In a marathon-length press conference on February 3, Kremlin political consultant Gleb Pavlovsky laid certain Russian markers in Eurasia ahead of the George W. Bush-Vladimir Putin summit and, by the same token, seized the moment to announce a major redefinition of Russia’s policy in the “post-Soviet space.”
Pavlovsky warned at the outset: “One should be aware that, at least until the end of President Putin’s tenure and probably until the end of the presidency of his immediate successors, Russia’s foreign policy priority will be to turn Russia into a 21st century world power. This despite the fact that we are presently a weak regional power with a weak commodity-based economy.”
Linking Russia’s global ambitions for the future to the projection of its influence in the “post-Soviet space” at present, Pavlovsky defined Russia’s “near abroad” doctrine as inherently assuming Western cooperation with this Russian design. Faulting Russia’s policy for this “primitive” expectation, he noted that Western non-acceptance “naturally weakens the CIS, which emerged as part of that doctrine.” In that sense, “The concept of the ‘near abroad’ is dead.” Consequently, Pavlovsky announced, “Russia is currently revising its policy in the post-Soviet space and the mechanisms of its implementation.” As general principle, “any country [that would] promote the doctrine of Russia’s rollback will certainly create a conflict in the relations with this country. This must be clearly understood.”
As part of that reassessment, Pavlovsky advanced three salient ideas:
1) Belarus represents an optimal model of integration with Russia, whereby the regime’s ultimate political reliability will override other issues. “We are totally satisfied with the level of our relations with Belarus. Russia will clearly distinguish between certain characteristics of a political regime in a neighboring country and its observance of allied commitments. Belarus is a model ally.”
2) As a major departure from Russian policy since 1992, Moscow reserves the right from now on to pursue its goals by establishing relations with political forces, opposition as well as governing, in post-Soviet countries. “Russia will certainly interact with the entire political spectrum in the neighboring [sic] countries, both official and opposition, including nongovernmental organizations, democratic organizations, and in-system political groups,” other than the “extremist, radical, or underground groups.” “The president of our partner country or ally country, while preserving the role of our central interlocutor, will not be regarded by Russia as the one and only representative of the society.” Moscow intends to use its NGOs as well as its government agencies to link up with political forces in post-Soviet countries.
Inspired by the defeat of the Moscow-supported presidential candidate in Ukraine, this policy shift also means explicitly that Moscow reserves the right to work with the opposition in that country during Viktor Yushchenko’s presidency. “During the electoral campaign in Ukraine there was an underestimation [by Russia] and low level of cooperation between Russian society and Ukrainian NGOs. We will try to avoid such an underestimation in the future. . . . Mr. Yushchenko will certainly not be regarded by us as a person with exclusive rights to interpret the position of Ukrainian society, political, and nongovernmental organizations.”
Until now, Moscow has almost always supported or worked with the incumbent regimes in CIS countries, keeping the opposition at arm’s length. Support for secessionist enclaves in Moldova and Georgia were the major exceptions to that rule of Moscow’s conduct. Pavlovsky is now signaling that Moscow will no longer feel inhibited to seek tactical alliances with opposition groups against incumbents. Moreover, his remarks suggest that Russian authorities intend to compete in the civil-society arena by using their tame or government-created NGOs to offset the genuine ones, which are usually Western-supported and promote representative democracy as distinct from the “managed-democracy” model associated with Putin and Pavlovsky.
The Kremlin’s intervention in the Ukrainian electoral campaign may have been the high-water mark as well as the last egregious case of massive uncritical support to an incumbent regime. However, even as that effort was in progress, the Kremlin’s policy in Moldova marked a first departure from its general pro-incumbent policy. Responding to overtures from the centrist opposition’s Democratic Moldova Bloc, the Kremlin decided by mid-2004 to support the DMB against President Vladimir Voronin, who had reoriented his policy toward the West. In Chisinau it is assumed that Pavlovsky and his team played a major role in Moscow’s decision. Apparently sobered up by the defeat in Ukraine, however, Pavlovsky implied during his press conference that the Kremlin has now adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward Moldova’s upcoming general elections.
Citing Kyrgyzstan as another case study, Pavlovsky signaled support to the incumbent authorities in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, on the grounds that the opposition has not committed itself to using non-violent methods. However, he left open the possibility of political deals with the opposition: “Explain to us what goals you pursue and what means you will use.”
3) Russia does not accept the proposition that Euro-Atlantic integration provides a shelter against Russian influence in post-Soviet countries. “Russia will become a world power again, and will have a global area of interests. Now, however . . . there are certain countries where we have our interests. Even the admission of some of these countries to the European Union and NATO does not mean that they fall out of the area of our interests. The Baltic states are certainly within this area of interests, particularly on such issues as transit or the status of the Russian language and Russian community. We will certainly use their accession to the new organizations in order to intensify monitoring of what concerns our interests and to influence these countries.”
This stated goal transcends the Baltic states as such, reflecting more far-reaching ambitions to corrode NATO’s and the EU’s political cohesion by extracting concessions at the expense of Baltic states on the issues that Pavlovsky named. The tactic at this stage consists of trying to introduce those issues on the agenda of Russia’s discussions with the EU, NATO, and some major West European capitals. Any success in doing so would encourage Moscow to expand the range of internal EU and NATO issues on which Moscow seeks to obtain a voice.
(fednews.ru, RIA-Novosti, February 3).