In the opinion of some representatives of Russia’s political class, the “losing streak” that began last year is still continuing, as Moscow’s geopolitical influence in post-Soviet Eurasia keeps shrinking. However, as one saying has it, successes encourage, but defeats mobilize. A recent gathering of policymakers and pundits from Russia and neighboring countries appeared to have made an attempt at working out a blueprint that would reverse what some analysts call Russia’s strategic retreat in the vast geography of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
On June 30-July 1, around 150 politicians and experts from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Latvia, as well as from Bulgaria and Serbia took part in the international forum “Europe: Results of the Year of Changes.” The presence of two top Kremlin officials — Vladislav Surkov and Modest Kolerov — whose company was shared by the ubiquitous political consultant Gleb Pavlovsky, as well as the very venue of the forum — a posh sanatorium in Volynskoye in the Moscow countryside that belongs to the Putin presidential administration — hint at the Kremlin’s sponsorship of the gathering.
At the center of discussions were the recent political upheavals in several CIS states, the so-called “color revolutions,” Western interference in the political processes in the post-Soviet lands, and Russia’s response to the strategic challenges it is currently facing.
As far as the “revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan were concerned, the participants in the Volynskoye conference readily betrayed the pronounced anti-revolutionary proclivities of their political philosophy. Contrasting the political crises in a number of the CIS countries with the “classic” revolutions of the past, they argued that regime change in some of Russia’s former borderlands has proved to be not fully self-sustained or truly independent. The recent color revolutions have demonstrated their weakness, some analysts asserted, by the very fact that the revolutionary elites sought not to strengthen their countries’ national sovereignty but, on the contrary, to align themselves with some larger centers of power. The ultimate goal of these revolutions, as one noted analyst put it, was “either joining the United States strategically or joining the European Union economically.”
But this “outward” (read, Westward) orientation of the color revolutions is the biggest strategic blunder, most Russian experts contend. Following the EU’s deep crisis, it has become clear that, for the countries in the western part of the CIS and in the South Caucasus, the chances of joining the rich bloc even in the long-term are nil. Thus, the gradual crumbling of the “Orange mythology” on the one hand, and Russia’s remaining economic and political leverage on the other, will open up a window of opportunity for Moscow to strengthen its positions in the post-Soviet lands, the Kremlin strategists argue.
As the political turmoil in all three cases (Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan) was triggered by disputed elections, forum participants considered it essential to maintain control over the monitoring process. The bulk of Russian policymakers and experts eagerly supported the idea of forming an alternative to the OSCE’s Bureau of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which establishes the set of rules for carrying out election campaigns. It is not too difficult to perceive a “preemptive” motive behind Russia’s initiative to create what one observer called “our own OSCE.” The Kremlin’s objective is clear — to obtain an instrument of control over the election results in the post-Soviet states. If Moscow succeeds in achieving this, one commentary notes, it will finally be capable of participating in the neighboring countries’ political processes. Some more radical political thinkers even called for Russia’s withdrawal from the OSCE, claiming that this organization’s activity runs contrary to Russian national interests as the OSCE did not prevent the collapse of the USSR or the changing of the borders of “historic Russia,” thus having “violated one of its key principles.”
Remarkably, the Volynskoye gathering appears to have initiated a shift in Russia’s stance vis-à-vis the so-called “unrecognized states” in the post-Soviet space. The forum demonstrated a seemingly firm intent by the Kremlin to develop bilateral relations with the self-styled secessionist statelets, whose representatives participated in the conference’s discussions. As one leading strategist put it, we “cannot fail to understand that the unrecognized states have as long a history as the states from which they seceded some time ago, and they also have an equally legitimate right to exist.”
It would appear that having convened a “European forum” the Kremlin sought to change the “rules of the game” in the post-Soviet space. It remains to be seen whether Moscow succeeds in implementing a new strategic blueprint.
(Kreml.org, June 30-July 5, Nezavisimaya gazeta, July 6, Novye izvestiya, July 7)