Staunton, November 19 – Moscow has repeatedly expressed concern about the risks that generational succession among the leaders of the former Soviet republics will involve instability, but few in Moscow have focused on something far more certain: each new generation of leaders in these countries will have less in common with their Russian counterparts.
Now, however, some Moscow commentators, including Tikhon Sysoyev and Modest Kolerov, are focusing on that looming reality because as Sysoyev puts it, “Russia has avoided international isolation, but still finds itself geopolitical loneliness,” including on the post-Soviet space (expert.ru/expert/201945/matritsa-postsovetskoj-elityi/).
According to Sysoyev, there are three basic reasons for this on the post-Soviet space. First and “above all, the post-Soviet bureaucracy has passed through a logical path from informal ties and common nostalgic recollections which united the generation of the communist nomenklatura of the times of ‘Brezhnevite stagnation’ to a new set of relations” lacking these values.
“In a number of post-Soviet republics, the local elite has become significantly younger and imbibed different values as students at Western universities,” he continues. “as Modest Kolerov, the chief editor of the Regnum news agency put it … ‘they already do not have any social closeness to ‘colleagues’ across the border because nothing unites the two.”
“The do not have common memories, they haven’t drunk vodka together and they haven’t applauded together at party congresses.”
Second, “the countries of the CIS have felt the powerful economic influence of other Eurasian giants. Russia which was rapidly becoming poorer in the 1990s could not offer the post-Soviet elites a full plate. As a result, the Central Asian region came under the powerful influence of China while the countries of the eastern European and partially Caucasian regions did the same with the EU.”
And third, “even after the powerful economic leap of the 2000s, Russia wasn’t able to formulate a value-laden ideological platform for integration,” and the structures it did promote rapidly ran out of steam and “were successfully torpedoes by our geopolitical opponents,” Sysoyev says.
As a result, he continues, “today, the post-Soviet elite having passed through its primary path of development, from the disappointments of sovereignty to the search for an independent political and economic strategy is frozen in a unique ‘point of bifurcation.’ At any moment, it is ready to accelerate its movement away from ‘the center.’”
“The format of the CIS still continues to fulfill its function for ‘a civilized divorce.’” It is a formal framework, a kind of ‘corset,’ which one way or another still allows for the support of a certain balance of peace and security on the post-Soviet space and keeps in check extremist elite groups.”
But “the further splitting apart and weakening of this framework is a question of time. Therefore, the only real condition for the reanimation of the post-Soviet space is a significant qualitative economic breakthrough by Russia which must become for Eurasia what Germany has recently become for Europe.”
If Russia remains a raw materials exporter alone, then Russia in its relations with its neighbors will be more “a hostage than a powerful hegemon,” even if it is able to maintain some “rickety construct under the name ‘post-Soviet integration.’ And Moscow won’t be able to develop broad economic, political or ideological proposals for the CIS countries.”
Instead, Moscow’s policies toward them will be reactive rather than strategic, and the reintegration of the former Soviet space will be impossible, particularly because the new generation of leaders in the former republics will have less and less in common with those in Moscow. They may continue to speak Russian, but they won’t have “a common language.”