Staunton, April 11 – Since 1991, Moscow has sought to retain its influence and control in the post-Soviet space at a lower cost than it paid in Soviet times, thus leaving the non-Russian countries around it in worse shape than they would otherwise be and rapidly leading ever more of them to seek ties with other centers of power, Anton Yevstratov says.
When these countries were republics within the USSR, Moscow controlled them but provided assistance; but since 1991, the specialist on the Middle East says, it has pursued a classical neo-colonial approach, seeking to retain control but without providing the assistance it did earlier (newcaucasus.com/politics/17431-rossiyskiy-neokolonializm-instrumentyi-i-sut.html).
That approach which relies both on the continuation of past ties, the use of frozen conflicts, and the absence of outside influence has worked well in some places; but it is failing in many and will fail in more, not because these countries are Russophobic, as Moscow likes to suggest, but simply because generational change and national needs make that inevitable.
Consequently, unless Moscow changes its course, providing more assistance or ceding more control, it will find itself surrounded not by a neo-colonial empire but rather by countries that eye it with increasing hostility, again not because the peoples involved want that but because they have no other choice.
Yevstratov says that Moscow’s neo-colonialism rests on three things: the inability of many of the former republics to separate their economies from Russia at least in the short term, Moscow’s ability to exploit conflicts on their territories and serve as an arbiter, and most important elites who grew up in Soviet times and have no other model of behavior.
As a result, for much of the post-Soviet period, “the de jure independent countries of the former USSR have turned out to be de facto ‘the new colonies’ of Russia,” he continues. But the situation of these “’de facto colonies’ is much more difficult than that which existed in Soviet times” because Moscow wants control but doesn’t want to provide aid.
Officials in Moscow have assumed that this situation can continue indefinitely, he says; but “in recent years, the paradigm is changing. Post-Soviet societies and countries are changing. Their leadership is changing. In some places, such changes are occurring by a natural and evolutionary path … in others there are occurring revolutions.”
“As a result,” Yevstratov says, “a whole raft of post-Soviet states intend and what is the main thing are ready to interact with the world as a whole and with Russia in particular on completely new bases, those of partnership, equality, mutually profitable ones but not in any case on neo-colonial ones.”
These changes are happening not because of any Russophobia in these populations, whatever many in Moscow believe. They are happening because Moscow makes demands but doesn’t provide assistance; and consequently, these countries are looking to themselves and to others for the future, not to Moscow.
Because of its aggressive rhetoric and sometimes its aggressive actions, however, “Russia itself is pushing away the post-Soviet republics and literally throwing them into the embrace of its geopolitical opponents,” the analyst says. Only if Moscow changes course in its work with these countries can it hope to have influence – and influence based on an entirely new set of arrangements.
Unless and until that happens, Yevstratov says, Moscow will see ever more of these countries move away from it – leaving Russia without the allies it could have if it approached these countries in a different way and instead surrounding the country with other states that will view it with suspicion and hostility.