Thursday, November 19, 2020

Moscow’s Focus on US and Power of Oligarchs Combine to Cost Russia Influence among CIS Countries, Tetekin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 17 – Vyacheslav Tetekin, a former Soviet diplomat who has served in the Duma, says that Russia is losing its positions in the post-Soviet republics not just because other powers are active there but also because Russian diplomacy is obsessed with the US and because Russian foreign policy is all too often driven by the interests of the oligarchs.

            It has always been the case, he writes in the current issue of Voyenno-Promyshlenny Kuryer that Moscow has focused on the US as its main competitor; but in Soviet times, he says, the foreign policy establishment included experts who knew about all the regions of the world and was not overruled by the oligarchs whose narrow interests often undermine Russian ones.

            Nowhere has this combination had a more negative influence than in the capitals of the former Soviet republics where Russian diplomats are ignored either because Moscow is focusing first and foremost on the United States or because Russian oligarchs don’t want Moscow to do anything that would harm their economic interests (

As a result, the Kremlin has not responded or even paid much attention to trends such as mistreatment of ethnic Russians or moves by these countries away from Moscow because doing so in a touch way could compromise the ability of the oligarchs to make money; and this is way the sharp breaks now across the entire region are such a surprise to some in the Russian capital.

Americanists and oligarchs not only dominate the foreign policy establishment including at the Kremlin, but they come to ensure that those in the diplomatic service who know what is going on are not in a position to be taken seriously when they issue warnings or to win out when they suggest Moscow take action.

As a result, Russian diplomacy in these countries is always several steps behind and is hobbled by the fact that some of the most obvious levers Moscow has, such as controlling the number of migrant workers and thus of transfer payments back, won’t be used as they should be because the wealth of the oligarchs would be affected.

Tetekin, who spent most of his diplomatic career in African countries, reflects the views of many diplomats who work in areas their own governments do not consider central. But his warning and the many cases he provides in support of his argument are striking, particularly so given his implicit criticism of Vladimir Putin’s responsibility for problems in the CIS.

His words are from Moscow’s point of view bleak: “The CIS countries are departing. The consequences of this failure will be most serious for the economy, defensive capacity and international authority of Russia. The vector of our foreign policy must be changed immediately.”

“If we do not restore friendly relations with out nearest neighbors, then the security of Russia will be under great threat. Russia still has opportunities to do this but they are rapidly fading.” Officials in Moscow need to recognize that Russia can’t be a major power if it is reduced to “complete isolation.”

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