13.10.2006
What We Know About Post-Soviet Countries
№4 2006 October/ December

There is
an abundance of various institutions in Russia set up to study the
post-Soviet space, yet we still lack whole branches of knowledge
and even firsthand information about this region. Below, I will
describe our knowledge of the post-Soviet space, in which we will
consider the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltic
States in 13 points. The following may seem obvious and perhaps
even banal, but they are not obvious to the mass media and even to
many of our analysts.



 

Point One. Recently, a booklet was published,
entitled Integration in Eurasia, which was based on the results of
public opinion polls. Its main conclusion, which seems a bit
scandalous and contradictory to its title, is that the sociological
research in Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Russia has revealed a trend
opposite to integration. Countries with a growing population and a
steadily improving education system view possible integration as a
secondary objective after sovereignization. Imperial sentiments or
complaints by ’red directors’ [Soviet-style general managers – Ed.]
that it is time to restore Soviet-era economic ties in the
ex-Soviet Union fail to take into account a fait accompli:
societies do not want integration prior to sovereignization or in
place of it. They view any integration as a freedom of choice after
they are able to “stand on our own feet.” It is an interesting
conclusion, and it equally applies to the four states covered by
the Single Economic Space [Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus
– Ed.].

 

Point Two. There is also another variety of
sovereignization in the post-Soviet space that exists in other
states, among them the Baltics, Georgia, Moldova and some Central
Asian countries. They view sovereignization not as the construction
of a bona-fide sovereign state, but speaking in rather rough and
primitive terms, as the reception of a right to life. In other
words, they interpret sovereignization solely as a result of
international legitimacy. In this kind of sovereignization, a
country’s constitution cannot open with the words: “We the people.”
Theoretically, such a document should open with the words: “We have
been allowed.” Strangely enough, this kind of sovereignization,
which drastically limits economic, social, ecological and other
types of sovereignty, has become the closest objective of the
Baltic States and the “European Union neighbors,” which are not
really much welcome in the EU. Figuratively speaking, these
countries are being offered very long “passenger loading bridges”
in order that their “boarding” the EU be delayed as much as
possible. This is really surprising, because we all remember the
sincere enthusiasm with which these states struggled for their
freedom and independence. They discarded any intermediary stages
and mythologies and immediately set themselves down to the task of
building new and stringent frameworks – sometimes even more
stringent frameworks than those that could be found in the Soviet
Union.

 

Point Three. Every day one can hear the
widespread myth that there are “pro-Russian forces” in the
post-Soviet countries, or that Russia is constantly busy creating
such forces in those territories. There are no pro-Russian forces
in the post-Soviet space whatsoever. Even those parties that
demonstrate and declare their close ties with Russian politicians,
parliament deputies and authorities are only part of a much more
extensive pattern, and they are certainly not voluntary suicides,
ready to pin the “pro-Russian” label on themselves. In the
meantime, even in the Baltic States there are significant electoral
forces that would be ready to voluntary call themselves pro-Russian
or, in some cases, even pro-Soviet. And these are not an
insignificant number of people; they number 9, 10 or possibly up to
12 percent of the population, and they uphold obscurantist
pro-Russian positions. In other states this electorate may reach 40
or even 60 percent, but it is not represented among the political
forces. I repeat, there are no political entities representing
these numbers; there is nobody planning such entities or reacting
to such myths. By force of habit, some “compatriots” still come to
Russia to say that they are “pro-Russian,” but they inspire no
trust and, to a greater or lesser extent, they are on the fringes
of society. When people in Georgia, for example, bring up the
question, “Does Russia not need a pro-Russian force in Georgia,
like the pro-American one in this country,” each time I reply:
“Under no circumstances. God grant there appears a pro-Georgian
force in Georgia one day, and then everything will be OK.” From the
point of view of the aforementioned kinds of sovereignty which I
describe as “We the people,” in contrast to the
“We-have-been-allowed” variety, we would like to see people among
our neighbors, who would say “We the Georgian people” and so on.
There is an obvious lack of pro-national forces like that in the
post-Soviet space.

 

Point Four, however paradoxical this may
sound after Point Three, states that throughout the post-Soviet
space, at the helm of political, spiritual and all other kinds of
power, there comes nationalism. It is a reality. Nationalism may
vary from soft political to rigid ethnocratic, but one way or
another, states that have seen the rise of their statehood, regard
their national idea not as something shameful but as a
long-formulated ideology. And whoever describes the eternal race of
our neighbors to progress and prosperity, everywhere nationalism is
at the helm. In the first five years since gaining their
independence, these states pushed forward an all-out, successful
and irreversible “cleansing” of textbooks, official histories, and
official ideology. This kind of state, nationalist ideology – in
the Western or Russian meaning of the word (all these gradations
can be taken into account) – has emerged victorious. And over the
last 10 years, new generations of people have grown up in those
countries, who live with this ideology and who view us from this
point of view. Russia has not seen developments of that
kind.

 

Point Five, in my opinion, is not that
obvious, and I would like to illustrate it with fresh statistics.
These are figures provided by Swedish analysts; they have already
been published, yet I would like to draw your attention to them
once again. Over the last year, defense spending in Armenia
increased by more than 20 percent; in Azerbaijan by 51 percent; and
in Georgia by 137 percent. These are direct budget allocations,
which do not include serious aid from Turkey, the United States and
other countries. It is noteworthy that this rearmament is taking
place in conflict areas, to which our esteemed third parties,
naturally, shut their eyes. So Point Five stresses that the
post-Soviet space (with rare and historically justified exceptions)
is a zone of accelerated and intensive militarization. This fact is
often ignored.

 

Point Six. As distinct from what we see
around us, in very many post-Soviet states, most of all in the
Baltics, Moldova and Ukraine, there has been established, as fact,
a special political, extrajudicial role of the special services. No
one denies this, and all participants in the political process
point to this factor in their activities. Officials from the State
Security Department or the Security Service of Ukraine, for
example, or the Security Service in Moldova openly admit this issue
– even if only at a cafй table; these are active and very serious
political players. By way of example, I can cite the special
services of Lithuania that have in the last few years been the main
driving force of governmental reshufflings. All this happens amidst
democratic rhetoric and democratic appearances.

 

Point Seven is, perhaps, more obvious to
those who visit post-Soviet states, yet few can see its real scope.
In those countries there has happened, irreversibly and
irreparably, an absolute de-internationalization of society. First
of all, it is seen in the departure of the democratic majority in
the application of the Russian language, while no other language is
used on such a comparable scale, as well. This is an irreparable
factor because it aggravates a natural decline in the quality of
education under crisis conditions. In some cases, the reduction of
the use of Russian stems from the governments’ policies in the last
15 years. However, this is a fait accompli and the choice of the
nations themselves, which Russia must accept. At the same time,
while the democratic majority has been ousted from the
international sphere via the Russian language, the same majority
often votes with their feet, and migrate to Russia as labor
migrants, thus dooming themselves to work in low-paid occupations.
As regards the elites, we have not lost common language with them;
the elites are all well educated and have preserved their knowledge
of Russian. Russia is interested in having direct dialogue with
representatives of post-Soviet states. This de-internationalization
is rather of social nature and does not pose any threat.

 

Point Eight. In the overwhelming majority of
the post-Soviet states, including those that have joined the
European Union or seek its membership, there have been established
clan politics and a clan economy, which are much harsher than in
Russia. Ukraine, for example, has easily recognizable oligarchic
politics and economy, like we had in the 1990s. But this kind of
politics and economy is not called into question. Even the various
kinds of “colored revolutions” in some of those countries have not
changed the essence of clan politics and economy.

 

Point Nine. I have repeatedly pointed out
that Russia is the only federation in the post-Soviet space. The
others remain rigid unitary states, despite the challenges of the
times, and pressure to comply with European standards, U.S.
benefactors, etc. Moreover, the benefactors themselves choose
unitarism – and rigid unitarism – as the national model. I am not a
lawyer, yet it makes me laugh when someone criticizes Russia for
abolishing the free elections of governors, describing this
decision as undemocratic. This accusation flies from one province
to another, where people repeat it uncritically, not realizing that
they fall into a trap, because in exemplary Ukraine, for example,
all the officials through the entire chain of command, from top to
bottom, are simply appointed, and no one criticizes anyone for
that. These are the fruits of direct, primitive, rigidly controlled
unitarism, spiced with tight policing control over the political
situation.

 

Point Ten. In all the post-Soviet states
there is an acute shortage of political parties proper. The parties
that now dominate there are built according to a fuehrer-, clan- or
mafia-type principle. In the post-Soviet space there are no true,
traditional political parties, such as we know from the European or
even Turkish experience. The few true parties are those that stem
from the local Communist parties, be it in Lithuania or
Moldova.

 

Point Eleven. We often forget about it or
prefer not to mention it, but between the post-Soviet states, and
between them and Russia, there is an acute and constantly growing
economic competition. There are even examples of an emerging
competition for labor migrants. So far, Russia has been winning
this competition; on the other hand, Russia and Kazakhstan, for
example, have niches of their own: the urban intelligentsia from
Kyrgyzstan is moving to Russia, while the Kyrgyz rural
intelligentsia moves to Kazakhstan, replacing rural doctors and
teachers who move into the towns. At the same time, there is
serious competition for highly qualified engineering personnel.
This competition is deliberate, and in some cases it even breaks
inter-regional and cross-border ties, which are so much welcome in
Russia. All regions in South Russia, except perhaps Rostov, lose a
lot to the neighboring Ukrainian regions as regards the number of
vacancies and the level of remuneration. In previous years, the
capital reserves of Donetsk simply trampled businesses in Rostov
and adjacent Russian regions, because it was invincible. This kind
of competition is an obvious fact, although not always
admitted.

 

Point Twelve. In the post-Soviet space,
despite progress and the growing variety of ties, there is emerging
new geo-economic dependence, which is as painful as that which
existed in the past. This dependence can be divided into two kinds:
first, the dependence of economies, societies and political classes
on communications and transit systems in the Baltics, Moldova,
Belarus, Ukraine and the Caucasus, that is, in Eastern Europe;
second, there is a large-scale geo-economic dependence on water and
energy resources in Central Asia and Kazakhstan. Prospects for
solving the latter problem remain obscure because the largest water
and energy resources in the region belong to the poorest states –
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, while the most populated and strongest
countries of the region – Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan – are consumers
of these resources. Thus, there is now a difficult and unclear
search for a solution; one option is to attract Russian investors.
Uzbekistan has recently made attempts to balance its dependence on
Kyrgyzstan’s water resources by bargaining over the gas issue,
since Uzbekistan has a monopoly on gas supplied to Kyrgyzstan. This
problem still remains unsolved, however, as the four sovereign
states have not yet even agreed as to whether water can be
considered a commodity. Until they make such a decision, the
problem will remain unsolved.

 

And,
finally, Point Thirteen. Throughout the 1990s, all
partisan observers were wary by the activeness of other states in
the post-Soviet space: Norway and Finland in the Baltics, Turkey in
Azerbaijan and Central Asia, etc. Now, equally energetic in the
region are China, Iran, and Poland, which has appointed itself
patron of Ukraine and Belarus (similar to non-Polish territories
that once were part of the Rzeczpospolita). But these attempts by
outside regional leaders to break the post-Soviet ring have failed.
The issue of Turkey’s influence provides the most illustrative
example. Turkey was the first to enter the Transcaucasian and
Central Asian space in the early 1990s; it began with projects for
attaining political influence. But what has transpired now? Turkey
has voluntarily left the sphere of political influence and remains
in the sphere of education as a strong player. In Kyrgyzstan, for
example, Turkish education is an absolute leader beyond any
competition. But Turkey’s decision to remove itself from political
influence in Kyrgyzstan, and limit itself to the realm of
education, was a voluntary decision. I could mention joint efforts
by Iran and Tajikistan to work out an ideology between the two
Persian states, although they do not share a common border. Thus,
it must be understood that attempts by outside regional powers to
break the post-Soviet ring and enter the post-Soviet space as
leading actors would cause the post-Soviet states to increasingly
reject these nations. For example, although the Chinese are huge
consumers of Kazakh oil, there is a national consensus of fear and
mistrust toward China in Kazakhstan, as well as in Kyrgyzstan. I
would say this is a unanimous attitude, registered from about 97
percent of all polled in either country.

 

There is a
dilemma here: Kazakhstan, in order to diversify sales of its energy
resources (not only to Russia or Transcaucasia, but also to China),
will have to increase its energy supplies to China. This will
increase the threat (real or mythical) of the neighboring Chinese
province of Xinjiang. Thus, the more the Central Asian states give
to China for the sake of diversifying their relations and incomes,
the greater and more dominant role China will play near their
borders.