The ISCIP Analyst
Behind the Breaking News
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'A New Russian Imperialism'
Every day Russian foreign policy is becoming tougher, in many cases more clearly defined and independent. What lies behind these changes in reality, and what may be the consequences for the world, as well as for Russia herself?
The official "Yel'tsin doctrine," as expressed in a message to the president of the Federal Assembly, presents these changes in terms of the consistent promotion of Russian (rossiiskie) national interests.
The 'Yel'tsin Doctrine'
The basic principles of this doctrine are as follows:
All this could be viewed as well-founded--or at least one might consider it justifiable to regard all these principles calmly and with comprehension as reflecting Russia's turn toward self-interest and a concern for its own needs. But if this were the case, why is there such growing alarm over these changes both in Russia and abroad? Is there a real basis for viewing these new guidelines--as many clearly do--not as the protection of Russia's national interests, but as a "new Russian imperialism"?
Unfortunately, there are grounds for this.
The provisions of the military doctrine stating that Russia's interests extend to the entire territory of the former USSR, as well as the attempts to impose a particular foreign policy on all the countries of the former European "socialist camp," are putting millions of people in a difficult position-- after all, they had been living under the belief that they had permanently freed themselves from Moscow's control.
Return of Great Power Drives
The worst problems have arisen in what Russia calls the "near abroad," and relate to the policies followed by the Russian government toward these former Soviet republics. Viewed from outside, events might appear as disconnected, but if the problem is examined more closely one can always discover an aspect which, as a rule, is concealed--i.e., Russia's interest in keeping control of the Black Sea shoreline,(2) of a major uranium mine in Tajikistan, of plants belonging to the military industrial complex dispersed all over former Soviet territory--an aircraft plant in Tbilisi or defense enterprises in Pridnestrovie.(3) But this is only the beginning...
The desire to bring the former Soviet republics under Moscow's control is becoming ever more patent, the aim being to allot to them the role earlier played by the countries of the "socialist camp"--i.e., a buffer zone between Russia and the Far Abroad.
Neighbors Coerced into CIS
In order to understand the basic principles underlying the "new" foreign policy, one needs to know what criteria are being applied by the Russian Federation to determine which former Soviet republics are to be supported, and which are not.
Russian Military Intervention
Imperial intentions are evident in many different areas. The Pridnestrovian Republics that was set up artificially, thanks to the efforts of former Supreme Soviet chairman Anatoli Luk'yanov and the "power ministries" of the Soviet Union, was given Russian support in order to bring the Moldovans to heel. In September 1993, a military parade of Pridnestrovian Republic forces was shown on television. Who has been funding this "government," both during the military conflict and in recent months? It certainly was not Moldova, of which the Pridnestrovian Republic forms part, since the Pridnestrovian authorities rejected the "services" of Moldavia while the fighting was continuing. Is Russia providing secret financial support? By direct support from the state budget, or through "credits" granted by the Russian Central Bank? What can be the legal basis for such payments? Or is the government specially funding certain Russian enterprises, which then transfer money to the Pridnestrovian capital, Tiraspol'? What, if any, is the role played by the Russian Central Bank? Is the bank's head, Viktor Gerashchenko, "aware" of this--moreover, was it not he who was responsible earlier for transferring CPSU money abroad? I believe I am not the only one who is interested in obtaining replies to these questions.
In this case I do not plan to accuse the Russian authorities of first taking the side of Abkhazia, and then going over to the other side. We know how this war began--Shevardnadze was partly to blame, Ardzinba(8) was also at fault, and now it is difficult to say who was the more culpable. But the principal aspect is the still-unclarified role of Russia in this war for instance, was it considered necessary to help the Abkhazians against Georgia, which had "overdone it" in its striving for national independence?(9) In any case, Abkhazia was helped, with the result that the Abkhazians "liberated" their entire territory, thanks to Russian troops and hardware.
Did things go too far? Anger was replaced by friendship--now Russia supported Shevardnadze and forced him to join the CIS.(10) Why? Is this just a symptom of the general situation? Russian government agencies have begun actively to achieve or maintain control over the territories that belonged to the former Soviet empire. Recent hearings that were held by the Duma Committee on CIS Affairs constitute further confirmation of this. The criticism made of the (Georgian) treaty showed that the political opposition views Yel'tsin's foreign policy as still insufficiently imperialistic. The proposal was advanced that Russia should not guarantee the territorial integrity of Georgia, but act instead as an arbiter between Georgia and its autonomous regions--which would mean in practice that Russia would hold Georgia by the throat after bringing it to its knees . One means to achieve this would be to separate the conflicting sides in South Ossetia(11) along a demarcation line reflecting the boundary of the area controlled by Russian forces. In practice, this would mean the annexation by Russia of a portion of Georgian territory.
To turn to the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict, obviously there is an abundance of local causes, but in this case also Russia has played a role that is not irreproachable. Here too Russian economic interests are apparent, and business kingpins have learned to use the Russian government in order to affect the course of military operations in the region. For instance, the attempt of the Azerbaijan leadership to set up a consortium for the exploitation of oil deposits without Russian participation immediately resulted in two regions of Azerbaijan being occupied by the (ethnically Armenian) Nagorno-Karabakh army, which then pushed forward right up to Azerbaijan's Iranian border.(12) However, once Russia's Lukoil concern was included in Azerbaijan's consortium, the Azeri army suddenly came to enjoy military successes leading to the liberation of the Armenian-occupied territories.
Many vague words have been uttered about "strategic goals," but there have been no exhaustive official statements by the Russian Foreign Ministry, the government, or the president on this subject. Russia's strategy should be comprehensible, if only to enable the public to know how to interpret it. If we say that democracy means an open society, Russia's interests must be publicly known. They cannot be concealed, as was formerly the case.
Russia's War in Central Asia
Moreover, when we look more closely we see that some steps undertaken by the regime, which originally seemed to be purely political, in fact were motivated by material considerations. Russia's participation in the civil war underway in Tajikistan does not amount merely to a struggle for control over territory that formerly was part of the USSR; it is explained also by a desire to plug a gap in Russia's border, since it would require far greater expenditure to establish an impervious frontier between Russia and the newly independent Central Asian republics than to re-establish the old Soviet (Tajik-Uzbek-Turkmen) border with Afghanistan and Iran. Tajikistan's joining the ruble monetary area amounts in fact to a not-inconsiderable payment for a service rendered.
We also find here a reflection of the hope that the former empire can be restored. It is one matter when communists demand the restoration of the USSR at public meetings, but for that to be the official position adopted by the Russian government and the de facto policy followed by the authorities is altogether a different matter.
The experience of the 10-year war in Afghanistan evidently has taught our present leadership nothing. People are already dying, but if current policies continue, not only the welfare, but the very lives of thousands of Russians living in Russia and abroad will be placed in danger.
Coercive pressure to bring about greater integration with Russia is being exerted on the former Soviet republics not only by military methods. Financial pressure is also becoming a powerful lever to this end.
Following the banknote exchange, immediate transfers of ruble funds were made to several neighboring countries-- a decision which perhaps could be explained on a rational basis. Yet, right after this, under the guise of measures to create a "new type" of ruble zone, attempts began to recreate an unsullied ruble zone of the most blatant "old type." Thus in the case of Belarus', de facto the country will not have its own budget, but financially will be entirely dependent on Moscow, just as in earlier times. Later, it will be possible to follow the same course in relation to Moldova, Ukraine, Tajikistan, etc.
In attempting to explain the changes in Moscow's official foreign policy, many observers point not unjustifiably to their genesis in domestic politics. Moreover, it is noted that recently Moscow's foreign policy course has become alarmingly independent of Russia's real national interests, becoming instead a derivative of the correlation of political forces within the country.
In particular, this course is being determined by the efforts of the authorities to wrest the patriotic battle flag from the hands of the opposition, as well as by the Kremlin's intention to harken more closely to the voices coming from Russia's hinterland. These, however, are the voices of a country that, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the loss of its past greatness, is suffering from an inferiority complex, the voice of a country that feels humiliated and insulted, now that it is no longer listened to as in former times.
For instance, last year we made a big splash on the world market with our exports of aluminum, astounding everyone with the low price at which it was being offered, and indeed we appeared to come out ahead. But how did we manage to do it? Again, it was by Asian methods. We produce aluminum with greatly outdated energy-intensive technologies, and Oleg Soskovets(13) is able to freeze this technological lag by artificially holding down energy prices. He is able to preserve the unmodern in the midst of the modern, since he is all-powerful in economic matters, with a total of 14 ministries subordinated to him, in addition to enjoying the support of all the political forces which have turned their backs on reform.
Soskovets is not alone in this, however. Many of the centuries-old extremes and abnormalities in our economy are being vigorously preserved by such officials as A. Zaveryukha, Yu. Skokov,(14) and V. Chernomyrdin. This is why we are selling products that cause alarm, discord, and death, i.e., weaponry, missile launchers, and military missions.
We find the same phenomenon in politics: a striving to restore past greatness without the attainment of stable statehood, democracy, or a proper economic basis. As a consequence of all these factors, the world is struck by unexpected foreign policy actions such as the strained Bosnian initiative, or the peculiar paradoxes of our fledgling diplomacy.
Playing on the strong imperialistic attitudes of post-Soviet society, the Russian authorities are endeavoring to offer up to it--as an oath of fealty to great-power aspirations--a number of achievements that they have to their credit, i.e., the maintenance of military control over the entire territory of the former USSR; a war in Tajikistan to preserve the inviolability of borders; a veto on the admission of the Central and East European countries to NATO; the removal from Russia's agenda of the issue of returning the South Kuriles to Japan; treaties providing for military bases and the stationing of Russian troops in the Transcaucasus; deployment of the 14th Army in Pridnestrovie for an indefinite period; the preservation of the Black Sea Fleet as a Russian fleet; the preservation of Russia's nuclear monopoly within the borders of the former USSR; our military bases and troops in the Baltic Region; steadily increasing pressure on the countries of the near abroad in order to "safeguard the rights of the Russian-speaking population" can all this still not be enough?
"Not enough!" responds the inflamed consciousness of a traumatized society, and there occurs a marvelous transformation: the earlier romanticism of Russian Westernizers assumes hawkish forms.
Few would have thought then that, only a few months later, none other than Kozyrev himself would, in the words of the famous Soviet song, "transform a fairytale into life."
Copyright ISCIP 1994