Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Failure to Defend Russians in Post-Soviet States Upsets Nationalists

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – No great power can base its policies toward is neighbors “exclusively” on the basis of how they treat its co-ethnics, a Russian analyst says, but Moscow’s pursuit of close ties with regimes “that are continuing a conscious policy of de-Russification” is disturbing -- especially in the light of its hostility states that treat Russians better.

            In an article in yesterday’s “Vedomosti,” Vladislav Inozemtsev, the director of the Moscow Center for Research on Post-Industrial Society, bemoans the fact that Moscow is seeking closer ties with regimes that mistreat ethnic Russians even though the February 2013 foreign policy strategy document says that defending them is “one of the tasks of our foreign policy” (

            To be sure, he says, “no one ever declares publically and clearly that Russia is prepared to really act on behalf of this high goal.”

            The president sets Russia’s foreign policy course, Inozemtsev points out; and Vladimir Putin “is not only convinced that the collapse of the Soviet Union was ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century,’ but suggests that the USSR ‘was all the same Russia only under a different name.’”

            As a result, Moscow’s approach to the countries of the post-Soviet space has been “defined by their readiness to participate” in Moscow-led efforts that allow the Kremlin to maintain “the illusion of a Soviet renaissance,” such as the Eurasian Union.  But these efforts have some curious features.

            On the one hand, those countries in Central Asia which are inclined to “play with Moscow” in this regard attract and keep the Kremlin’s attention, while “the Baltic countries which long ago entered the European Union and NATO are unofficially recognized as cursed enemies.”

            Such an approach “does not seem” to Inozemtsev to be either “morally” justified or “politically” promising because “it is based on forgetting historical experience and closing one’s eyes to processes that are now going on in the post-Soviet space.”

            At the end of Soviet ties, there were 25.3 million ethnic Russians living in the non-Russian republics. Nine million plus of them lived in Central Asia where they formed significant portions of the population, but because governments there discriminated against and mistreated Russians, four million of them left, “the most radical ‘decolonization’ in history.”

            But in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, “a mass exodus of Russians did not occur. Aside from the 135,000 Russian troops, only about 65,000 Russians have left Latvia, only 44,000 have left Estonia, and only 37,000 have left Lithuania. As a result, Latvia now has the highest percentage of ethnic Russians in its population (26.9 percent) and Estonia, the second highest (25.3 percent), in the ormer Soviet space.

            Not only are these figures higher than they were in the 1930s, but since 2010, “the consulates of Latvia and Estonia in Moscow have received more applications from those who have left to return than the consulates of Russia in these countries have about entering Russia.” And there are ethnic Russians in key posts in both of these Baltic countries.

            Instead of seeking good relations with countries that are treating Russians well enough that they want to stay where they are, Moscow is promoting rapprochement with others where Russians are increasingly mistreated and want to leave – and the Russian government is neither protesting this fact or seeking to change it, Inozemtsev says.

            “The flood of Russians from ‘those countries which are integrating’ with us has again begun to grow: In 2012, 63,000 people, more than during the previous five years, returned to Russia, of whom approximately 80 percent were from the countries of Central Asia.” And Russian young people from Central Asia increasingly choose to study in Russian universities.

            Obviously, Russia can’t be expected to be pleased when Tallinn reburies Soviet soldiers who died in the fight with fascism, “but is it not strange that the destruction of analogous monuments in memory of the fallen in the Great Fatherland War in Uzbekistan do not elicit any reaction.

            Nor does anyone in Moscow find it incongruous that Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, who tore down an Orthodox church built in 1898 nonetheless “proudly wears the Order of the Blessed Prince Daniil of Moscow First Class,” that was awarded to him by the Russian Orthodox Church.”

            “One can understand our anger at the appearance on the streets of Baltic cities of Nazi symbolism, but should Russians be pleased by the heroization by Kazakh officials of the bright image of Chingizkhan who stopped our development for several hundred years or the stories about ‘the Russian yoke’ which are encountered in the new Uzbek and Kazakh history texts?”

                The Russian government needs to be consistent “not only in words but in actions,” Inozemtsev argues, and “that means that before inviting the Central Asian republics into the Tariff and Eurasian Unions, it ought to” demand an investigation of the mistreatment of ethnic Russians there, the return ofproperty confiscated from them, and the respect of the rights of our co-ethnics.

            “The integration of Russia and the countries of Central Asia into a Eurasian Union will not bring us anything except migrants from these countries, contraband from China and narcotics from Central Asia.” And Moscow  will once again be forced to support them because their per capita incomes are far lower than those in the Russian Federation.

            Furthermore, if Moscow is going to pursue some kind of neo-USSR organization, “it should remember how the history of the Soviet Union ended, how quicly the former colonies separated from the metropolitan center, how harshly they dealt with its representatives and how quickly they began to play with our other neighbors.”

            Joining together again with such countries, the Moscow analyst says, especially if they are not required to treat ethnic Russians living on their territories with some respect, is thus “a project which in its cynicism and senselessness does not have any analogy in history.”

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