Tuesday, December 13, 2016

‘If the Russians Come Back Again, They Won’t Be Constrained by Communism’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 13 –Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who has just completed his service as president of Estonia, once remarked that “if the Russians come back again, they won’t be constrained by communism” and the rule they would impose on non-Russians would be much worse and hence the likelihood that any new “union” end violently would increase.

            His words should be remembered not only by those in Russia who are following Mikhail Gorbachev’s suggestion this week that a new union could be established within the borders of the USSR but also those in the West who may assume that any such entity would not be a threat to others and to itself.

            A Russian-nationalist Russia as the Moscow-centered country is increasingly becoming under Vladimir Putin could only hope to dominate that region by the kind of force and violence that not even Stalin dreamed of and that would immediately provoke resistance and begin to disintegrate in violent ways.

            Speaking to TASS today, the first and only Soviet president said that it is not possible to restore the Soviet Union but that it is possible to restore a Union “in its former borders and with the same composition, in a voluntary fashion … I consider that a new Union can come into existence” (tass.ru/opinions/interviews/3865994).  (regions.ru/news/2596703/).

            Polls show that Vladimir Putin and more than half of the population of the Russian Federation regret the demise of the USSR and that Russians would like to have the USSR back. But that goes beyond what Putin has said and most believe; and it is noteworthy that his spokesman refused to comment on Gorbachev’s remark (govoritmoskva.ru/news/102793/).

            The Regions.ru portal, as it often does, summed up reaction to Gorbachev’s remarks by citing the comments a Duma member and a CIS business center official gave to other outlets and interviewing a Moscow-based Russian researcher (regions.ru/news/2596703/).

Yevgeny Fedorov, a United Russia Duma deputy, told Nation-News.ru that he is “certain that a new Union will be created.”  This isn’t about the choice of people now, he said; “this is an issue of the results of World War II.” At that time, the entire world recognized the borders of the USSR that were established at the cost of 30 million lives (nation-news.ru/231381-v-gosdume-veryat-v-sozdanie-novogo-soyuza-v-granicah-sssr).

That remains a unifying factor, he continued, as does Russia’s possession of nuclear weapons. Any major international clash, such as the Caribbean crisis “will lead to the restoration of the state in these borders.” But “this will not happen only as a result of foreign pressure.” Interest in reunification is obvious to anyone “who knows the laws of politics.”

Vladimir Savchenko, the director of the CIS business center, is somewhat more nuanced in his views.  In thinking about the future, one must start by recognizing that those who were 10 when the USSR collapsed are now 35 and that “half of the population of Russia” and “more than half” of some other former republics “does not remember” the Soviet Union (rueconomics.ru/212791-novogo-soyuza-ne-izbezhat-predskazanie-gorbacheva-sbudetsya-neozhidannym-sposobom).

“Of course,” he continues, “the present-day states on the territory of the former USSR are strongly attached to their sovereignty, and in many of them there are nationalistic tendencies in politics. But integration processes are occurring, chiefly in the economic sphere … and new unions are emerging not according to a territorial principle but to a completely different one.”

And Aleksey Zudin, an expert at the Moscow Institute for Socio-Economic and Political Research, said that it is hard to imagine that the USSR could be restored, especially in its former borders.  There are integrative projects led by Russia, and none of the other efforts at integration have succeeded.

According to the researcher, “integration processes with the participation of the Russian Federation have been successfully going on for a long time. Here is the Union State, and the Eurasian Economic Union and the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty, and one should mention the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.”

All this, Zudin says,, “points to the fact that the extent of integration exceeds those which existed during the period of the existence of the USSR, and they go far beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union. This is our new reality and world-wide processes are promoting the success of integration.”

But to say this does not mean that the USSR will reemerge given that “the elites of part of the countries [on the former Soviet space] have  chosen not in favor of a union with Russia: they are involved in geopolitical groupings opposed to us,” Zudin said, adding that “of course this is not the choice of [their] peoples.”

Gorbachev clearly did not learn what he might from his own experience. His time in office demonstrated that a liberal Russia might have been possible but a liberal Soviet Union would be a contradiction in terms. Now, with Russia smaller and weaker, other countries larger, stronger and more integrated with others, the prospects for a liberal “union” are nonexistent.

Fortunately for the nations that had been ruled from Moscow during Soviet times, the USSR avoided a Yugoslav-type demise 25 years ago, something Gorbachev can take some credit for; but if Gorbachev and those who think like him get their way this time, the entity they want to create won’t be able to avoid an even greater disaster the second time around.

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