Monday, December 31, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Needs to Restore Russian Empire, Not the USSR, Leontyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 31 – Mikhail Leontyev, a leading Moscow television commentator and someone whose ideas, while flamboyantly expressed, reflect the views of many Russians, says he personally is “a convinced anti-Soviet” but is convinced that Russia must take steps to rebuild the Russian Empire within borders similar to but not the same as those of the USSR.

            Leontyev’s attitudes on this point – and the specifics are both more intriguing and more disturbing for Russia’s neighbors, Russia’s competitors, and Russia itself, than is his overall point – came in an interview he gave to Elena Krivyakin in the studios of KP-TV last week (

            US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent statement that Moscow wants to restore the Soviet Union, Leontyev says, reflects American fears of the rise of a rival power.  “But American diplomacy recently, especially in such hysterical Macfaul-Clinton forms, very much helps us” by stripping away “political correctness.”

            What the American diplomats are saying is simply a new version of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s observation that “with Ukraine Russia will always be a power, but without Ukraine, it won’t be.”  Leontyev suggests that that alone should be enough to show Russians what they need to do because “we need Russia as a power, and they do not.”

            According to Leontyev, Russia has the capacity to do so because it “is a state” while the countries around it like Ukraine are not. Like them, he continues, Russia has “oligarchic clans but they are forced somehow to position themselves relative to the state.” But in Ukraine, “there is no state except a coalition of semi-criminal clans, neither in a geopolitical nor in an ideological nor in a moral sense.”

            Asked about Western Ukraine, Leontyev says that the Western oblasts “which never were Russia” and whose inclusion within Russia “was a mistake,” something that as a tsarist official warned “could destroy Russia, should either be russified or allowed to go their own separate way. Ukraine can simply be split apart as it is reintegrated with Russia.

            According to Leontyev, “all post-Soviet elites” are interested in integration, and everyone should recognize that this integration like all other examples in history will “not begin with economics” but rather “with a military-political union.”  Even the EU would never have existed without NATO as “a roof over its head.”

            At present and inevitably, Leontyev continues, “the national elites of the post-Soviet countries position themselves only relative to Russia and against Russia; otherwise their existence would be senseless. This is the foundation of their identity.” But in dealing with those opposed to Moscow, Russia must “appeal to [these] peoples over the heads of the leaders.”

            All of these peoples “must understand that the idea of a European choice for Ukraine, for Georgia or for Azerbaijan is simply funny.  There is no such choice!  Europe is closed off and more than that is disintegrating from within.  There no one is waiting for anyone else.”

            And Russians need to understand that they need such an empire not only to recover their status as a world power but to ensure that they are protected from threats emanating from further abroad. As one Soviet diplomat put it, Leontyev recalls, “It is better to struggle with fundamentalism near Jelalabad than near Ashkhabad.”

            Many people thought at the time that this observation was silly, “but where is Ashkhabad now? Now, we will be struggling with fundamentalism near Orenburg, near Kazan and near Rostov.”  By retreating, “we inevitably will surrender them to the enemy and this means we will retreat further from other positions.”
            But perhaps Leontyev’s most interesting if inflammatory comments concern Georgia and Moscow’s ability to draw it into a new relationship with Moscow. According to the commentator, “Georgia in fact cannot exist without Russia, outside of Russia or in any place not under Russia.”

            How is NATO going to guarantee the unity of Georgia including Abkhazia, South Osetia, Adjaria and Javakhetia … unity in a country where Osetins, Abkhazes, Azerbaijanis, Armenian, and Adjars live in compact communities?  There is no way!  Georgia interests NATO as a place des armes either against Russia or against Iran.”  Otherwise, it has no need for it or for other post-Soviet states.

            When his interviewer says she finds it difficult to believe that Georgia could ever reunite with Russia, Leontyev makes the following declaration: “The leadership of Georgia has been shifted to Boris Ivanishvili who grew up in Russia, is connected with Russia and who can do nothing without Russia”

            “Power in Russia was shifted by a democratic means among other reasons because the American masters allowed Ivanishvili to win and prohibited Saakashvili from putting physical pressure on him.  Because the Americans wanted to have an agreement with Russia. By the way, about NATO.”

            “The United States,” Leontyev continues, “wants to remain a powerful power in the world. And for this it has to cast off excessive, unnecessary and second-order obligations.  Georgia already is not a first-order task; this is a subject for agreement with Russia. Ivanishvili is a compromise. Not among Georgians but between America and Russia.”

            And the same logic, the Moscow commentator suggests, applies even to the Baltic countries, despite their membership in NATO and the EU.

            Given the problems in the world economy, Russians need “a Big Russia,” one with sufficient purchasing power and industrial production to “guarantee [its] autonomous development.” He adds that “at a minimum [Russians] need Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus and that it would not be a bad thing to draw in the Central Asian republics.”

            “Integration,” according to Leontyev, “is a question of our common physical survival. But we must guarantee it because we are the historical Russia.” Those who speak about “a small comfortable democratic national state” do not understand what is at stake. And they do not realize that “such a Russia will never exist.”

            That is because “in the process of forming” such a state, “Russia itself would destroy itself as a nation, as a state, as an historical sybject, as a culture.  The idea of the nation state is failing everywhere.” But “happily,” Leontyev concludes, “the future belongs to Empires … organic multi-cultural societies like Russia and the United States.”

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