Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Russians who Want Re-Integration of Soviet Space Face Same Problem Soviets Did 90 Years Ago, Chernyakhovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 18 – Those in Moscow who want to re-integrate the Soviet space face the same problem that Lenin and Stalin debated just prior to the formation of the USSR and with fewer resources to pay the price to any of the independent former Soviet republics that such a new super state would require, according to a Moscow political commentator.

            In an essay posted on KM.ru yesterday, Sergey Chernyakhovsky says that today as in 1922, those who want to re-integrate the former Soviet space are divided between some who like Stalin want the non-Russians to be absorbed into the Russian state and others like Lenin who are prepared to create a new federation of nominally equal parts.

            But neither group, the commentator suggests, recognizes just how high a price Russia would have to pay to achieve these goals, a price that is all the higher not only because few want to give up state independence but also because Moscow has been high-handed in dealing with those like Belarus that do seek integration (www.km.ru/v-rossii/2012/12/17/situatsiya-na-territorii-bsssr/699811-za-integratsiyu-postsovetskogo-prostranstv).

            Ever since the end of the USSR, there have been discussions aobut re-integrating the former Soviet space, Chernyakovsky notes, and he predicts that such discussions “wil break out with new force if only because soon will be marked the 90th anniversary of the formation of the USSR” which took place at the end of December 1922.

            Anyone forming such a new state must do so within the onfines of the four basic types of state – federation, confederation, empire or a unitary (national) state, he suggests, although the choice is limited for Russia and its neighbors because even if one insists that all the components are equal, it is so manifestly clear that they are not.

            Consequently, the Moscow analyst insists, “the very same problem, which confronts Russia in defining the forms of state re-unification today on the space of the USSR, confronted” the leaders of Soviet Russia “at the time of the formation of the USSR from the former provinces of the Russian Empire.”

            And that problem was behind the famous difference of opinion between Stalin and Lenin on what to do.The former wanted the other republics to join the RSFSR as subjects of its federation, while the latter backed “the formation of a new Union state based on the equal union of these republics.”

            Even though the second option left Russia as “one of four (and then 15)” republics despite its size and importance, and even though Lenin was a backer of unitarism above all, the founder of the Soviet state was confident that a new union would allow the republics to come together more quickly and Russia’s position would “all the same” allow it to “lay the leading role.”

            “Russian national patriots” do not fully understand the situation, Chernyakhovsky continues, simultaneously demanding sovereignty for themselves thereby “provoking the division of the single state” and declaring that “in the event of re-integration, Russia will have to feed dozens of these republics.”

            And others, “who understand the need for the restoration of the whole and support re-integration processes, nonetheless continue to  insist that Russia not enter into any union of equals but adance as a precondition the inclusion of the republics within its borders.”

            According to Chernyakhovsky, the question of whether to re-unite is not really open: The majority of Russians are for it, movement in that direction is both “natural” and “normal,” historically the move toward larger states is “more or less” understandable, and the benefits of doing so are “understood by the majority of the representatives of the ruling elite.”

            But the second question is both immediate and fateful, just as it was in 1922: how should Moscow behave given that Russia “which in fact is larger and wealthier than the other republics” would be so “recognize its equality with the other parts and thus diminish itself.” But if Russia insists on including the others as unequal, the latter are unlikely to agree.

            But Russia is compelled to find a way to unite them because Russia needs it more than the others both objectively and subjectively given its purposes and thus “must propose such conditions for unitifcation which will result in the republics uniting with it being in a more favorable position than they were when ‘independent.’”

            If Moscow wants unity on the basis of inclusion rather than union, then it will have to “pay not only for unity as expensive as that will be … but also for the attributes of statehood that the others will lose.” In fact, he says, “it will be necessary to pay more for the inclusion of any country into the Russian Federation than to unite with it on the basis of equal rights.”

            That means that if Russia wants to achieve its goals, it will have to “make concessions” greater than many expect, especially since there are so many different countries around it, all of whom have to a greater or lesser extent profited from independence psychologically if not always economically.

            Clearly not everyone in the Russian capital understands this dynamic. Otherwise, they would not continue to behave as they have with Belarus in ways that represent “a manifestation of the very same complexes of Russian patriots which led to the dismemberment of the USSR” twenty years ago.

            And Moscow’s approach to Belarus, whatever Russia’s leaders say, represents an obstacle to any larger unification projects because non-Russian leaders will conclude that they have no reason to re-unite with Russia “because it will not pay these republics for any manifestation of good will but on the contrary wil try  to extract from them political and economic payment for re-unifcation.”

            Such reflections, Chernyakhovsky concludes, will lead them in “a completely logical” manner to “begin to seekother allies and other centers of integration.”

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