Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Real Central Asian Problem is Neither Ethnic nor Geopolitical but Rather Class, Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 5 – Russians are usually presented as divided on Central Asia because some hope that Moscow will be able to draw those former Soviet republics into a new union state while others fear that immigration from that region threatens to “transform Russia into one big kishlak.”

            But according to Rosbalt commentator Viktor Yadukha, it is long past time to recognize that what might be called “Russia’s Central Asian problem” is “neither geopolitical nor interethnic bur rather one of class” conflict within the society of the Russian Federation itself  (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2013/03/04/1101644.html).

            It is time for those who want to restore the empire to understand “that there will not be any reunification, in the first instance because the Russian bourgeoisie doesn’t want it.” That class, he suggests, “does not have any geopolitical ambitions.” Instead, it measures everything in terms of profit.

            To be sure, the owners of Russian firms “are interested in Asian resources” as a way to earn money to put in bank accounts in the West, “but it is not prepared for the tough struggle for access to them.”  As a result, he says, Moscow will continue to “defend its interests” in Central Asia not too insistently” lest that provoke a break with the West.

            Central Asian elites don’t want any reunification either.  Even Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan which are closer to Russia aren’t interested as shown by Astana’s decision to warm its relations with the Turkic world and drop its Cyrillic-based alphabet in favor of the Latin script. The elites in all five of these countries, like the one in Russia, are “oriented to the West.”

            “To the regret of Russian imperialists, Yadukha continues, “Central Asia is not ‘a battlefield of thee great powers.’ It is ‘a battlefield of the great powers,’ in which Russia is not involved.”

            Russia is becoming a Central Asian kishlak, however, “in the first instance because that is what the Russian elite wants.” Low-paid gastarbeiters not only cost them less but act as a the appearance of Central Asians in Russian cities because such people already live “with one leg abroad,” spending time in Russia only to make money.

            What this combination means, the Rosbalt commentator says, is that the resolution of the problems that Russians have with Central Asia depends on their first settling accounts with their own elites, something he clearly believes ordinary Russians could do but as yet do not understand their need to do so.

             “The sharpest conflict of interests of the population and elites of the Russian Federation is just here – and this is a class conflict,” Yadukha concludes. “It is time for those who think that the problems of migrants can be resolved by means of ‘Slavic patrols’ of the streets [in Russian cities] to understands this fact.”

            While many will be tempted to dismiss this argument as nothing more than warmed over Marxist-Leninist analysis and agitation, it is important in a double sense. On the one hand, it helps to explain why Vladimir Putin has moved so cautiously in this area at a time when he has been seizing upon so many Russian nationalist themes.

            And on the other, it suggests just how dangerous the immigrant issue is for political stability in the Russian Federation.  Those in power who believe that they can maintain themselves by setting Russians against Central Asians may ultimately be disabused of that idea when ever more Russians reach the conclusion that Yadukha already has.

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