Russia’s ‘‘Near Abroad’’

Barack Obama may enjoy Some uncomfortable moments by downgrading Russia as a regional power but that doesn’t change the ground reality in Ukraine and a number of former Soviet republics. Russia under Putin is trying to expand with a definite plan. It is unlikely for Moscow to dismiss the provocation being stoked up on its border, lightly. In truth Russia’s renewed mission to incorporate regions and areas with predominantly ethnic Russians in former Soviet republics into Russian federation proper is now an open secret.

Train loads of Russian tanks, along with heavy artillery, Rocket-launchers and armoured troop carriers have moved westwards from Central Russia and Siberia. This adds another 6000 to 8000 Russian soldiers, along the borders of Ukraine or occupied Crimea, to the 30000 Russian soldiers already stationed there. Many of the fourteen former Soviet Republics in Russia’s ‘‘near abroad’’ are playing a balancing act between Russia and the West. Azerbaijan, the oil rich country in the south Caucasus has a Russian radar base in Baku. Georgia, lost about 20% of its territory, when Russia cemented its control of two breakway republics, Ossetia and Abkhazia, in the 2008 war. In central Asia, Kazakhstan is one of only two full members of President Putin’s Customs Union. Armenia declined in 2013, an EU Association agreement, similar to the one offered to Ukraine, and began moving towards membership of Russia’s Customs Union. A 2010 revolution in Kyrghystan, installed a regime which voted to close the US airbase at Manas. USA had an airbase in Uzbekistan till 2005. Uzbekistan is building close military partnerships with China and the West. With half of GDP coming from citizens in Russia, Tajikistan is the former republic most dependent on remittances. Estonia joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, and has been experiencing frequent political discord with Russia. Belarus finds a Russian Crimea a comfortable vacation destination for Belarusians. There is a sizeable population of ethnic Russians in Lithuania, which joined the EU and NATO in 2004. Moldova has about 1 million Moldovans working in Russia, and about half as many working in the EU. Russia has propped up Moldova’s break-away republic of Transnistria. Russia as a superpower supports Moldova, as Europe searches for economic ties with former Soviet Republics.

With the recent Russian putsch in Ukraine, great Russia chauvinism is back in the air. With so many Russian lives sacrificed in the Great Patriotic War in the fight to bury fascism, it is a matter of months, if not days, to mobilise Russian public opinion against the US-EU design to encircle Russia. Putin is gaining both at home and abroad, politically, by exhibiting super-power mentality at a time when it is not that easy for the lone superpower to unilaterally impose its diktats on unwilling regimes across the globe. Russia has lost the Soviet Union but it is very much in motion to acquire more territorities with exclusive Russian speaking population—a legacy of Soviet era chauvinistic domination. During the Soviet regime the demographic pattern in most former Soviet republics changed dramatically and Putin’s Russia is unlikely to abandon those gains they acquired during those years of ‘socialist euphoria’ and ‘social imperial’ culture.

Vol. 46, No. 41, Apr 20 - 26, 2014