The Near Abroad: Increasingly Far Away from Russia
No. 1 2005 January/March
Yekaterina Kuznetsova

Yekaterina Kuznetsova is Director of the European Projects at the Center for Post-Industrial Society Studies. 


The emergence of 15 independent states on the territory of the
former Soviet Union divided the previously single country along
borders that were drawn by “nation builders” in the first few
decades of the Soviet empire. The breakup process, which was
accompanied by chaotic democratization, went forward as the
realization of each people’s right to self-determination.
Meanwhile, most of the newly formed states were not ethnically
homogeneous. On the other hand, peoples who enjoyed certain
autonomy in the Soviet years, but did not enjoy the status of a
republic, also tried to exercise the right to

The breakup of the Soviet Union (and, to some extent, another
member of the former Eastern bloc, Yugoslavia) revealed differing
points of views concerning the organization of the post-Soviet
space between the Russian and Western politicians. The former
grieved for their bygone country, and this nostalgia increased as
separatist sentiments grew in Russia and its influence on the
international arena decreased. The latter tended to support the
centrifugal tendencies, interpreting them as manifestations of the
democratization of post-socialist societies, which brought the West
victory in the Cold War. But neither the Russian nor Western
policymakers, unable to overcome their mental inertia, made any
effort to turn the terra nullius (no man’s land) that had emerged
between Russia and the West into a proving ground for testing new
forms of allied relations. Russian leaders competed amongst
themselves to devise new concepts of Russia’s “key role” in the
post-Soviet space, while Western governments sought to outdo each
other by recognizing the formal independence of the newly
independent states, be it Estonia or Uzbekistan, Slovenia or

The similarity of interests between Russian statists and the
representatives of those movements that sought independence from
the newly independent states caused Russia – partly deliberately
and partly by coincidence – to give preference to a special
rapprochement with “fragments” of the Soviet empire (former
autonomies that had declared their disagreement with the principles
concerning the division of the collapsed Soviet Union) rather than
to the normalization of relations with its new neighbors. Some
forces in Russia sought to preserve their levers of influence on
the former Soviet republics by tacitly encouraging separatist
policies within the autonomous regions. Later developments showed,
however, that it was not the best strategy.

It must be mentioned, however, that Moscow played an important
positive role during the early post-Soviet years. For all the
contradictions in the Kremlin’s policy at the time, Russia made a
decisive contribution to the cessation of local wars in Georgia,
Azerbaijan, Moldova and Tajikistan, while Russian peacekeeping
forces maintained stability in the conflict areas at the cost of
their own lives. Nevertheless, Moscow failed to build on this
success and suggest effective ways to solve regional problems.
Moreover, Russia’s objective achievements, far from being duly
appreciated, later began to evoke an increasingly suspicious
attitude. For example, the authorities of the countries where
Russian peacekeeping forces are now deployed no longer regard their
presence as a stabilizing factor.

In a bid to distract their citizens’ attention from their
political and ethnic problems, the authorities of the newly
independent states persistently portrayed Russia as a hostile and
aggressive country seeking to restore its past empire. Meanwhile,
the rebellious territories, on the contrary, regarded Russia as a
potential defender against the expansion of the new centers. Thus,
two parallel processes were occurring simultaneously: leaders of
the sovereign states denounced Moscow’s “expansionist” plans, while
the rebellious “fragments” of the former empire consolidated their
ties with Russia.

Such a situation could not remain stable. The contradictions
were there to stay dormant until Russia defined its preferences, or
until the post-Soviet states overcame their economic and political
ailments. Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan gradually restored their
export-oriented economies and consolidated their positions; the
Baltic States assumed a policy of integrating into the European
Union; Uzbekistan and Georgia became the focus of Washington’s
attention; Moldova attracted the close attention of the European
Union; and Ukraine became a bone of contention between several
powers which sought to extend their influence there. Yet, despite
all these changes, Russia did not hurry to revise its policy and
objectives in the post-Soviet space.


The lack of clear goals caused several obvious setbacks for the
Russian leadership.
First, Russia’s leaders failed to reach binding agreements with the
West on the inadmissibility of the post-Soviet countries’
integration into Atlantic organizations. This failure has resulted
in the recent entry of the Baltic States into NATO and the EU, and
in Ukraine’s (and, to some extent, Georgia’s) increasingly obvious
desire to follow suit.

Second, there were no comprehensive agreements on military and
political cooperation between the Russian Federation and the former
Soviet republics. This permitted the U.S. to consolidate its
positions in the post-Soviet states in Central Asia, as well as to
consider prospects for increasing its influence in
Third, Russia failed almost everywhere to convert its levers of
economic pressure on the post-Soviet countries into concrete
agreements. Such a move could have protected Russia’s economic and
political interests in various regions, or at least have given
Russian businesses control over some local companies.
The Kremlin’s support for pro-Russian separatist movements in the
newly independent states worsened the general climate in the
post-Soviet space, undermined Russia’s positions and, to some
extent, “delegitimized” its policy.

It must be admitted, however, that the Russian Federation, like
no other country, was, and still is, subject to the double-standard
policies of the Western powers. Thus, it is difficult to blame
Russia’s leadership when they attempt to apply similar principles.
On the other hand, such an approach may have much graver
consequences for Russia than it would for the United States or the
European Union.

With regard to those post-Soviet states which are torn by
separatist conflicts, Russia has in the last decade been conducting
a policy of ‘managed instability.’ In Moldova and Georgia, for
example, Russia is supporting Transdniestria, South Ossetia and
Abkhazia in their fight for independence; Moscow has established
relations with their governments, and is granting Russian
citizenship to people living in those territories. All of these
factors have destabilized the situation in Moldova and Georgia.
This artificially created instability was “managed” by Russia’s
military and peacekeeping forces.

Russia changes its position whenever these countries attempt to
restore their state sovereignty, while assuring its colleagues from
the Near Abroad that it respects the territorial integrity of their
states. Attempts by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, for
example, to build a ‘power vertical’ similar to the one being built
by President Vladimir Putin in Russia have not laid a foundation
for a mutual understanding between Russia and Georgia but, on the
contrary, have produced a rather hostile reaction from the Kremlin.
And even after Tbilisi extended its authority to the previously
autonomous republic of Adzharia, thus demonstrating its
determination while forcing Russia to painfully abandon its ally,
Moscow’s policy in Abkhazia and South Ossetia has not undergone any
changes, nor has it become more intelligible.
So, what is Russia’s position toward the ravaged post-Soviet
states? What goals has it set to itself? How does its leadership
view the future of ‘managed instability’?


Maintaining ‘managed instability’ is a permissible strategy in a
situation when making a political choice seems untimely or
excessively difficult. But since any instability runs counter to
long-term state interests, such a policy can only be temporary.

In my view, Russian politicians have failed to take into
consideration this fact. Relying on their lengthy and rather
successful experience with the ‘managed instability’ strategy, they
have forgotten that instability is much easier to initiate than
overcome. Today, Russia is having much difficulty trying to keep
control over the formerly ‘managed instability.’

In Georgia, for example, changes in the political situation
there have caused things to develop according to a scenario that
Moscow obviously had not taken into consideration. After leaders of
a new type came to power in Tbilisi, the Kremlin encountered
attempts by Georgian politicians to involve outside actors, above
all the U.S., in their efforts to settle long-standing conflicts in
Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The possibility of American involvement
in the affairs of the post-Soviet countries sparked alarm in
Russia’s official circles. Nevertheless, this wake-up call did not
prompt the Kremlin to assume any new approaches that could be aimed
at solving these problems; actually, its actions only preserved the

Even more alarming is the fact that in some cases Russia does
not demonstrate a lack of interest in promoting stabilization, but
rather an inability to independently ensure it. Moscow’s failure to
settle the Transdniestrian conflict (its plan was rejected at the
last moment by Moldova) clearly showed the limits of Russia’s
political capabilities. It cannot be denied that the failure of the
Russian initiative was not due to the presence of some
controversial points in the documents (even many Western diplomats
pointed to the advantages of the ‘Kozak plan’), but because the
draft agreement had not been coordinated with European structures,
namely the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and
the European Union. Moldova was the first and, apparently, not the
last country where the ‘dog in the manger’ policy failed.

This failure highlighted a basically new trend for Russia: it
had lost its monopoly on peacemaking activities in the post-Soviet
space. Chisinau, which wants to abandon Russia’s patronage, does
not question individual points in Moscow’s settlement plan, but
rather the attempt to establish a Moldovan federation where
Transdniestria would retain extensive powers. The Moldovan
government does not want to restore the state’s integrity at “any
cost,” i.e. the cost set by Moscow. Instead, it is looking for
Western, primarily European, states to be involved in the
settlement process. The West, however, is not in any hurry to heed
the calls of Moldova’s leaders to exert direct pressure on Russia.
However, who can guarantee that the situation will not change at a
later date?

 If the present policy toward the former Soviet republics
persists, Russia’s foreign policy in the post-Soviet space may be
made subordinate to the interests of two other global actors – the
European Union and the U.S., which are now building up their
political and military presence in this region. Moscow realizes
this possibility, and the recent intensification of its policy in
the former Soviet Union reveals its desire to give a ‘symmetrical’
answer to the European and U.S. challenge.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia has sought to
prevent the significant growth of the influence of third states (or
their alliances) on the post-Soviet space. This explains Moscow’s
reservedly negative attitude to various geopolitical events, such
as NATO expansion or the emergence of American military bases in
Central Asia, and even to the intermediary efforts of international
organizations (the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,
the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the
European Union) in conflict areas of the former Soviet Union. But
for more than a decade Moscow has been unable to advance any
diplomatic moves that could counter these ongoing processes. During
the last three years alone, at the height of the global war against
terrorism, Russia has voluntarily yielded to the United States –
its main ally in the antiterrorism coalition – leading positions in
Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan where the Americans have deployed their
military bases.

 These bases inspired hope in the Central Asian states not
only for greater independence in their foreign policy but also for
reduced economic dependence on Russia; the political dividends that
cooperation with the U.S. brings are obvious. Furthermore, the
regimes established in the post-Soviet states of Central Asia can
hardly be described as democratic. U.S. support has untied the
hands of the authoritarian-oriented political leaders of those
countries, permitting them to justify the repression of political
opponents and a discontented public by the need to combat

Lately, however, Bishkek and, most notably, Tashkent have been
showing signs of disillusionment: when Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan
joined the antiterrorism coalition, their governments obviously
hoped for more than what they received. The cooperation with the
U.S. has proven incapable of solving all the regional problems,
since that cooperation has not involved much economic aid.
Expectations that the establishment of foreign military bases in
the newly independent states in Central Asia would come with
American investments have not materialized. In 2002-2003, the
United States provided U.S. $420 million in aid to Uzbekistan – in
military supplies and free services in the military education
sphere. The lease of the Gancy air base in Kyrgyzstan by the U.S.
annually brings $45-50 million to that country’s national budget.
This money is not insignificant but it may dry up if the U.S.
ceases to view the war against terrorism as its priority.
Furthermore, it cannot serve as a basis for long-term economic
cooperation between the United States and the Central Asian
countries (which is indirectly proven by the fact that foreign
direct investments in Uzbekistan’s economy in 2003 stood at a mere
U.S. $70 million).

Meanwhile, even in the early 1990s when Russia was passing a
painful period of economic reforms, it continued to provide
financial support to the former Soviet republics. The provision of
technical credits and the rescheduling of old debts was a common
practice at that time. Perhaps the new sovereign states took this
for granted, but in reality this was simply a goodwill gesture on
the part of Russia. Incidentally, Russia has never received those
debts: after long and difficult negotiations, they were formalized
as state debts – only to be recognized as repaid under various
pretexts. For example, in the case of Kazakhstan the debt
write-offs were considered to be compensation for ecological damage
from spacecraft launches at the Baikonur launch site; in the case
of Ukraine it was payment for the basing of Russia’s Black Sea
fleet in Sevastopol. One more country, Uzbekistan, has never
acknowledged that it owes Russia any money at all.

Russia’s role in the economies of the former Soviet republics is
incommensurable with that of the U.S. America accounts for a mere
three percent of the Central Asian countries’ trade, while Russia’s
share in the aggregate foreign trade of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan now exceeds 46 percent. Furthermore,
Russia buys approximately 80 percent of Central Asian oil and gas,
thus accounting for nearly two-thirds of their export revenues.

Why then is it so difficult for Russia to turn its economic
strength into geopolitical might? In response to America’s
political “carrot” Russia could well use an economic “stick.” After
all, was it not the United State that set the trend of responding
to political disagreements with economic measures (the reader may
recall sanctions against Cuba, Libya and Iraq, not to mention the
threats to ban the import of French goods to the U.S. after Paris
denounced the American invasion in Iraq)? If Russia stops giving in
to the authoritarian leaders of neighboring countries, while
refusing to silently tolerate their unfriendly actions, it will
still continue to be the locomotive of these economies. In any
case, Russia will remain the main market for their noncompetitive
goods and the main channel for the export of their hydrocarbons. A
policy of concessions does enormous damage to Russia’s standing as
a regional power. This country, which possesses exclusive levers of
economic pressure on all its neighbors, is, nevertheless, gradually
losing its say in addressing regional problems.

Moscow’s unconditional support of dubious regimes, remission of
debts, and disregard for repeated violations of human rights in
general and the rights of ethnic Russians in particular (for
example, in Turkmenistan) only serves to undermine Russia’s
positions. Furthermore, Moscow’s policy instills confidence in the
leaders of neighboring states that Russia can be manipulated and
its interests ignored. The belief that the anti-democratic
post-Soviet regimes simply cannot do without Russia has turned out
to be an illusion. The complete isolation of Belarusian President
Alexander Lukashenko, for example, by Western countries has not
made him dependent on Moscow, nor has it forced him to be more
considerate of Russia’s economic interests.


Presently, Russia still remains a key player in the post-Soviet
space. The majority of countries recognize its special interests in
this region, as they recognize Russia’s priority in settling crisis
situations there. However, these countries no longer include those
that have been the target of Russia’s policy. Georgia’s new
leadership, for example, views Russia as the main obstacle to
solving the problems in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, while in
Abkhazia even ordinary people criticize the Kremlin’s attempts to
interfere in the election campaign in that unrecognized republic.
In Moldova, its leader, who sympathized with Russia at the
beginning of his presidency, now accuses Russian peacemakers of
impeding in the peace process. However, the Russian authorities do
not take the trouble of amending their policies, while Moscow’s
efforts to keep the former “sister republics” under its influence
may force those countries to turn to those who will offer them a
more intelligible scenario for future development.

At the present time, such a turn can still be prevented. To this
end, Moscow must radically revise its doctrine concerning relations
with the Commonwealth of Independent States. It would be logical to
begin this revision with the Caucasus, since it is there that
Russia’s domestic and foreign policies are closely intertwined,
therefore, mistakes in one of them inevitably affects the

Russian-Georgian relations will remain the core element of
Russia’s foreign policy in Transcaucasia for a long time. Georgia
is expected to become a testing ground for Russia’s new political
approach to the post-Soviet space – if it is ever worked out. Since
Mikhail Saakashvili came to power, Moscow has stepped up its
contacts with Georgia, but will they evolve into a consistent
strategy? Will they produce the desired effect? Can Russia treat
its partners as equal participants in any future dialog? Will it be
able to rise above its special interests in addressing regional
problems? Finally, is Moscow still capable to find unorthodox
give-and-take solutions?
Today, the answers to these questions are not obvious. The
aggressive position of “renovated” Georgia seems to be more
forward-looking than Russia’s aging defensive strategy. Tbilisi has
already announced its priorities and, unlike Moscow, actively uses
any international forums to win public support for its efforts to
solve the problem of the breakaway autonomous republics. Its plan
for the settlement of the conflicts, made public by President
Saakashvili at the September 2004 session of the UN General
Assembly, came as one more victory for Tbilisi in the information
war with Russia for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The plan actually
proposes that Abkhazia and South Ossetia follow in the footsteps of
Georgia which changed its political elite in free (although not
quite democratic) elections. It suggests first building confidence
between the population of the rebellious republics and the rest of
Georgia through direct contacts between nongovernmental
organizations. At the second stage, all interested parties would
ensure local security, that is, demilitarize and decriminalize
their areas and reveal all “gray” zones along the Russian-Georgian
border. The political settlement, to be achieved at the third stage
of the settlement plan, would give the rebellious republics broad
autonomy and restore Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Of course, one may feel skeptical about the efficacy of this
plan, but not because it was resolved without Moscow’s
participation. Over the last decade, Russia has not put forward a
single settlement plan and has usually played the habitual role of
judge (which it may well want to continue playing).


It is absolutely unclear how and when Russia will enter the
play, so it should at least try to model possible scenarios for its
future actions.
The first scenario is aggressive. Russia’s ambiguous position on
the rebellious autonomies in Georgia and Moldova suggests that
Moscow may be considering a possibility of their joining the
Russian Federation. The Russian leaders have repeatedly said that
the entry of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (let alone Transdniestria
which does not have borders with Russia) to the Russian Federation
is impossible. In reality, however, Russia has been purposefully
consolidating its ties with the rebellious republics. The majority
of people there have been given Russian citizenship and now they
enjoy all the rights of Russian citizens, including the right to
social security. It remains unclear how this was done, as it was
against the requirements of either the previous or the present law
on Russian citizenship. Obviously this move had political
implications and attested to Russia’s involvement rather than

Factors prompting Moscow not to adhere to the principle of
territorial integrity of neighboring countries include heavy
investments in the rebellious republics made by Russian financial
and industrial groups and individual influential businessmen. If
these territories are brought back under the jurisdiction of their
states, property that was acquired in contravention of local laws
may be confiscated or nationalized. That is why, for as long as the
Russian leadership is interested in keeping this property safe, one
can hardly expect that it will agree not to prevent the restoration
of the integrity of the sovereign states.

Legal grounds required for the breakaway autonomies’ entry to
the Russian Federation can be an appeal of their peoples, approved
in a referendum, to the people and the government of Russia with a
request to admit them to the Russian Federation. So far, Russia has
been restraining such impulses, although broad sections of the
population in those territories (mostly Russian citizens) would
like to see such an outcome.

If things develop this way, however, Russia’s relations with
Georgia may become strained, and the situation in the whole of
Transcaucasia would be destabilized. One cannot rule out that it
may cause the domino effect in the Caucasus. Armenia, Russia’s
closest ally, may declare Nagorno-Karabakh, occupied by it, its own
territory. In this case, the entire region is likely to get
involved in a large-scale war.

Another scenario would provide for Russia’s determination to
take a direct part in the political processes in the rebellious
republics in order to cause the local leaders to enter into
negotiations with Tbilisi or Chisinau on terms advantageous to
Moscow. These terms would inevitably imply the inviolability of
Russian property, the immunity of Russian investments, guaranteed
protection of Russian citizens, a regime of economic preferences
for Russian investors, etc.

In this case it would be helpful to agree on a ‘principle of
direct dialog’ implying that the autonomies’ problems would be
solved exclusively in Moscow and Tbilisi or Chisinau and that
preliminary consultations with representatives of the republics
would be held behind closed doors in Moscow. If Moscow and the
regional centers establish direct communication, then there would
be no need for intermediaries from among third states and
international organizations. Such localization of conflicts would
bring tangible benefits to the parties involved. Russia would
acquire a privileged status of guarantor of stability (since only
Russian peacemakers can guarantee the rights of Russian citizens on
the territories of Georgia and Moldova), and the republics would
have a real chance to restore their territorial integrity.

Basically, this scenario presupposes an active trading in
concessions and willingness to yield in minor issues for the sake
of overall gains. Although Moscow does have political advantages
over Tbilisi and Chisinau, it will have to recognize the formal
equality of the partners and take a tough stand with respect to its
quasi-vassals in Tskhinvali, Tiraspol or Sukhumi. Therefore it must
be ready to make unexpected and unorthodox moves.

For example, why not declare Ossetia indivisible, proclaim the
unity of the Ossetian people and merge both North and South
Ossetias into a special territorial and administrative entity, like
Andorra which is governed by vicars who represent the bishop of Seo
de Urgel, Spain, and the president of France? This scheme could be
followed up by declaring Ossetia a free economic zone and granting
preferential treatment to Russian and Georgian investors. A unified
Ossetia, with its parts formally belonging to different states,
would serve as a bridge between Russia and Georgia. This option
cannot be applied in Abkhazia and, especially, in Transdniestria
which does not have a common border with Russia. Yet, like in the
case with Ossetia, the key to the conflict’s settlement can be
found only if the Russian leadership shows an inventive approach
and discards old stereotypes or, at least, displays its desire to
break political deadlocks.

In the meantime, the attitude of the rebellious republics’
leaders to such a scenario is of secondary importance. Regular
visits to Russia by the heads of the autonomies and their meetings
with the highest officials in Moscow underscore the special nature
of their relations with the Russian leaders. So the inability to
convince them of the need to correct the political course and start
negotiating with Tbilisi and Chisinau will be the most persuasive
argument against the present policy of the ‘managed

Finally, it should not be ruled out that Russia may decide to
consolidate its influence in the post-Soviet space by appealing to
international organizations or acting through regional integration
associations. Such an approach may become the basis for the third

In this case Russia should take a special position and distance
itself from both parties involved in the conflict. In a situation
like this, searching for parties that could mediate between the
negotiating partners along with the Russian Federation and be
guarantors of compliance with agreements, would not be something
culpable (after all, no one in this country has censured Russia’s
co-sponsorship, together with the U.S. and the European Union, of
the Middle East peace process). This approach would bring about a
basically new alignment of forces that would be most favorable for
moving the process to the diplomatic sphere.

Together with the U.S. or the European Union Russia could act as
an active peacemaker. It would not have to decide against its own
presence in disputable regions then and it could avoid pressure
from local anti-Russian politicians seeking to push it out from the
region. The reputation that Russia would thus earn in the eyes of
the other co-sponsors of the settlement process would probably be
an even more significant gain than all benefits of peace in the
immediate proximity to its borders.
It should be noted that the independent (outside the CIS)
development of the Baltic States, which has led them into the
European Union, proves that Europe uses its influence in the Near
Abroad, which is common to it and to Russia, much better. Moscow
realizes that the entry of a unified Moldova to the EU is much more
likely than the entry of Transdniestria to Russia. Why, then, does
Russia seek to preserve the obviously hopeless status quo? There is
no answer to this question yet, so there is no need to overestimate
the chances that the third scenario can be implemented.


The number of possible combinations and strategies that Russia
can employ or build in the post-Soviet space is in no way limited
to the aforesaid three scenarios. That is why it is no use guessing
what line of conduct the Russian authorities will choose. Of more
importance today is that Russia’s policy toward the post-Soviet
space has a number of obvious flaws which must be removed without
regard to whether the strategic direction of this policy is changed
or not.

In relations with the post-Soviet countries the Russian leaders
have a strong tradition of orienting themselves to local state
officials of “Category A,” i.e. people who at the given moment
occupy the highest posts. In all fairness, such an approach is not
typical of only states with an authoritarian model of government,
to which Russia belongs, but also of countries whose adherence to
democracy is beyond doubt, such as France, for example. In the
latter case, however, this approach does not presuppose providing a
‘friendly candidate’ with an additional ‘administrative resource,’
sending (quite openly) legions of political consultants to a
foreign country, or rendering other dubious services. The
‘revolution of roses’ in Georgia (as well as the elections in
Abkhazia and ‘orange revolution’ in Ukraine) revealed the truth
that is unpleasant to Russian politicians: the unwillingness to
establish ties with the second and third echelons of the so-called
national elites results in a loss of control over developments. If
the present political course persists, the “strip of estrangement”
along the Russian borders will only expand.

Helping post-Soviet states to restore their integrity would
bring Russia more dividends than the hopeless and costly support
for the unrecognized autonomies. Ensuring Russia’s economic
interests, providing guarantees for the property of Russian
companies, preserving dual citizenship for the population of those
territories, and letting Russia protect the interests of its
citizens seems to be a fair price for Moscow’s assistance. For the
time being, Russia keeps levers of influence in the post-Soviet
space, although it has been increasingly difficult for it to
restrain the political activity of other actors. If Russia is
interested in weakening other countries’ influence in regions
adjacent to its borders, it can also make it a condition for its
support for the central authorities of the former Soviet

New paradigms and new strategies are expected of Russia. If
Moscow fails to offer them to its neighbors, then they will be
proposed by others. Politics, like Nature, abhors a vacuum – and,
above all, a vacuum in one’s mind.