Institute for Advanced Strategic & Political Studies
IASPS Policy Briefings: Geostrategic Perspectives on Eurasia
Date: December 9, 2002 Number: 9
by Vladimir Socor, IASPS Senior Fellow
More than ever before, Russia's future depends on its relations with the Western world. That relationship will, in turn, significantly depend on how Russia chooses to behave toward the former Soviet-ruled countries that have restored or gained their independence.
Members of the foreign affairs and defense committees of Russia's Duma and Federation Council, a large group of whom are attending this Harvard event, have an important role to play in shaping Russia's policies toward those countries. In that area, ample scope exists for promoting Russia's transformation into a normal country, at peace with itself and therefore at peace with the rest of the world. This presentation will outline the perceptions and concerns in these countries, from the Baltics to Central Asia, with regard to Russian policies toward them.
Russian perspectives on the ex-Soviet domain are being amply reported and discussed, on all facets, literally on a daily basis, within the countries directly affected.
The views from these countries, however, seem to receive only sporadic and fragmentary attention in Moscow. Judging from Russian policy statements and media coverage, it seems that Russia's officials and public alike receive very incomplete, distorted images of these countries, their national interests and their attitudes to Russia. An information deficit often leads to policy decisions that unnecessarily damage Moscow's relations with these countries and, therefore, complicate Russia's relations with the West.
THE BALTIC STATES
That linkage clearly manifests itself in the Baltic states. President Vladimir Putin ultimately realized not only that NATO’s enlargement was unstoppable, but that he would jeopardize Russia’s rapprochement with the West if he opposed the Baltic states’ aspiration to join the alliance. In accepting their sovereign choice, Mr. Putin improved Russia's relations with the West and with his Baltic neighbors.
However, major problems persist. From both the Baltic and the Western perspective, the concerns include:
--Moscow's officially stated position that the Baltic states had "joined" the Soviet Union "legally" and "on their own free will;"
--government statements defending and even praising--usually on ideological grounds--former NKVD, KGB and MVD officers who were involved in crimes in the Baltic states;
--denunciation of Latvia's and Estonia's policies on language and citizenship, in spite of international organizations’ findings that those policies conform with European standards and human rights obligations;
--refusal to sign the border treaties with Estonia and Latvia, and to ratify the border treaty with Lithuania, although the documents were completed as long ago as 1996-97 to the Russian government's full satisfaction;
--and, most recently, the demand for special transit rights to and from Kaliningrad across Lithuania, attempting to make short shrift of both the European Union's Schengen system and Lithuania's sovereignty.
The experience of recent years shows that Moscow overplayed its hand on those issues. Russian policy makers predicted that the nonsignature of border treaties would cause NATO and the EU to hold off the admission of the Baltic states on account of "unresolved border problems." However, NATO and the EU pronounced themselves satisfied that the Baltic states have done everything that depended on them to have the treaties with Russia signed and ratified. The OSCE and the Council of Europe regard the Baltic states as successful democracies. Accusations to the contrary are generally deemed unfair and politically motivated, and have only strengthened the Baltic states' resolve to be an integral part of the West, NATO included. The double customs duties, with which Russia has "punished" Estonia, only accelerated the westward reorientation of Estonia's trade; and they will in any case have to be dropped if Russia wants--as it does--to join the World Trade Organization.
This year, Russia's Duma adopted a new law on citizenship, requiring applicants to pass a Russian language test and other tests. The Duma deputy of Latvian origin, Viktor Alksnis, led the opposition to the bill, arguing that its passage would make it impossible for Russia to demand that Latvia and Estonia drop the language tests from their requirements for citizenship. The Duma nevertheless passed the bill overwhelmingly, thus taking a step toward Russia's transformation into a normal country.
To continue in that direction, the Russian government and parliament can, at no political cost, sign and ratify the border treaties with the three Baltic states; wind down the polemics against Latvia and Estonia in international forums; lift the double customs duties on Estonian goods, before the WTO demands this move; and negotiate transit arrangements for Kaliningrad residents on terms fully consistent with the EU's Schengen system, Lithuania's sovereignty, and the Kaliningraders' own economic interests, not on terms dictated by outdated military or "prestige" considerations, and without turning a technical issue into a "test" of the EU’s and Lithuania’s political relations with Russia.
From a Western perspective--including that of Europe’s new democracies who are Belarus’ neighbors--Belarus is the last dictatorially ruled country in Europe, and president Alyaksandr Lukashenka is seen as having consolidated his power with Moscow's support. Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, other Russian politicians, as well as Mr. Lukashenka, have used rhetoric about "unification" mainly for internal political consumption. Mr. Lukashenka is the main beneficiary of this political game, although he has no intention of actually "unifying" Belarus with Russia; his primary goal is to retain full personal control of Belarus. Mr. Putin recently turned the tables by proposing to simply incorporate Belarus into the Russian Federation.
Meanwhile, official Moscow is hurting its own international image by supporting Mr. Lukashenka's personal rule. Economically, the support includes special discounts on Russian oil and gas deliveries to Belarus; currency-support credits to keep the Belarusan ruble barely alive; and tolerance of Mr. Lukashenka's manipulation of the Russia-Belarus customs union, which helps Mr. Lukashenka's budget and hurts Russia's. Mr. Lukashenka himself recognizes that these forms of support are crucial to warding off social discontent and keeping him in power.
In the Council of Europe and the OSCE, no one but Russia supports Mr. Lukashenka and the parliament he appointed. As the OSCE operates on the consensus rule, Moscow has for years shielded Mr. Lukashenka successfully against censure. This year, the Belarusan president simply expelled the members of the OSCE mission from Belarus, one by one; yet even in this situation, Russia's diplomats are withholding consensus to any serious response by the OSCE.
Russia's political forces generally misperceive the Belarusan opposition as anti-Russian. That opposition is in fact pro-European, and trying hard to show that its European choice does not run counter to goodneighborly relations with Russia. The Belarusan opposition leaders openly acknowledge that no political force can afford to be anti-Russian in their country, and that therefore Moscow is wrong to stake its policy on Mr. Lukashenka. In last year's presidential election, the opposition made broad overtures to the Kremlin and the Duma, only to be rebuffed. Official Moscow supported Mr. Lukashenka, and went on to pronounce the election as free and fair, even as all the international assessments found that election deeply flawed.
The Belarusan opposition's basic goals include: independent statehood and normal goodneighborly relations with Russia; Belarus to become a democratic country and a part of Europe, rather than buffer between Russia and Europe; economic reforms, including privatization of state property, though not by Russian state-connected capital. Both the opposition and Mr. Lukashenka are against Russian oligarchic takeovers of property in Belarus, though their reasons differ: the opposition wants a clean privatization apt to attract international investments, while Mr. Lukashenka insists on state control and indeed personal control of the economy.
Will Russia's political forces finally recognize that the European choice is not an anti-Russian choice, whether in Belarus or in any post-Soviet country ?
That question has special relevance to Ukraine at present.
In Kyiv’s perception, Russian policy now proceeds from acceptance of Ukraine’s independence as an unalterable fact. Russian politicians no longer demand the return of Crimea or of Sevastopol; and only a few would nowadays seriously push for giving the Russian language official status in Ukraine. Moscow no longer considers bypassing Ukraine as the main transit country for Russian gas supplies to Europe.
Many Ukrainians on both the presidential side and in the opposition would agree--though they may draw differing conclusions from it--that Mr. Putin has discarded the earlier, unrealistic goals in favor of more limited ones. These, as seen in Kyiv, include:
--seeking privatization of Ukrainian enterprises--in the energy sector especially--by Russian state-connected companies, preempting other bidders;
--influencing the composition of Ukraine's government, as could be seen when Mr. Putin successfully insisted on the dismissal of foreign affairs minister Borys Tarasyuk and deputy prime minister for cultural affairs Mykola Zhulinsky, or when Moscow and Kyiv launched coordinated judicial proceedings against deputy prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko;
--shaping the outcome of Ukrainian parliamentary elections, as seen this year when the Kremlin loaned expensive consultant teams to favored Ukrainian parties, and used Russian state-controlled television channels to attack nonfavored Ukrainian parties;
--encouraging the formation of a Ukrainian parliamentary majority that excludes pro-reform, Western-oriented parties, but includes corrupt oligarchic groups linked to their Russian counterparts;
--prearranging the succession to President Leonid Kuchma so as to bar Western-oriented politicians--such as ex-prime minister Viktor Yushchenko, currently Ukraine's most popular politician--from being elected president; and, in Oleg Pavlovsky's words, "designate a Ukrainian Putin" -- i.e., prepare a Ukrainian reenactment of the Yeltsin-Putin handover scenario, so as to produce a Ukrainian president agreeable to the Kremlin.
The results of this policy are still far from clear. The above-mentioned ministerial changes have not noticeably changed Ukraine's foreign policy or language policy. The Ukrainian parties that had the support of Russian television scored poorly in this year's elections, while the parties that were attacked on Russian television scored well. On the other hand, scandals implicating Mr. Kuchma have increased his dependence on Ukraine's Russian-connected oligarchic interests and on Mr. Putin's personal support. Just how all this can affect Ukraine's presidential succession is too early to tell. It does, however, already now severely affect Ukraine's standing in the West.
The political slogan, "Ukraine [goes] to Europe together with Russia" suggests that the European choice is not for Ukraine to exercise in its own right, but rather to the extent acceptable to Moscow; and that Ukraine should tie its interests and its future to Russia's. It also implies that Moscow and Kyiv should coordinate their policies on European integration issues. This, however, runs counter to political trends in Ukraine. As this year's elections showed, Ukraine's pro-European parties are clearly in the ascendancy, as time and demographics work in these parties' favor.
In recent months, Ukrainian political forces have evolved a consensus on seeking NATO membership. Yevhen Marchuk, a top official in the presidential administration--though also a major political player in his own right--has spearheaded this initiative. Kuchma’s opponents on the right had long urged this move, political support for which now extends to the center and even left-of-center. Moscow is taking its time responding. Its ultimate response--particularly if Ukraine requests a NATO membership action plan (MAP)--will show whether Moscow regards Ukraine's independence as full or partial, final or temporary. The Kremlin's methods to affect Ukraine's presidential succession--in or even before the expiration of Mr. Kuchma’s term in 2004--will be the other touchstone.
Alone among the post-Soviet countries, Moldova has returned the Communist Party to power. In free and fair elections last year, the old-line, Russian-oriented Communists won the presidency and overwhelming control of parliament. This is a result of failed economic reforms, weak state power, the underdeveloped Moldovan national identity, and--when all this is said--a full observance of the democratic process, which enabled the Communists to win smoothly.
The Party's electoral pledges included: accession to the Russia-Belarus Union; official status for the Russian language in Moldova (where Russians form 12% of the population and 5% of the school enrollment); far-reaching concessions to Transnistria’s leadership; closer integration in the CIS, and restoration of economic ties with Russia. The Russian government and parliament felt flattered and reacted accordingly. President Putin singled out the Moldovan Communist President, Vladimir Voronin, for frequent tête-à-tête meetings and other honors, including that of hosting--ahead of turn--a CIS summit in Chisinau in October this year, on Mr. Putin's fiftieth birthday.
Moldova's Communist authorities are, however, proving unable and/or unwilling to deliver on those electoral pledges. The leadership has discovered that the Russia-Belarus Union offers no economic benefit and does not even function. The government and parliament did enact decisions expanding the role of the Russian language in the administration and the schools, but retreated under the pressure of protest demonstrations in Chisinau, and ultimately gave up when the courts invalidated those enactments.
Mr. Voronin and his government hope to revive Moldova's agrarian economy through privileged access to the Russian market, under the nominal aegis of the Eurasian Economic Union. But Moldova can neither overcome Russian protectionist interests, nor prevail against foreign competition on that same Russian market; it can, at the most, secure a few narrow niches on the lower end of that market. Moldova's Communists--just like their noncommunist predecessors--are trying in vain to persuade Russia to reduce the price of gas supplies from $ 80 to $ 60 per one thousand cubic meters. Meanwhile, Russian companies have started buying up ailing Moldovan enterprises on the cheap.
Mr. Voronin stretched out his conciliatory hand to Transnistria, only to be rebuffed and humiliated time and again publicly. This has turned him from an appeaser into a bitter opponent of Igor Smirnov's group in Tiraspol. Initially, Mr. Voronin had hoped for a Kremlin-brokered deal with Mr. Smirnov. Now he hopes that President Putin will recall Mr. Smirnov's group to Russia, and facilitate a political settlement between Chisinau and a new Transnistrian leadership.
The OSCE at its 1999 summit obligated Russia to withdraw its troops from Moldova--fully, unconditionally, and under OSCE verification--by December 2002. Although Russia signed on to those OSCE documents, it has not withdrawn a single soldier since then. By early 2002, Russian diplomats and generals began openly saying that the troops will stay past the deadline, for an open-ended term. The troops never had an internationally recognized status as peacekeepers, though they call themselves so.
Moscow's preferred option is to obtain some sort of international peacekeeping mandate for those troops. The second-best option for Moscow would be to obtain Mr. Voronin's public consent to the troops' continued, if "temporary," stationing. Mr. Voronin is unlikely to give that consent, unless faced with a powerful mix of pressures and incentives. The third and most likely option is for Russia to maintain its military presence de facto, without an international mandate and without official Moldovan consent.
Such a fait accompli would perpetuate another Kaliningrad-type problem in Europe -- a Kaliningrad on the Dniester, a Russian military exclave on the threshold to the Balkans, more than 1,000 kilometers from Russia, and necessitating transit via Ukraine to supply and rotate the troops. It is very hard to see what Russian security interests are at stake in this place and need to be defended with troops. Russia’s government, parliament, and military are unable to cite a plausible reason, let alone justify the repudiation of Russia's 1999 commitment to the OSCE.
Georgians note a mix of irrational and seemingly “rational” motives behind Moscow's policy toward their country. The irrational motives include resentment and a desire to punish Georgia for its Western choice, and President Eduard Shevardnadze for setting that course in the South Caucasus, just a few years after having--as Soviet foreign affairs minister--facilitated the peaceful liberation of Central Europe. The seemingly “rational” motives stem from the Russian military’s antiquated ideas about retaining a glacis in the South Caucasus, and from Moscow’s opposition to the transit of Caspian oil and gas via Georgia to the West.
As seen from Tbilisi, the defining elements in Russia’s policy include:
--Military bases: the OSCE’s 1999 summit required Russia to close down the Gudauta base by July 2001, and to negotiate with Georgia toward closure of the Batumi and Akhalkalaki bases. Moscow subscribed to those summit decisions. Nevertheless, Russia retains the Gudauta base to this day; and has blocked OSCE inspections there, although the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe stipulates that such inspections are mandatory. On the Batumi and Akhalkalaki bases, the Russian government now demands an absurdly long eleven-year extension, and has in the meantime suspended the negotiations with Georgia. On the other hand, the Russian government has said that it wants Western countries to defray at least some of the costs of relocating the troops from Georgia to Russia. The Georgians hope that Western countries will take Russia at its word and subsidize the troop withdrawal.
--Psychological pressures: Russia’s state-controlled mass media, seen and read throughout Georgia, are openly hostile to the country's Western orientation. Kremlin officials, the intelligence services and the military set that tone of media coverage long before the Pankisi problem came up. Inflammatory coverage on Russian state television all along exacerbated the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Under Mr. Putin, the authorities more directly and more overtly use the mass media in this campaign.
--Abkhazia: the Russian military underwrite that region's secession and eviction of Georgians (45 percent of the pre-conflict population) by the Russian-armed Abkhaz (17 percent); the Duma recently approved legislation on the posible "admission" of parts of other states into the Russian Federation as its constituent units; Russia's Foreign Affairs Ministry this year conferred Russian citizenship on Abkhazia's residents en masse; the same ministry, mediating between Tbilisi and the Abkhaz authorities, openly displays its pro-Abkhaz bias; Russia monopolizes the "peacekeeping" operation in Abkhazia without an international mandate, under the nominal aegis of the CIS, though the latter has no legal authority to issue or prolong peacekeeping mandates.
--Selective approach to terrorism: almost every ordinary Georgian remembers that Shamil Basaev, Ruslan Gelaev and hundreds of Chechen fighters were armed, trained and deployed by the Russian military in the Abkhaz war against Georgia. These Chechens were not "international terrorists" then. Later, Igor Giorgadze, the suspected organizer of the 1995 assassination attempt against President Shevardnadze, received safe haven in Moscow. Mr. Giorgadze is wanted ever since on an international arrest mandate for legal proceedings in Georgia. Russia's law enforcement agencies claim to be unaware of Mr. Giorgadze's whereabouts, even as Russian media interview Mr. Giorgadze, and Georgians watch his diatribes on Russian state television.
--Pankisi: as Georgians see it, the situation in Pankisi is not a causative factor, but rather a a direct result of the continuing war in Chechnya, specifically of the Russian military's indiscriminate attacks on Chechen civilians and inability to suppress or even trace Chechen armed groups. A Russian "anti-terrorist" intervention in Pankisi would, perhaps, hit a handful of Chechen fighters, but would likely victimize many innocent civilians, extend the war into Georgia, and plunge the country into chaos. Most international observers agree with Georgia on these points. Georgian authorities are currently reasserting control in Pankisi in ways that stabilize the situation there and on the Georgia-Russia border. When the United States launched the Train-and-Equip Program for Georgia's internal security forces six months ago, Mr. Putin chose--as he had in Central Asia--not to stand in the way. Subsequently, however, Mr. Putin and his team stepped up the threats to intervene militarily in Pankisi and beyond.
The recent focus on Pankisi has served to distract attention from the deeper, chronic problems such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia, military bases, and the decade-old tendency in Moscow to deal with Georgia outside the realm of international law. This policy has backfired. Instead of undermining Mr. Shevardnadze and intimidating Georgia, it has unwittingly strengthened the country's Western orientation. No significant group in Tbilisi would reverse that orientation, though all significant political forces--in government and in opposition--seek normal goodneighborly relations with Russia.
In the Georgian consensus view, normal goodneighborly relations include: removal of Russian military bases from the country; an internationally mediated solution--with Russia on board--to the Abkhazia and South Ossetia problems, federalizing Georgia while preserving its territorial integrity; sovereign latitude for Georgia to choose its security alignments; and Russian acceptance of Georgia’s role in the transit of Caspian oil and gas directly to Western markets.
Armenia seems to be the sole post-Soviet country whose relations with Russia are not beset by any serious problems. While Moscow experiences constant difficulties with its other close allies--these being Belarus and, arguably, Tajikistan--it is only Armenia that prides itself on an untroubled relationship with Russia. The military dimension dominates that relationship; both sides lament the low level of bilateral trade. No significant Armenian political force would question Russia's military presence in the country. Many ordinary Armenians look reflexively to Russia for reassurance against imaginary threats from Turkey. More significantly, Armenia's dominant political and economic groups are developing an economic stake in a Russian orientation.
The "Karabakh group," headed by President Robert Kocharian and military and security strongman Serge Sarkisian, along with their political allies in Yerevan are counting on Moscow's support for settling the conflict with Azerbaijan on terms favorable to their side, or at least for perpetuating the current stalemate which favors their side. Serge Sarkisian personally handles relations with Russia in his triple capacity as defense minister, head of the National Security Council, and head of the Armenian side on the Armenia-Russia economic cooperation commission.
The incumbent leadership is firmly in control and looks set to win the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections handily. Meanwhile, this leadership and economic interest groups associated with it have failed to create an attractive environment for Western investors. Russian capital is currently filling this vacuum, buying up Armenian energy and manufacturing enterprises. Some enterprises are being turned over to the Russian state, in repayment of Armenia's debts to Russia; other Armenian enteprises are being privatized by Russian capital.
Armenia’s government describes its policy as one of East-West "complementarity" -- that is, reliance mainly on Russia in the military and security sphere, and mainly on the West in the economic sphere. However, failed economic reforms and the clan-based system are crippling the Western leg of that dual policy. For its part, Armenia's Defense Ministry has in recent months taken its first, cautious steps toward cooperation with the United States and other Western countries, without however in any way denting its close relationship with the Russian military.
In recent months, harassment and physical attacks on Armenian communities in southern Russia have introduced an irritant in interstate relations. The perpetrators are often self-styled Cossacks and other rowdy groups. The Armenian parliament and, occasionally, the government are demanding appropriate action by Russia's law enforcement agencies.
The numerous and wealthy Armenian diaspora in the West is successfully lobbying for high levels of aid to Armenia, but otherwise does little to reorient Armenia's policy westward. The diaspora's investment in Armenia remains meager, leaving the field free for Russian investors. Politically, most of the activist diaspora groups focus on "genocide" claims against Turkey, and encourage Yerevan to participate in this campaign. This cancels out the efforts of some Armenian groups to seek reconciliation with Turkey; contributes to Yerevan's semi-isolation in the region; and, thus, increases Armenia's reliance on Russia. For most diaspora groups, introducing Western democratic practices and market economics to Armenia does not seem to constitute a top priority.
Azerbaijan defines its top national priorities as follows: guaranteeing the secular character of the state; achieving close political relations with the West and Turkey; ensuring Western-led development of its oil and gas deposits, and routing the exports mainly through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Shah Deniz-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipelines, bound for Turkey and backed by the United States. Azerbaijan is vitally interested in the independence and Western orientation of Georgia, which offers the sole available exit for westbound pipelines. Increasingly though cautiously, Azerbaijan evidences its interest in joining a Western security system--whether under Turkish, U.S., or NATO aegis--in the short-to-medium term.
These priorities rest on a national consensus. The government and most of the opposition share this agenda, though they differ intensely over internal political problems. Both the government and, especially, the opposition resort to warlike rhetoric on the issue of Karabakh for internal political consumption. Meanwhile, President Heidar Aliev and the government fully recognize that a negotiated political settlement is the only option. Accordingly they continue both sets of negotiations: those mediated by the OSCE, and the direct negotiations between the presidents and their respective envoys. Pro-Moscow and pro-Tehran political groups are negligible in Azerbaijan.
Personal rapport between the Russian and the Azerbaijani presidents has improved markedly since Mr. Putin came to power in Moscow. The general atmosphere of interstate relations is also improving. These gains may, however, dissipate if Russia proceeds to augment and upgrade Armenia's arsenals, as was discussed with Mr. Sarkisian most recently in Moscow. Massive Russian arms deliveries to Armenia during the mid- and late 1990s did lasting damage to Russia-Azerbaijan relations. Last month, President restated Azerbaijan's objections to those past deliveries, apparently attempting to ward off a recurrence and, with it, a deterioration in Moscow-Baku relations.
The basis for those relations remains fragile. Moscow opposes most of Azerbaijan's top national priorities (summarized above), though it is clearly unable to thwart all of them. Rationally, Moscow should share the West's and Turkey's interest in the success and prosperity of Azerbaijan. This would enhance the appeal of the secular path of development to other Muslim states. To help achieve that result, Russia should lift its opposition to the Baku-Ceyhan project, accept Azerbaijan's preference for the West and Turkey as security partners, and start encouraging a peace settlement that would return to Azerbaijan the five Armenian-held Azeri districts, enabling some 800,000 Azeri refugees to go back to their homes.
Central Asia forms the main arena of the geopolitical revolution of our time. An exclusive preserve of Eurasian land empires throughout history, Central Asia entered a new era during the late 1990s when U.S. airborne troops, on nonstop flights from North America, landed in the region for the CentrasBat exercises. Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan took part in that series of annual, U.S.-led peacekeeping exercises.
Within days of September 11, 2001, those same countries as well as Tajikistan offered to host American and other Western forces. The Kremlin initially opposed such deployments, but had to go along when Washington and the Central Asian countries entered into direct bilateral agreements. The United States takes the position that it does not seek "permanent" bases in the region, but that its forces will stay "as long as necessary" to conclusively suppress terrorist threats that target Central Asia or indeed the West from countries in Central Asia's vicinity.
Central Asian leaders make no secret of their hope that the U.S. and other Western countries would remain militarily present in the region for the long haul. Leadership groups in Central Asia were quick to adapt to the new situation and to develop a set of fairly high expectations, tied to the American presence. Although the internal situation and foreign policies differ in many ways from country to country, their common expectations include:
--revenue from the use of bases and from local spending by the American and allied militaries;
--development aid and technical assistance from the United States, from other Western countries in the antiterrorism coalition, and from international lending institutions where the U.S. has a major say;
--security assistance, including military training and equipment to enable Central Asian countries to cope with terrorist and associated threats;
--a higher degree of Western investor confidence, once the security situation around their borders promises long-term stability;
--Western expertise to help improve these countries' institutional and administrative performance.
Civil-society groups and nongovernmental organizations in Central Asia attzach their own expectations to the Western presence. These seek a jump start to democratization, which is commonly defined as limiting the discretionary power of presidents, decentralizing the governments, opening up the political processes to a variety of interest groups and parties, guaranteeing the pluralism of mass media, ensuring the correct holding of elections, and instituting parliamentary checks and balances to the executive branch.
Civil-society groups, nongovernmental organizations, and opposition parties often differ among themselves over the scope, pace and agenda of political reforms. Almost all, however, want the United States to use its newly acquired leverage in Central Asia for promoting democratization. By the same token, they are quick to criticize U.S. policy for allegedly subordinating the democracy agenda to security and strategic considerations. In many cases, old-fashioned clans, narrowly based local interests, and emergent business groups adopt the democratic rhetoric in hopes of obtaining a share for themselves in the spoils of governance.
Inexperienced at democratic give-and-take, the ruling and the opposition groups in the region find it difficult to reconcile their differences. They seem, however, alike in pinning their respective sets of expectations primarily on the United States, and secondarily on Western Europe and Japan. The governments in Central Asia view Russia as lacking the resources and skills for modernizing either their economies or their military and security establishments. The governments seek to maximize investment and trade relationships with Western and Far Eastern countries. While three countries--Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan--pay lip service to the Russian-led CIS Collective Security Organization, they share non-member Uzbekistan's assessment that the American-led coalition alone is capable through its presence to protect the region against terrorism.
Among secular opposition groups and NGOs, almost none (except aging communist groups) rely on Russia for promoting democratic reforms or economic development in Central Asia. For their part, the governments occasionally make tactical alliances with Russian diplomacy in international organizations, so as to resist pressure for rapid democratization in the region. Whenever the OSCE, the Council of Europe or the European Union criticize the conduct of elections in Central Asian countries as undemocratic, Russia’s representatives defend those elections as democratically correct.
MODERNIZATION AND SECURITY-- THE TOUCHSTONE ISSUES
In all the post-Soviet countries, from the Baltic states to Central Asia, the perception of Russia and relations with it hinge on Russia's capacity to promote economic modernization and to enhance these countries’ national security. In these respects, Russia is poorly placed to play any major role. Moscow’s remaining cards include: troops in several countries, market niches in Russia for substandard products from CIS countries, takeovers of property to offset old debts, and political support for incumbent leaders when these face Western pressures for power-sharing and democratization. These are cards of diminishing value.
Decades of shared experience in the Soviet Union, as well as the post-Soviet decade have shown that only the West has the means to put these countries on the road to modernization and to enable them to provide for their own security. Economic and military modernization come from the West. This perception has taken hold in most of the formerly Soviet-ruled countries, and it shapes their relations with Russia.
There are three partial exceptions. Belarus, Moldova and Armenia, having failed to reform their economies or to attract Western investment, look to Russia to absorb their low-standard products and to grant discounts on energy supplies. They therefore look back nostalgically to the Soviet past. Armenian perceptions stem also from an even more antiquated, pre-Soviet experience of conflict with Turks.
Even in these countries, however, many look to the future, not the past. This is generally the case in all the post-Soviet countries, certainly with the critical mass of the politically active publics. They do not dwell on historic grievances, nor do they seek to jeopardize Russia's legitimate interests or the situation of Russian minorities, much less to offend Russia's leaders or public opinion. These countries want normal relations with Russia on the basis of international law and free choice of economic and security partners. If and when Russia’s policy-makers adopt this forward-looking outlook, they will have opened the way toward their country's transformation into what many ordinary Russians often say they aspire to: a normal country.
(Paper presented at Harvard University, Program on National Security, 17 September 2002)
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