Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Moscow is Closing Its Western Borders While Keeping Its Eastern Ones Open, Making Russia Ever More Asiatic, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 4 – Moscow’s harsh policy toward Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine is effectively shutting down traffic across its borders to the West even as it continues to keep its borders with Central Asia open, a pattern that Moscow commentators suggest is having the effect of making Russia ever less European and ever more Asiatic.

            In an article on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal today, entitled “Russia is closing its borders with the West but leaving them open for the East,” Andrey Ivanov surveys this view, one that points to Russia “in the near future” becoming  “an Asiatic power … not only by mentality and power structure but by population” (

            If Ukraine signs an association agreement with the EU and Moscow continues to respond harshly to it, Ivanov says, then the Russian Federation will lose its customs advantages and visa-free regime with a country between it and the EU even as it continues to allow Central Asians to flow into Russia and acquire Russian citizenship.

            This has profound consequences: “Every third Russian citizen has a relative in Ukraine, and every second Ukrainian has one” in Russia. Breaking these ties as Moscow’s reaction to Kyiv’s plans is certain to do will harm many families, but it will harm Russia’s links with Europe even more.

            Aleksy Albu,a Ukrainian political scientist, says that the fault lies entirely with Moscow. Ukrainians are not turning to Europe “in the search for paradise.” They are doing do because they are profoundly disturbed by Russia’s political system. They see themselves culturally linked to Russia, but they do not want to be economically integrated and thus subordinate. Thus, they support the turn to Europe.

            According to Valery Korovin, the director of the Moscow Center for Geopolitical Expertise, Russia is “losing the initiative” not only in Ukraine but elsewhere as well to other states. The problem is not just “weakness in the mechanisms of economic cooperation but in the complete lack of  any clarity in [Moscow’s] foreign policy.”

            Korovin continues: for Ukraine and its neighbors, “integration with Europe is more predictable than integration with Russia where a change of power means a change of course. Over the last two decades, [Russia] has gone from a liberal pro-western course to the complete oppose, with the recognition of America as the main enemy.”

            “For the former Soviet republics it is not clear how Russia will behave in the future,” he says. “The Soviet project has its own ideology, its own terms of reference, its own understanding of the development of the state as a whole.” Moscow’s current “project” for Ukraine and the others lacks all of these things.

            Thus, it is no surprise that they are turning to others, Korovin concludes.

            A third commentator, Andrey Savelyev, agrees. He sees Russia becoming “a peripheral Asiatic despotism. The closure of the borders with Ukraine and the opening of the borders with the countries of Central Asia completely corresponds to the economic model” Russia has adopted.

Moscow has little interest in Ukraine or any other foreign country. Its “entire policy”is based on the sale of raw materials abroad. “Everything else is just for show.” Even its atomic arsenal falls into that category, to be used for show.  “In essence, statehood in Russia has disappeared on its own.”

Today, Savelyev says, “the chief strategy of the Kremlin can be expressed by the slogan: “Our task is the pipeline” to export oil and gas.  But because of that, Moscow does not recognize that its closing of borders to the West and keeping them open to the east is transforming Russia into something even most Russians do not want.

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