Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Stability across Former Soviet Space ‘Deceptive,’ Moscow Paper Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 26 – Despite the fact that the Ukrainian revolution is far from over, many in Moscow are asking where the next such outburst of turmoil and change in the former Soviet space will happen, a question prompted by the fact that most Russians were “unprepared” for what happened in Kyiv, according to “Nezavisimaya gazeta.”

            In a lead article today, the editors of the Moscow paper say that the Russian authorities were shocked both by Viktor Yanukovich’s collapse and by the fact that “even that part of Ukraine which opposes the Maidan also turned out to be against [the ousted Ukrainian president] as well” (

            And because Moscow was not prepared for these possibilities, the paper continues, it now has to deal with people in Kyiv it doesn’t “know” and with the certainty that the West will view any actions by Moscow to deal with the situation “as interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine” by Russia.

            There is a lesson from all this, but it is uncertain, the paper says, whether Moscow has learned it. And that lesson consists of two parts: On the one hand, the stability of regimes in the former Soviet space is in large part “deceptive.” And on the other, Moscow needs to reach out to the opposition in these states and not assume that dealing with the incumbent regimes is enough.

            According to the paper, the former Soviet republics can be divided into three groups as far as the stability of their regimes is concerned.  This ranking reflects both their internal situations and the role of the United States and the European Union. It suggests that other players in the international system, such as China or Turkey, are not really a factor.

            The first group of former Soviet republics where the regimes appear to be fully in charge includes Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzekistan.  The effectiveness of the force structures in these countries and the weakness or even absence of a domestic opposition, combined with their ability to find “a common language” with the West about energy make changes unlikely, although “not one of these countries isinured against ‘a palace coup.’”

            The second group includes the “relatively stable” countries: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus and Tajikistan.  They have oppositions of various strengths, which have support from abroad and not unproblematic relations with the West.  And they vary as well in terms of the capacity of their security services.

            And the third group, which includes Moldova, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, are the least stable.  Moldova has its problems with Transdniestria and Gagauzia, Georgia has people who want to follow Ukraine and overthrow the incumbent government, and Kyrgystan is generally unstable. (For a valuable discussion of the impact of the Maidan in Bishkek today, see

            Moscow can’t guarantee stability everywhere. Indeed, as an article in “Nezavisimaya gazeta” warned yesterday, it cannot nor can anyone else predict just where a revolution will break out. The best anyone can do is to explain a revolution once it occurs and that is not always easy either (ru/stsenarii/2014-02-25/9_tree.html).

            But because no government wants instability on its own borders which could spread inside them, it can and Moscow should, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” says, expand its contacts with opposition groups across the region.  It should have been doing so long ago, the paper’s editors say, but “it is still not too late to start.”

            This “Nezavisimaya gazeta” editorial follows one from yesterday which argued that Russia does not face a Maidan-like challenge anytime soon but that Moscow needs to learn from what has happened in Ukraine if it is to correct what the paper calls its “main mistake” in dealing with Russian society (

            While there are some similarities between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, the differences are still more important with regard to the possibility of a Russian Maidan, the paper says.  Ukrainians have more experience with demonstrations, and the Russian state is simultaneously more effective in using force and enjoys greater legitimacy.

            But those differences do not mean that Moscow does not have something to learn from Kyiv if Russia is to avoid a Maidan of its own, the editors say.  “The chief mistake” which the Maidan shows that Moscow has been making, they continue, is to assume that a regime can deal with its political opponents by repression and “the liquidation of the alternative elite” alone.

            “The Russian authorities consider the counter-elite to be liberal and therefore unpopular and with no chance for success.”  But such a view, the paper suggests, is “not too far-sighted.”  Under conditions of economic hardship, anger even within Russian society may grow to the point where it could overwhelm the capacity of the regime to contain it.

            However, the editors say, “the conclusions which the ruling elite can draw from the Ukrainian events are more likely to consist in a faith that their own path is correct,” that Yanukovich was simply incompetent, and that a more clever use of force by Moscow will mean that a Russian Maidan won’t happen.

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