Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Losing Siberia Would Hurt Russia Far More than Losing the Union Republics Did, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 24 – Russians are making the mistake of focusing on the loss of dependent countries like those of Central Asia rather than on the possible loss of real colonies like Siberia, even though the loss of the latter threatens Russian national interests far more than has the departure of the former, according to an article by Vladislav Inozemtsev.

            And to avoid that outcome, he argues, Moscow should consider a new deal with the Siberians, giving them a greater share of the earnings from the natural wealth on their territory and a greater voice in Russia’s foreign policy especially with regard to China and other adjoining countries of Asia.

            In an article in “Moskovsky komsomolets” provocatively titled “It’s Time for Russia to Separate from the former USSR,” the Moscow commentator argues that Russians need to distinguish between those of its possessions which were and are real colonies and those which were never more than dependencies (

            That distinction is clear, he argues, if one considers the experience of the European powers.  “Having divided up the world, its rulers called the newly acquired territories colonies, although there were no ‘colonists.’” Given that, what happened between 1940 and 1970 was not decolonization as it is usually described but rather “the loss of temporarily controlled territories.”

            Indeed, using these definitions, Inozemtsev argues that “genuine colonists” who dominated “both Americas and Oceania” did not leave and their offspring “continue to live there now.

            When Europe gave up its temporarily controlled territories after World War II – a process that Inozemtsev argues has been improperly labeled decolonization – its “new independent states” received the right to determine their own fate – and unfortunately, that has led many of them into authoritarianism and extreme poverty.

            All of this has much to teach Russians, Inozemtsev insists. The Russian Empire was built in much the same way as the European empires were, with the only difference being that it did not distinguish between its colonies and its temporarily controlled territories and consequently did not see why the departure of the latter should lead in the directions it has.
            Its successor, the Soviet Union “was a country within which there were both colonies” like Siberia and the Far East which were dominated by representatives of the metropolitan center “and dependent territories” like Central Asia and the Trans-Caucasus where “those coming from Russia always remained in a minority.”

            “Having given the latter independence, Russia with a delay of 30 years did just what the other European powers had done” except somewhat more thoroughly. What took place in 1991 was “the only real decolonization in history: the metropolitan center shamefully and traitorously” left its fellow citizens to their fate rather than take them back.

            Living standards in “such new countries as Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan fell six to eight times, and practically all the new states adopted authoritarian (frequently even hereditary) forms of rule” which as international experience shows can be displaced only by means of civil wars or “bloody internal conflicts.”

            Consequently, Russians “should not regret the loss of the dependent territories,” which can only stand on their own by stressing just how different they are from the former metropolitan center.  But there are three simple conclusions that Moscow should draw from this process, Inozemtsev continues.

            First, it is “senseless” for Russia to try to prevent the continuing “archaization” of the Central Asian states.  Second, it is “unproductive” to try to find some kind of basis for a new union with them. And third, it is “immoral” for Moscow to continue to restrict the return to Russia of the Russian speakers in these countries.

            But at the same time, the commentator continues, Russia needs to focus on “the real Russian colony” – Siberia.  Siberia currently provides more than 70 percent of Russia’s exports and more than 50 percent of the money for the federal budget, a unique situation in which a colony is so much more economically significant than the metropolitan center.

            Moscow must revise its policy toward that region and give it a greater voice in running the country and in devising its foreign policy “if [the center] does not want in the case of a possible weakening of the center [to see] a repetition in the future of events which took place in North America in the 1770s or in South America in the 1820s.”  

            For Russia, even more than for Britain or Spain, “the loss of that colony would be incomparably more dangerous than the loss of the dependent territories,” Inozemtsev concludes, and says that Russians need to recognize this and respond accordingly “as quickly as possible” lest it come to pass.

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