Saturday, February 1, 2020

Wars on Post-Soviet Space Reflect Not Existence of Union Republics but Division of Republics into Two Classes, Khramchikhin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 27 – Ever more Russians believe Lenin’s decision to divide the country into union republics led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.  That may be so, Aleksandr Khramchikhin says; but wars since then have reflected the Bolshevik leadership’s division of republics into two classes, union and autonomous.

            In the current issue of Voyenno-Promyshlenny kuryer, the deputy director of the Moscow Institute for Political and Military Analysis says “the arbitrary delimitation of internal borders among administrative-territorial units and the division of national formations into two ‘classes’ could not fail to lead to numerous inter-ethnic conflicts” (

            “Many peoples of the ‘lesser’ category could not understand why they had fewer rights than peoples of ‘the higher caste,’ the titular nations of the union republics,” Khramchikhin says. And that led to conflicts, especially in the Caucasus, where autonomies within Georgia and Azerbaijan sought to claim the rights that the nations of these two former union republics had.

            He describes the conflicts between Abkhazia and South Ossetia, on the one hand, and Georgia, on the other, as well as the one about Nagorno-Karabakh which has led to a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. And the Moscow analyst argues that “’the fighters against the empire’ turned out to be much worse imperialists” than the Soviet state had been.

            The case of Karabakh is especially instructive, Khramchikhin suggests, because it reflects the conflict between two principles of international law, the right of nations to self-determination which is the basis of the Armenian position, and the stability of internationally recognized borders which Azerbaijan invokes.

            In one respect this is funny, he continues, “because the disintegration of the USSR completely violated the principle of the inviolability of borders and allowed nations to realize their right to self-determination. “It isn’t clear why the borders of former union republics must be held inviolable” if those of the USSR were not.

            “If the Union was so horrible, then why was its artificial hierarchy of peoples sacred?”

            At the same time, the Moscow analyst says, “one must not forget that the disintegration of the USSR to an enormous extent was the result of the ambitions of the first secretaries of the republic committees of the CPSU who wanted to become presidents of countries” rather than of national movements as such.

            “A serious popular movement for independence took place only in the Baltics, Western Ukraine and Georgia and to a much lesser degree in Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan.” 

            In the course of his essay, Khramchikhin make three other arguments. First, he says that “it is extremely instructive that all the conflicts and wars on the post-Soviet space at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s were not between the center and the republics but among them or within them.”

            But the heads of the union republics were primarily concerned not about the independence of their countries but on the preservation and enhancement of their own personal power.

            Second, he argues that the widely invoked notion that “all empires fall apart sooner or later” is a propaganda claim rather than an objective reality. “Even the European colonial empires could have survived to our days, possibly in  a somewhat smaller form, if the metropolitan centers had not destroyed themselves in the course of two world wars.”

            And third, Khramchikhin says that while “the Russian Empire was somewhat larger than ‘the natural Russia,” the Bolsheviks’ “artificial RSFSR “has turned out to be obviously smaller.” Moscow needs to find a mid-range position, one that reflects what Russia should be as in the minds of many in South Ossetia and Abhazia.

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