IS RUSSIA SUBSTITUTING ETHNOPOLITICS FOR FOREIGN POLICY?

Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 29

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, a former 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, two distinct groups that Russian nationalist politicians tend to lump together. In the following years, the KRO gathered strength, becoming one of the main “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” and 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 and threats to the life, let alone taking the life, of Russian subjects 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 the 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 the 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 KRO. 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 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).

Confused terminology is a traditional problem with the Moscow hardliners’ attempts to identify population groups eligible for “Russian protection” in the “near abroad.” Rogozin’s inaugural interview illustrated that problem. Claiming a right for the Russian state to extend such protection, Rogozin used interchangeably the terms “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 laws. 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 “protection.” Rogozin’s preoccupation with the “near abroad” may to some extent divert him from a potential role as spoiler of Russia-West relations.

On February 9, the Duma elected Boris Pastukhov as chairman of its CIS Affairs Committee. A veteran of Soviet diplomacy, Pastukhov replaces another hardliner, Georgy Tikhonov, in that post. Tikhonov resisted the change; but he was rebutted by the former prime minister of the USSR, Nikolai Ryzhkov, who praised Pastukhov’s record (Itar-Tass, February 9). Pastukhov belongs to the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) deputies’ group, led by Yevgeny Primakov, who probably selected Pastukhov for that post in the first place. Pastukhov was deputy minister and first deputy minister of Foreign Affairs during most of the 1990s; his authority peaked during Primakov’s ministerial tenure.

Pastukhov was responsible for coordinating Russia’s policy with respect to conflicts on the territories of CIS countries. Holding the diplomatic, economic and military instruments of that policy in his hands, Pastukhov was a prime exponent of Moscow’s exploitation of those conflicts and misuse of “peacekeeping” operations. As supervisor of the Russian mediators in the Moldova-Transdniester, Georgia-Abkhazia and Azerbaijani-Armenian conflicts, Pastukhov can claim much of the credit for the deadlock in those negotiations. He is also–along with Primakov–a co-author of the concept of “common state” as a basis for settling those conflicts. The concept is designed to effect a de facto partition of the existing, internationally recognized states under an outward appearance of maintaining their “territorial integrity” and “outer borders,” reserving for Russia the role of political and military arbiter of the resulting settlements. Although clearly favoring the secessionist regions, the “common state” solution would not fully satisfy them either. Unprecedented in international experience, and fraught with ambiguities, that solution would create ample opportunity for Russian arbitration of the inevitable constitutional disputes within the “common state,” rendering both parties to such a state dependent on Russian mediation. Azerbaijan and Georgia have rejected the “common state” proposals, a fact particularly noteworthy in the case of Azerbaijan after the Russian side had blindsided the OSCE mediators into adopting that concept. Moldova, however, bowed and soon came to regret it.

The Pastukhov and Rogozin nominations entail a worrisome signal to the CIS and Baltic states. These nominations suggest that the newly elected Duma will be no less hardline than the preceding chamber, and may turn out even more so. In the preceding Duma, the hardliners’ mantle was primarily claimed by communists and ultranationalists. In the new one, the mantle is being donned openly by representatives of the presidential forces and the mainstream opposition.

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