moldova.
(
China, as a member of the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization, is displaying much interest in the stabilization
of
Central
Asia
, but it would be unable –
and would hardly wish – to pursue this challenge without the help
of
Russia.)

 

The
remaining post-Soviet countries will have to either develop
with
Russia’s effective assistance, or not develop at all,
thus continuing their slide into degradation. The disintegration of
the post-Soviet space would bring about a level of chaos that would
threaten
Russia
as well. Fighting against chaos in
the post-Soviet countries would be more effective and less costly
for
Russia than combating chaos at
home.

 

In other
words, if the Kremlin does not want to see another million
Azerbaijanis, for example, in
Moscow, reluctant to
integrate with the Muscovites, it must make efforts to
normalize
Azerbaijan’s development
and steadily raise the living standards of its population.
If
Russia wants to stop the pandemic of drug addiction, it
must boost
Tajikistan’s economic
development to a level that would enable its population to earn
their livelihood by working, rather than by trafficking heroin
from
Afghanistan.

 

In short,
the process of post-Soviet integration must be steadily
intensified. Obviously, these efforts will take a long time and
prove successful only if they provide mutual advantages, as well as
deliver commercial benefits to non-state actors, both in

Russia and abroad. Russia’s reasonable
approach to its immediate territory, not to mention its own
products and labor markets, could underlie its policy toward the
newly independent countries from among the former Soviet
republics.

 

The
post-Soviet states take it for granted that they enjoy access
to
Russia’s domestic market and can ship their goods
across the vast country in transit. Meanwhile, mere respect for
their sovereignty requires treating them as equal and, therefore,
separate agents of international life – which also concerns their
access to Russian markets and territories.

 

This does
not mean
Russia’s return to
isolationism; rather,
Russia must simply start
treating its possessions in a proprietary manner. In particular, it
must view its markets and territory as its own, rather than as
someone else’s or as freely accessible to all. Within the framework
of this paradigm, it would be logical for
Russia to view
access to its market and territory as a service implying reciprocal
services from other countries. This would include providing Russian
capital the preferential right to purchase property, as well as
granting Russian citizens a special status on the territories of
those countries. Such reciprocal services would exist as a kind of
“payment for development.”

 

COOPERATION WITH UKRAINE

 

There is
no doubt now that the “orange revolution” in
Ukraine has
ruined all hopes for integration in the CIS – at least in its
present form. Indeed, only Russian bureaucrats, with their habit of
staunchly ignoring the reality, can pretend that the strong
pro-European orientation of the incumbent Ukrainian leadership does
not undermine the idea of a Common Economic Space between the two
countries. Although the European Union does not wish to talk
about
Ukraine’s possible
integration into the EU, this does not mean that
Kiev cannot
make unilateral steps that would rule out its further integration
with
Russia and bring about the inevitable disintegration of
the two economies.

 

For
example,
Ukraine
is planning to reduce import duties
for European foodstuffs (whose producers are best subsidized in the
world) from the present prohibitive rate to 10-20 percent.
Apparently, this move will cause
Russia to introduce tough
new limitations with regard to
Kiev in order to prevent
the collapse of its agriculture. This, in turn, will severely
complicate the negotiation process for
Russia’s accession
to the World Trade Organization. Furthermore, it will strain

Russia’s relations with the developed countries, and
aggravate
Moscow’s relations
with
Kiev.

 

Meanwhile,
in a bid to meet Western interests,
Ukraine is cutting
down its defense industry, including enterprises vital to

Russia’s defense sector. There is also a possibility that this
military change in
Ukraine – supported
by
U.S. money or, at least, U.S. promises –
will even create complications for the strategic aspects of

Russia’s defense capability.

 

The next
few years may bring into the foreground the issue of Russian
property in
Ukraine, above all, real
estate in the
Crimea
belonging to Russian citizens. At the
same time,
Ukraine
will most likely become a haven for
Russian businesspersons, primarily medium and small-scale
proprietors seeking protection from the “security oligarchs” (the
term used to describe the dominant social group in

Russia, linked with state structures and using – or
threatening to use – violence in the name of the Russian state and
for personal enrichment).

 

Traditional differences between Russia and
Ukraine will intensify. The list of grievances include the
charges Moscow must pay to Kiev to transport its gas supplies, the
“unsanctioned tapping” of Russian gas by Kiev, and the cost of
Russian and Turkmen gas – a very sensitive issue for Ukraine.
Finally, efforts by the Ukrainian leadership to curb oil product
prices can potentially hurt Russian oil companies. (These efforts
can also affect the “security oligarchs,” with whom Russian oil
companies operating in
Ukraine have to share a
considerable part of their incomes. Since the “security oligarchy”
plays a decisive role in mapping out Russian policy, one can expect
essential political steps, although asymmetrical
ones.)

 

The
Russian leadership has not yet worked out its attitude toward the
aforementioned problems, which means they will become more
aggravated. Moreover, over time, the problems will become
increasingly internal, as opposed to
external.

 

THE ONSET
OF ISLAM

 

The
primary threat of Russian destabilization stems from the rapid
expansion of radical Islamism. Contrary to popular belief, the
proliferation of Islamist sentiments in the post-Soviet states
derives not so much from external as by internal factors: the
social, economic and administrative policies conducted by the
governments of those states and supported by
Russia make
Islam the only generally available instrument for achieving the
people’s natural hope for justice.

 

Islam,
which teaches social justice, is making new gains everywhere. In
the post-Soviet space, this tendency is particularly manifest due
to the sharp decrease in the living standards in the post-Soviet
years, together with the general feeling of despair. Owing to its
social nature, contemporary Islam is actually taking the place of
the discredited Communist ideology. (Interestingly, the Hizb
ut-Tahreer party, which has a ramified network across Russian
territory, seeks to build a global Islamic state, starting with
individual countries, including
Russia.)

 

The
uprising in
Kyrgyzstan, for example,
found its roots in the unbearable living conditions for the
majority of the country’s population. Similar problems exist
in
Uzbekistan,
Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. The Kyrgyz
revolution has brought to power representatives of the so-called
southern clans, which traditionally harbored members of the Islamic
Movement of Uzbekistan – despite harsh measures of President Askar
Akayev. Many of these groups are allegedly linked to the drug
mafia.

 

Another
Central Asian uprising, this one in
Uzbekistan’s
eastern city of
Andijan, was harshly
suppressed by the Islam Karimov regime. This outcome, however, is
not strategically significant since it has not removed the main
causes of the uprising: mass poverty and despair. Nor did it
confront the “subjective factor” of the future revolution: the
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. In light of these ongoing factors,
toughening of repressions will only provoke further protests
against the ruling regime.

 

The
overthrow of Karimov seems to be an inevitable conclusion.
Meanwhile, those forces linked with radical Islamists usually reap
the fruits of popular uprisings in the Islamic countries. The
revolution in
Kyrgyzstan is no
exception. It will inevitably boost the activities of radical
Islamist organizations and possibly bring about the formation of an
Islamic state, at least in the
Fergana Valley. This hypothetical
state would largely exist on revenues from drug trafficking. In
this way, it will be similar to
Afghanistan in the days
of the Taliban – only this time it will be a thousand kilometers
closer to
Russia.

 

Therefore, Moscow
must make every effort to prevent
such developments from happening. Above all, it must convince the
Kyrgyz leadership to change its

social and
economic policies; this is the only way to prevent mass disorder in
the country. The Russian bureaucracy, however, is unlikely to cope
with this task due to its ineffectiveness and traditional disregard
for the social interests of ordinary citizens even in

Russia, let alone other countries. If things develop according
to this scenario, there will be quite predictable consequences: the
further advance of radical Islamism, the division of Russian
society into two separate communities, a rise in acts of terror and
an expansion of the drug-trafficking
pandemic.

 

‘COLORED’
REVOLUTIONS AND RUSSIA

 

Russia’s
weakening influence on the post-Soviet countries has given rise to
new problems that it is unable to solve. This scenario can add to
the destabilization of Russian society, as well as increase the
probability of revolutionary developments.

 

For all
their national specificities, the ‘colored’ revolutions have common
generic features. These include, above all, forced takeovers
organized by small groups of energetic people, carried out under
the cover of democratic procedures and slogans. The Kyrgyz
experience has shown that a revolution does not necessarily require
a strong and well-organized opposition, let alone popular and
effective leaders. What is most important is the mass nature of
discontent (among the elite, as well) with the ruling regime, and
the latter’s inability to prevent a revolution by meeting, at
least, the most acute needs of society.

 

The latter
prerequisite has already surfaced in contemporary Russia. According
to sociological studies of the Yuri Levada Center, 85 percent of
the Russian population is low-income (that is, people who cannot
afford to buy even basic household products). This group, already
hit by the monetization of benefits, is mistrustful of the
forthcoming reform of the public utilities sector. Under Russia’s
present political system, both the state and the bureaucrats
serving it are free of any responsibility to the population. The
bureaucracy, who demonstrates its formal loyalty to the supreme
authority, has received complete freedom of arbitrariness, while
democracy, as an institution for compelling the state to bear
responsibility to society, no longer really
exists.

 

The ruling
bureaucracy has managed to turn the most significant “groups of
influence” in Russian politics against itself. Regional elites have
been deprived

of
political rights without any compensation. Even the security
agencies – the buttress of the ruling bureaucracy – have been
seriously humiliated through the monetization of benefits program.
More importantly, there is frustration with the obvious inability
of the government to defend the country’s interests; this includes
the Kremlin’s setbacks in the post-Soviet space, which the security
agencies regard as Russia’s “backyard.”

 

Russia’s
present economic model is not capable of self-development. It
represents an increasing symbiosis between liberal fundamentalists
who, on the one hand, rob the people in favor of businesses in the
course of pseudo-liberal reforms, and the so-called “security
oligarchs,” on the other hand, who rob businesses for
non-productive consumption. The growing appetite of the security
oligarchs prohibits any normal development for the majority of
businesses. In 2004, the security oligarchs owned an estimated 25
percent of the turnover of several large commercial
enterprises.

 

These
factors attach special importance not just to the issue of a power
takeover, but also to the type of takeover
model.

Obviously,
the Russian variant will differ from the Ukrainian one. In Russia,
one can expect a different degree of public rage, as well as the
presence of the Islamic factor (Islamic communities are presently
not represented at the federal level). Furthermore, there could be
a real influence on the situation from international – rather than
only Chechen or Dagestani – terrorism.

 

Should
such a situation arise, there will be differences from the Kyrgyz
model as well. Since Russian society has no attachment to tribal
clans, Russian “revolutionaries” will have to rely not on “people
of their own kin,” but rather on attractive and well-planned ideas.
At the same time, there is no doubt the Russian authorities will
put up serious resistance to any such moves. This will bring to
life reliable and effective leaders from among the presently
unstructured opposition.

 

To sum up,
the instability in some of the CIS countries has been brought about
by the failure of the post-Soviet integration process, which in
turn was due to the insufficient actions of the present Russian
bureaucracy. This scenario may serve as a catalyst for dramatically
improving Russia’s political system. A new generation of
politicians must come to power that would be responsible to their
country and capable of modernizing Russia and, finally, carrying
out post-Soviet integration.