Thursday, March 14, 2024

That Former Soviet Republics were ‘Once Together’ Doesn’t Mean They Still Are or That Their Common Past is a Sufficient Basis Now for Policy, Rakeda Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 9 – Mikhail Shvydkoy, once described the post-Soviet space as consisting of “countries which at some point in the past were together,” a euphemism for the more widely used “former Soviet republics,” Darya Rekeda says. In the 1990s, this seemed a useful notion, but it is now clear that these countries are “not together anymore.”

            In the current issue of Russia in Global Affairs, the HSE scholar argues that neither the West, nor the former Soviet republics, nor Russia are fully aware of the fact that the terms each uses for this portion of the globe carries with it often unexamined assumptions about the nature of relations there (

            “While Western researchers propose using the term ‘new states,’ thus focusing on the subjectivity of each country, Rakeda continues, “the ‘post-Soviet states’ themselves do not use analogues of this term, focusing instead on certain subregions with which they now identify – Central Asia, the South Caucasus, the Baltics and so on.”

            In contrast, Russian researchers and policy makers continue to use the term “near abroad” and to define it as “the post-Soviet space,” she says, arguing that this is appropriate because they are still connected because of their pasts and “’they aren’t going anywhere.” One result of this is that Moscow still approaches the region as a whole rather than focus on individual differences.

             But the current turbulence in the world shows that there are four new “realities” which mean that treating the former republics in such an undifferentiated way is wrong and counter-productive. First of all, “we now longer are an immutable cultural-historical community.” Thirty-three years have passed since the USSR died, and a generation has arisen which never knew it.

            Moreover, across this portion of the globe the states have presented pictures of this past which mean ever more people reject it and all its works, including even victory in World War II. In short, Rakeda says, the people in these countries “do not think of themselves as post-Soviet as they no longer are.”

            The second new reality is that “we do not know one another.” Few travel from one of these countries to another and thus do not know first hand what things are like; and even those who are supposed to be experts make their assessments on the basis of reports on the Internet rather than direct observation.

            The third new reality is that “serious economic cooperation does not mean even moderate political loyalty. Instead, some countries develop trade intensively but then go off in their own directions for non-economic reasons. Armenia over the last three years is a classic case: trade with Russia has grown but ties between the two countries have soured.

And the fourth new reality, one Russians are especially loathe to acknowledge, is this: “alternative centers of power exist.” Moscow is not the only choice available to people in the other countries, and they are now increasingly interested in and allied with these centers rather than constantly thinking about “their common past.”

Among Russians, “there is a great temptation” to blame all of this as the roduct of “anti-Russian campaigns and the machinations of alternative centers of power. Yes, but … Because in many ways, this is more likely the result of inertia in our own country in the absence of setting clearly defined goals.”

If Russia is to achieve the most for itself, Rakeda suggests, it much recognize the new realities and work with them rather than singing an old song about how “we were all together” in the past and so must be now.

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