If there is any idea today that is uniting all of the different people fond of calling themselves the Russian political “elite,” it is the idea of “dominating in the post-Soviet space,” which implies in one way or another the resurrection of the Russian-Soviet Empire.
I can clearly imagine a touching scene: Dimitry Rogozin is leading Anatoliy Chubais handcuffed and chained, to Lefortovo and both are shouting: “Long live the Empire!”
Post-imperial messianic complexes were always characteristic of the Russian political class. However, if in the first post-Soviet decade our diplomatic establishment was engaged with extraordinary pomp in phantom battles against NATO expansion and for so-called “traditional Russian interests in the Balkans,” etc., it now appears that Russia’s operational space is shrinking to post-Soviet parameters, wherein Moscow is preparing to launch “one last decisive battle.”
I am afraid that, if the current trends prevail, Russia will be bound to experience yet another defeat, and this time it will be much more serious.
This time around, the issue will be not the phantoms of grandeur – whether Estonia or Slovenia should join the NATO – but matters that are indeed far more important and which focus on relations with our closest neighbors.
Russia will not dominate the post-Soviet space and she will not be able to recreate the empire about which our political elite often dream. This inability to reconstruct an empire is not be caused by the emergence of new players in the region which possess more economic, information and military resources. Resources are not of foremost importance in empire-building.
Three years after once losing her empire in 1917, Russia emerged from civil war completely devastated and weakened. In Caucasus and Central Asia, Russia encountered Great Britain, which has been traditionally interested in those regions. By that time, Great Britain was the dominant sea power and one of the winners of World War One.
Nonetheless, in several months and without apparent effort, the Bolsheviks managed to recreate the Russian Empire, seemingly disregarding the British presence. How did this miracle occur and why could it not take place now?
It happened because the rag-tag soldiers of the 11th Army brought on their bayonets to the people of the former Russian Empire the inspiring communist idea of social justice and liberation of the exploited peoples of the East. It is not particularly important whether this concept was false although its implementation turned out to be criminal. Implementation transpired only consequently. But at the time this idea of social justice and freedom incensed millions of people irrespective of nationality; it was not simply a quasi-religious idea, but indeed played the role of real new religion.
Andrey Amalrik, who in 1960 predicted with mathematical precision the breakup of the Soviet Union, was correct when he wrote the following: “Just as the adoption of Christianity extended the life of the Roman Empire for 300 years, so did the adoption of the communism extend the existence of the Russian Empire for several decades.” The USSR could have fallen apart a little earlier or a little later depending on the scenario (for example, the Yugoslavian one). But when the communist religion died in the souls of its priests, and then in the souls of its congregation, the Soviet theocratic empire was doomed.
So what can the Russian elite offer to their former neighbors from the communal flat? Nothing, except for pompous discussions about Russia’s grandeur, her historical mission, messianic imperial destiny of the Russian ethnos, etc.
In 1997 the phantom statist complexes were articulated in the infamous lengthy document — CIS: The Beginning or The End of History (Nezavisimaya gazeta, March 26, 1997). Since that time, recommendations contained in report can be traced through the infinite number of publications by “experts” on the “near abroad”:
– Ukraine: “Ukraine should be compelled to friendship; otherwise the gradual imposition of the economic blockade of Ukraine should be considered and based on the model of the blockade of Cuba by the United States.”
– Transcaucasus: “Only the threat of the serious destabilization of Georgia and Azerbaijan coupled with the demonstration of Russia’s willingness to follow this route will prevent the final expulsion of Russia from Transcaucasus.”
– And finally: “We proceed from the natural necessity in the dominant role of Russia in the supranational bodies of the CIS. Otherwise why would Russia insist on their creation?”
– The author of the report also asserted: “We want to see a powerful Russia.”
No, you don’t want to see a powerful Russia. You want to force Russia into the ghetto of hostility to its closest neighbors. “Compelling to friendship” is an excellent example of the Orwellian oxymoron — relentless self-diagnosis of the psychological state of the Russian political class.
Coercion to love in all legal systems is considered an exceptionally aggravated crime that results in a serious punishment. In everyday human interactions, coercion to friendship is guaranteed to become an invitation to hate. Then why is it that such an obvious folly is presented as an example of statesman’s wisdom when it is applied to relationships between people but not individuals?
We are stubbornly trying to impose on our neighbors the choice — Russia or the West. This is an absolutely unconstructive and hopeless formulation of the question. The CIS countries witnessed the inability and, even more, unwillingness of Russia to assist them with resolving their problems. In the face of Russia’s inaction, should we be surprised that the CIS countries are trying to expand their interaction with the West as much as possible? Who needs as a friend, a country that cannot offer anything to its neighbors with the exception of the threat “to destabilize the situation in Caucasus and Central Asia by actively engaging Russian and Russian-speaking population in this process?” (Andranik Migranyan, “Central Asian bridgehead or the Third geopolitical retreat of Russia,” Journal of World Energy Policy, No.1, 2002).
It is conceivable that Russia could find some socially-close supporters in the post-Soviet space if the Russian elite, bent on anti-Western hysteria, offers them the comprehensive and consistent “Big Anti-Western Ideological Project.” But it increasingly appears that all of this noise is being raised to “strengthen its [Russia’s] positions in the political bargaining with the U.S. and the West and for integrating Russia into the civilized world.” (Journal of World Energy Policy, No.1, 2002).
Then why is Moscow is so adamantly and hopelessly trying to obstruct the natural and inevitable movement of its neighbors in the same direction towards the same “civilized world?”
Each new leader in the CIS countries we immediately label as pro-American or “even more pro-American” without noticing that by doing so we condemn our own policy. And where are those who will be “pro-Russian” and in whose anticipated emergence we waste our time by making sand castles of our future Empire. Take, for example, the new president of Moldova, the Russian communist G. Voronin, who initially appeared so pro-Russian. Now, it seems that even he has become pro-Western and pro-American. Or perhaps there is something wrong with us and with our policy and the presidents are simply pro-Ukrainian, pro-Georgian and pro-Moldovan.
The inability of the Russian political class to psychologically perceive and internalize the independence of the CIS countries instead of formally recognizing it on pieces of paper, its striking indifference to the possible reaction of partners, its spiritual laziness, which does not allow to empathize – all combines to generate the self-fulfilling cycle of alienation and hostility in the post-Soviet space.
With our own hands, we are destroying our influence, which will be exhausted with the departure of our generation. This resource is far more important than our military might or natural resources – it is a collective memory of that we all once lived together in one state.
Both Russia and the West – this is the formula of relationships that we need to promote towards our neighbors in order to maintain our influence in the post-Soviet space. We need to strengthen our economic and cultural positions and, most importantly, to preserve the sympathies towards Russia in the CIS countries. It is not that difficult. We simply should not indulge in our magnificence by talking of “domination” and we should not “compel others to friendship.” Then, perhaps, they will remain our friends.
To our “imperialists,” who perpetually dream of reuniting with someone or dominating someone, all of the above will possibly appear as excessively abstract. If that’s the case then I recommend that they think about a very specific instance of the decade-long experience of Great Reunification with Belarus.
Every year the most pro-Russian Great Slav visited Moscow, signed another meaningless paper about yet another phase of the deeper and final reunification with Russia, drank a glass of vodka in the Kremlin and departed with the package of economic concessions worth billions of dollars. Similar to the majority of the poorly educated dictators of the 20th century, both big and small, A. Lukashenka is a born genius in human psychology. He understood extremely well all the complexities of the Russian political elite and skillfully exploited them while never allowing himself to think that one day he could become just the governor of Minks or the secretary of the district-level committee of the communist party (obkom).
The elite has finally and reluctantly asked the moaned for years in the powerful embrace of imperial orgasm finally began to reluctantly ask the question: “When will you, Aleksandr Grigorievich, finally penetrate us with all of your seven subjects?”
And in response to this question, the Great Slav pulled up his pants and answered with dignity: “A Belarusian officer will, of course, take the money. He will surely accept the money. But he will do so only as an independent and autonomous subject of international law.”
Thievish and talentless, arrogant and fearful, darting between Krusheville and Lefortovo, the Russian political elite will never dominate the post-Soviet space simply because nobody needs it there.