ETHNOPOLITICS DISTORTING FOREIGN POLICY
Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 3
Russia’s new Duma has handed the chairmanships of its International Affairs and its CIS Affairs committees to would-be empire restorers. The International Affairs Committee’s new chairman, Dmitry Rogozin, replaces Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko in that post. Rogozin, once an aspiring Komsomol leader, now affiliated with the pro-presidential bloc in the Duma, rose in Russian politics as leader of the ultranationalist Congress of Russian Communities (KRO). Founded in the early 1990s, that organization sought to drum up support for Russia’s hardliners among the Russian and “Russian-speaking” populations of the “near abroad”–that is, the CIS countries and the Baltic states. Throughout the decade, KRO formed one of the “brown” components of the red-brown front in Russian politics.
In his first interview as chairman of the International Affairs Committee (ORT, February 6), Rogozin evidenced a disproportionate preoccupation with the “near abroad” as an object of Russian policy. He singled out the ethnic factor in that policy, conditioned by the presence of a “25 million-strong Russian diaspora in the CIS and Baltic states.” He also defined Russia’s main task as ensuring the safety of those populations, on the apparent–if implicit–premise that their safety is somehow threatened. “It is permissible to employ a full array of instruments, from the political up to and including the military, for exerting pressure upon aggressor countries. Discrimination against Russian subjects and threats to their lives, let alone taking their lives, amounts to a threat to the Russian state itself and its national security. We have 25 million compatriots in the near abroad. That problem is our number one problem, a national security problem.”
Rogozin came out also in favor of ethnicizing Russia’s economic relations with CIS and Baltic states. “Our diaspora ought to become an intermediary in handling major economic agreements [between Russia and ‘near abroad’ countries]. And the level of economic relations should indeed depend on the situation of our compatriots in those countries.” Rogozin feels especially sanguine about the prospect of such a policy in Latvia and Estonia, countries about which he made the implausible and unsourced claim that “84 percent and 80 percent, respectively, of all businessmen are Russian. Through our compatriots we can establish an economic bridgehead in the Baltic states.”
That linkage has all along been advocated by Rogozin’s KOR. Now in his new capacity, Rogozin suggests introducing that linkage also in Russia’s policy toward “the far abroad countries where Russian diasporas live: there is Turkey, there is Israel.” Those two countries would, however, be surprised to learn that they have Russian diasporas at all (in the case of Turkey) or by Rogozin’s definition (in the case of Israel). Rogozin’s preoccupation with the “near abroad” may to some extent divert him from a potential role as spoiler of Russian-Western relations.
Confused terminology is a traditional problem when Moscow hardliners attempt to identify population groups eligible for “Russian protection” in the “near abroad.” Rogozin’s inaugural interview illustrated that potentially dangerous problem. Claiming a right for the Russian state to extend such protection, Rogozin labeled its intended objects interchangeably as “Russian citizens,” “ethnic Russians,” “our compatriots,” “Russian-speakers,” “Russian subjects” and “Russian diasporas.” Those terms and the groups to which they may apply are, however, quite distinct in fact and in the eyes of international and national law. Interchangeable use of those terms can result in expanding almost at will the range of groups in the “near abroad” that may be declared eligible for Russia’s intrusive and unsolicited “protection.”
“The Fortnight in Review” is prepared by senior analysts Jonas Bernstein (Russia), Stephen Foye (Security and Foreign Policy), and Vladimir Socor (Non-Russian republics). Editor, Stephen Foye. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at email@example.com, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4526 43rd Street NW, Washington, DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of “The Fortnight in Review” is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation