Staunton, July 23 – Many Russians were pleased that the demise of the Soviet Union meant that the rapidly growing Muslim populations of the Central Asian republics were beyond the state borders of the Russian Federation and thus would no longer be a brake on the desire of Russians for development and even a certain Westernization.
But their happiness has been short-lived, Versiya commentator Aleksandr Kuzmin says, because while the Central Asian republics may now be independent countries, large numbers of their populations have moved to Russia and are transforming it into the Central Asia of today (versia.ru/kak-rossiya-vstala-na-evropejskij-put-razvitiya-i-vse-ravno-stala-chastyu-srednej-azii).
And as a result, the developments many Russians in 1991 hoped for and expected has not happened. Instead, what they viewed as a burden then has become an even heavier one on them and their future now, holding Russia back from the kind of development they wanted and simultaneously bringing that Muslim abroad into their own neighborhoods.
Russia’s attempts since 1991 to “leave the southern regions beyond its state borders has led to a situation in which border between civilizations has shifted to within Moscow itself,” Kuzmin says. In 1959, there were only about 7,000 Tajiks in the RSFSR; but by the end of Soviet times, there were more than 200,000 and now there are well over a million.
The Soviet government tried to develop Central Asia in part to liquidate “the social marginalization” of its people but also to hold them there. But this plan backfired: Moscow had to dispatch Russians, Ukrainians and others from the European parts of the country, only to see ever more Central Asians come in the opposite direction.
Until the end of Soviet times, Moscow kept this influx to a minimum; but with the collapse of the propiska system and other “archaic” mechanisms, it lost control and has become a magnet for young, uneducated, rural males especially from Tajikistan but from other Central Asian countries as well.
As a result, Moscow did not “lose” the ballast that Central Asians represented; it simply allowed that weight to shift from beyond the borders of the Russian republic to within its major cities. That “ballast” includes not only the social costs of low-paid gastarbeiters but the costs related to heroine traffic and crime, organized or not.
And because of Tajikistan’s location and the violence spreading from Afghanistan, that is now being translated into Russia by Tajiks who have come for one purpose or another. The Russian security services are naturally concerned about the influence of the Afghan war and Islamism as well.
What is happening in addition, Kuzmin says, is that Russia is being drawn into Central Asia not only because of those fears but also because both supporters and opponents of governments in the region are to be found on Russian territory. If the Tajik government collapses, that situation will become even worse.
Russia’s security services are already affected by this combination of immigration and geopolitics, and “as the experience of world history shows, very often the special services are drawn into” this shadowy world and degraded as a result, with even more negative consequences for the country as a whole.
In sum, the Versiya analyst says, “having said farewell to Tajikistan at the beginning of the 1990s, we are encountering it again not just at the bottom of the social pyramid but at the highest political levels, remaining in essence as before its hostages,” not because of “geopolitics” but rather because of “a banal shadow economy.”