Where now for Russia's "Eurasian Union"?

Orhan GAFARLI
28 January 2013
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Whether Russia can restore its influence over Eurasia after the fall of the Soviet Union remains one of the key questions of our time. Is such a possibility open to Russia? This question is the subject of many discussions within academic circles. In order to answer it we must examine Russia's domestic and foreign policies over the last 20 years.

Russia's interests must be examined within the context of global politics, and an objective interpretation of political actions is indispensible. Western researchers have considered Russia's recovery to be an extremely difficult, but nevertheless temporary, process. Such an interpretation covers the last 20 years of Russian history. From 1980 to 2012, Russia lagged behind the West both in the development of its political system and in economic terms.

 

The political reforms of M S Gorbachev, glasnost' and perestroika, did not help to overcome the country's worsening economic situation. The Soviet Union was plunged into crisis both economically and politically. Furthermore, a conflict between the centre and periphery rose to the surface: Moscow lost its power over the allied states, which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The diagnosis once given to the Ottoman Empire – the "sick man of Europe" – could equally apply to the Soviet Union at the end of the 20th Century. With the fall of the Soviet Union, international affairs began to transform from a bipolar to a unipolar system. Russia lost its influence and could no longer withstand American domination.

 

If we compare historically the blow that Russia received when Tsarism collapsed with the fall of the Soviet Union, we can in fact conclude that this latter crisis was more severe. Cengiz Çandar, advisor to the former Turkish President Turgut Özal, came to the conclusion that, "At the time of Tsarism's collapse, Russia found a medication under the name of communism which allowed it to recover its empire." (1) Nonetheless, with the fall of the Soviet Union, we see that Russia found no idea that could serve as a similar remedy.

 

There have always been different versions of what Russia's future might look like. According to one version, Russia will break down into several parts: there will be a Moscow-centred state with different formations around it. Such a breakup of Russia was shown in the CIA's analysis. (2) A second version suggests that, owing to corruption within all levels of power, Russia will turn into a country along the lines of those in Latin America.

 

After the fall of the Soviet Union, there emerged amongst military and political elites a complex concerning their "defeat". This complex led to the appearance of vengeful feelings towards the USA. Indeed, it could be one of the reasons for Russia's struggle to become a global power.

 

Russia's recovery and corruption are incompatible notions. Corruption is a fundamental factor holding Russia back. If it was a reason for Russia's lagging behind in technological, economic and military developments, corruption also contributed to the authorization of political systems. The anti-corruption reforms introduced in Russia have shown no positive results. Most dramatic of all today is that corruption has been able to become a form of governance. In spite of the fact that every year various state programmes against corruption are introduced, these bring no results. On the other hand, there is no national, ideological idea of the processes directed towards Russia's recovery. In the place of a national idea, society is offered anti-Westernism; that is, an opposition to the West.

 

Russia's recovery began in 2000 when Vladimir Putin came to power. Boris Yeltsin's premiership was a time of domestic instability and security was not guaranteed in the country. For this reason we must look at the period from 1990-2000 as a time of uncertainty. Putin understood that domestic instability has an influence on foreign policy. In a short time Putin was able to take control over Russian oligarchical groups and find a shared political language with the elites of the North Caucasus. He was able to improve Russia's economic situation with the help of oil and gas exports. Nonetheless, it should be noted that in other regions of Russia, excluding important cities, no development is apparent. Many regions suffer from poor economic and social conditions.

 

During discussions of the Russian Federation's budget, Minister of Economic Development Andrei Klepach warned that a serious imbalance threatened regional budgets: "If we're talking on a regional level, then, according to our assessment, if the regional consolidated budget deficit is 50 billion roubles, then by 2015 the deficit could grow to 330 billion roubles, and by 2018 to 1.8 trillion roubles." (3)

 

During his second presidential term, Vladimir Putin was able to develop an authoritarian system of power. The idea of "Sovereign Democracy" developed from this beginning. This system, thought up by the Russian intelligentsia, distinguishes itself from liberal forms of democracy. (4) Mikhail Surkov, Dmitri Rogozin, V V Ivanov and Vitaly Tetrakov further developed the idea of "Sovereign Democracy" (5) and call this form of governance "controlled democracy". (6)

 

The theoretical goal of the model of sovereign democracy is the creation of national political elite. A pro-western elite must be blocked in order to secure one's own power. This is necessary for the countries of the former Soviet Union; that is, they must be saved from western democracy. It should not be forgotten, that Soviet countries lived in the same cultural space. The originators of this idea claim that the post-Soviet cultural domain also has its own specific problems regarding further development. One of post-Soviet countries' problems is the similarity of their governments to each other. Owing to this situation, the officials of several countries of the former Soviet Union to not aspire to receive legitimation for their power from the people, but rather prefer the support of the Kremlin. It must be noted that, despite the fall of the Soviet Union, Moscow maintains control to this day over the governments of several post-Soviet countries.

 

This phenomenon could be explained by the fact that the elites of these countries remain under the control of Moscow, such a system being habitual for them. These elites can thus gather themselves together under the protection of Moscow. On 8th December 1991 the Commonwealth of Independent States was formed, whose fundamental goal was essentially to guarantee security for post-Soviet countries under the aegis of Moscow, which would thus remain linked to them. A different organization, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), ensured that these countries were kept from NATO membership. According to Russia's foreign policy strategy, Belarus, Ukraine, the Caucasus and the central-Asian countries are all territories under the influence of the Kremlin. In order to preserve this international state of affairs, the Russian government will try to avoid changing the status quo, which suits Russia's goal of maintaining the present-day situation. The idea of Russia's "red lines" arose from this logic.

 

In the near future the region of Asia will become an arena of conflict of major powers in the economic and political spheres. In areas such as the Caucasus and central Asia, Russia will rival with the USA, the EU, China, India and Turkey. Russia will try to use its resources in order to prepare for this competition.

 

Whilst the crisis began in 2008 in the USA and the EU, China's high rate of development should make it clear to the Russian government that the world is assuming a new, multipolar form. After its self-assertion within Europe, Russia has set itself a new goal: to become a global power within international politics. Within Russia's foreign policy, this means that it is necessary to recover its influence over post-Soviet territories, especially in Eurasia. In Tsarist Russia, having become Minister of Foreign affairs from 1856-1882, Alexander Mikhailovich Gorchakov explained this conception: "Russia's future is in Asia. Russia ought to maintain its balanced politics in Europe, free itself from dreams of capturing Istanbul, use all its powers to further national interests, and achieve equilibrium with its most powerful rival, England, by making incursions in Asia." (7)

 

At the moment, in technological and economic terms, Russia is lagging behind China, India and Japan as a regional power in Asia. (8) For this reason, Moscow wishes soon to create an economic union with the territories formerly under its influence. Russia seeks to establish, following the example of the EU, a new economic union of central Eurasia. Moscow has named this formation the "Eurasian Union". In 2012, Russia signed an agreement with Belarus and Kazakhstan to set up a Customs Union.

 

The political analyst Dmitri Trenin, evaluating the Eurasian Union, interpreted it as the creation of an upper identity over the territory of the former Soviet Union. Trenin argues that the union would be created over a common cultural region and in the interested of common political elites; the degree to which it would receive legitimation from the people of these countries remains an unanswerable question. We should note that, for example, Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan or Mikhail Lukashenka in Belarus are authoritarian leaders, and if they were to disappear tomorrow, then the Eurasian Union project would be brought into question. Whilst the leaders of these countries are at present friendly towards Russia, it is impossible to tell who will take their place tomorrow.

 

The Uzbek analyst Panaramen, in his analysis of the Eurasian Union, writes: "The strategic goal of Russia's Eurasian Union project is to maintain its position in balancing politics in Asia and Europe – but is it also a tactical move?" Asking this question, he adds that Uzbekistan does not wish to participate in tactical games. (10) Of the Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan could, owing to its poor economic conditions, enter into such a union in order to receive credit and support from Russia. The situation is similar with Tajikistan. Turkmenistan has not revealed its position precisely, but it is possible that, if Russia supports it in regional issues, such as its conflict with Azerbaijan over the location of gas in the Caspian sea, then it may well be included in a new Eurasian Union. (11) Azerbaijan and Georgia have openly declared that they are against joining the Eurasian Union, and have even called it a threat to their sovereignty. As for the Armenian position, it is possible to say that they most likely will support a new union, but will delay somewhat in joining it, using such means as Nagorno-Karabakh and the issue of economic help from Russia. We should note that Armenia's domestic politics also find themselves under the control of Russia.

 

Ukraine is dependent upon Russia's energy politics. Two paths are open to Ukraine: it could enter into the European Union, or, alternatively, the Eurasian Union. Which route to choose is currently under discussion. The economic crisis in Europe complicates Ukraine's entry into the EU and thus steers it towards the Eurasian Union. On the other hand, the terms of the "South Stream" pipeline deal do not leave Ukraine much choice. Previously, Ukraine was able to exploit its position as a country used for transit, but today, Russia has the Nord Stream pipeline, which has diversified its export routes for gas and oil. Russia is offering a discount on oil, which leaves Ukraine little choice, given that it wishes to preserve its economic stability. (12)

 

What will be the future of the post-Soviet countries? Whether they could once again form a union remains under question for the time being. All these countries have their own interests, and it is difficult for Russia to negotiate with them all. By going further towards Armenia's side, Russia risks losing Azerbaijan. Russia must first of all become an economic force of attraction, and then it can undertake such projects. It is essential for Russia to examine these processes and projects rationally, or the project of a Eurasian Union could bring such a crisis to the region that even Russia will fail to cope with it.

 

Notes

1) 21 Yüzyıl’a Doğru Türkiye; Tarih ve Jeopolitiğin İntikamı, Cengiz Çandar, Türkiye Günlüğü: Üç Aylık Fikir ve Kültür Dergisi Sayı: 19; Yaz 1992.
2) Распад России Аналитический взгляд, Юрий Лукшиц,     http://hvylya.org/analytics/raspad-rossii-analiticheskiy-vzglyad.html
3) Долговая яма станет глубже  20 ноября 2012, Наталья Журавлева, ВЗГЛЯД,  ДЕЛВАЯ ГАЗЕТА http://vz.ru/economy/2012/11/20/607988.html
4) Андрей Казанцев «Суверенная демократия» Структура и социально- политические функции концепции.  http://www1.ku-eichstaett.de/ZIMOS/forum/docs/5Kazancev.pdf
5)  Real Sovereignty and Sovereign Democracy,   Andrei Kokoshin 13 october 2006
6). А. Казанцев «Суверенная демократия»  в современной России: структура концепта и идеологемы) http://www.civisbook.ru/files/File/Kazanzev_suv.pdf
7) Türk Dış Politikası Açısından Kafkasya ve Orta Asya, Mesut Hakkı Caşın, Hazar Raporu OCAK-MART 2013, Sayı 2, sayfa 53. www.hasen.org
8) Moskova Carnegi Vakfı Rosspen 2012 Мир непреднамеренных последствии, или закон или порядок Мерфи Федор Лукьянов,  Россия-2020: Сценарии развития Мария Липман, Николай Петров МОСКОВСКИЙ ЦЕНТР КАРНЕГИ, РОССПЭН, 2012
9) Лавров надавит на болевые точки Каримова  Подробнее: http://www.ng.ru/cis/2012-12-18/1_karimov.html
10) “Post Avrasya” Kitabının Sunum Konuşması (Rusça), Dimitry Trenin, Carnegi Vakfı, 15 Şubat 2012 http://carnegie.ru/events/?fa=3632
11)Туркменистан вступает в Таможенный союз Беларуси, Казахстана и России http://abc.az/rus/news/70177.html
12) Россия отказалась снизить цену газа для Украины
http://glavred.info/archive/2013/01/01/140008-5.html

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