Moscow ’s Own Policies Costing It Influence in Neighboring States, Russian Analyst Says

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Jun 26 01:07:32 UTC 2007

Window on Eurasia: Moscow's Own Policies Costing It Influence in Neighboring
States, Russian Analyst

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 25 – Moscow is itself to blame for its declining influence in
the former Soviet republics, a Russian commentator argues, because it has
failed to articulate a well-thought-out policy for the region, to develop
sufficient expertise on these countries, or even to decide what would
constitute "success" for Russia there. In an essay posted online on Friday,
Oleg Nemenskiy says Moscow is currently missing what may be its last good
chance to regain the influence it has lost over the last 15 years. Moreover,
he says, it is engaging in counterproductive policies that strengthen its
opponents and weaken its friends (

As evidence of that, Nemenskiy points to the recent Russian attacks on
Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip. Instead of further weakening the
unpopular politician, Moscow's actions had the effect of leading Estonians
to form ranks around him lest it appear they were kowtowing to the Kremlin.
But that mistake, the Moscow analyst argues, is itself the product of three
much larger problems – the Russian government's inability to come up with a
useful definition of compatriot, its commitment to the stability of existing
governments above all, and its inability to move beyond Soviet-era
ideological shibboleths on World War II.

First of all, he argues, Moscow's long-standing problems with defining
"compatriots abroad" in a consistent way have had the effect of
"interfering" with the Russian government's ability to pursue a more
sensible policy across the post-Soviet space. At present, he says, the
official definition of this category of people is so broad that Moscow
cannot help the ethnic Russians of Estonia because they are no more
"compatriots" of the Russian Federation than the Estonians because the
latter also lived within what Moscow saw as Soviet borders. "Nowhere in the
legal code of the Russian Federation is its statehood connected with the
Russian people," Nemenskiy says, adding that "the term 'Russian people' [in
the ethno-national sense] is absent" in the country's constitution as well.
The 1996 Nationality Policy Concept was an exception, but it was never
adopted as a law.
Currently, the analyst notes, officials and experts are fighting over a new
edition of that concept paper. If some earlier drafts of that document gave
hope, the Kremlin appears to have backed away from a clear statement,
something that Nemenskiy argues is necessary for working with ethnic
Russians in the former Soviet space.

Second, Nemenskiy continues, Moscow's commitment to being a stabilizing
influence in the post-Soviet space and a guarantor of the power of
post-Soviet elites, while not necessarily a bad thing in all respects, has
meant that unlike the U.S., Russia has not worked with opposition groups
Not only does that mean the Moscow loses influence whenever the opposition
comes to power, Nemenskiy says, but it means that the opposition almost
inevitably defines itself as more anti-Russian than would need to be the
case, something that does not augur well for the future. And third – and
this is the most potentially explosive of Nemenskiy's charges – Moscow
remains locked in Soviet-era ideological "cliches" about World War II, a
situation that is indefensible because the building of "the Soviet people"
is no longer the task before Moscow. Consequently, Russia needs to change

Nemenskiy suggests that Russians must recognize that a number of peoples
whom Moscow had viewed "as part of the Soviet community in fact are not
representatives of the victorious side" in the Great Fatherland War.
Instead, these nations, including the Estonians among others, view the
Soviet army not as a liberator but as an occupier. In trying to devise a
strategy to gain influence with such people, he continues, Moscow does not
need to sacrifice its view that the Red Army was "a holy force." Instead, it
needs to find formulae that allow both sides to put this issue into their
past rather than serve as a continuing reason for division. Nemenskiy
suggests that Polish writer E. Pomianowski's notion that one should speak
"not about liberation but about the salvation of the peoples of Central and
Eastern Europe by Soviet forces" may be precisely the kind of language that
would not sacrifice Russia's position but would allow it to have a positive
influence with others.

Unfortunately, he continues, there are two reasons for pessimism that Moscow
will in fact change its course on these questions anytime soon. On the one
hand, because foreign policy is inevitably an extension of domestic
politics, nationalist passions in the upcoming elections will make it
difficult for Moscow to shift. And on the other, Moscow today simply does
not know enough or pay enough attention to its neighbors, Nemenskiy insists.
Instead, it is like an elephant surrounded by mosquitoes. For the latter,
the elephant is something they cannot avoid, but for the former, the latter
are things it routinely ignores as it seeks to interact with other
elephants. At present, the Moscow commentator continues, there are no
university programs on these countries. No one in Russia studies them. And
as a result, "instead of being the leading specialists in the world on the
peoples of the former Russian Empire and Soviet Union, we are almost the
least informed about them."

That will have to change along with the current defective policy framework,
Nemenskiy concludes, if Russia is going to recoup its losses in these
countries and transform the current situation in which Russians view five
post-Soviet states among the six countries most antagonistic to their own.

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