By General Oleg Kalugin (Retired)

When Moscow’s recent protestations against the eastward expansion of NATO turned into thinly veiled threats to resurrect some form of anti-Western military-political alliance, they were dismissed offhandedly as a propaganda ploy designed to appease President YELTSIN’s domestic critics, whining loudly over the loss of the mighty Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, however far-fetched the Kremlin’s scheming may appear, the idea of a new Union or Confederation, rather than the loose, unruly, and ineffective Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is far from dead.  Russian Foreign Minister Andrei KOZYREV has often been attacked in the media for lacking a comprehensive and vigorous policy towards the so-called ‘near abroad’.  In roundtable discussions with prominent Russian politicians on November 17, KOZYREV heard renewed appeals to pay special attention to CIS countries and former Warsaw Pact allies.  “Even they see the light,” observed influential centrist politician Arkady VOLSKY, referring to his recent visit to some capitals in Eastern Europe.

While Russia doesn’t conceal her growing interest in reestablishing closer ties with her erstwhile colonies, she is checked in her practical moves by YELTSIN’s earlier declarations that each of the Soviet republics may have as much sovereignty as they wish.  Internal instability, compounded by the adventurous and brutal military intervention in Chechnya, has also tied up the Russian president.  It is a historic irony that the first democratically elected Russian leader has today a far lower popular approval than his colleagues in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Uzbekistan, or Azerbaijan.  No wonder the response from the ‘near abroad’ to Russia’s feelers has been muted so far, to say the least.  In fact, having survived the initial shock of separation, and in their search for identity and new supports, they finally realized they can make it independently, without Mother Russia.  The Baltic states, which always felt trapped by the Soviets, surged forward to cement their long-craved-for bonds with the West.  Ukraine has displayed unflagging resistance to Russian encroachment on the Crimea and is bargaining hard to win their share of the Black Sea Fleet.  Moldova leans more and more towards neighboring Romania.  Arch enemies in their simmering conflict over Karabakh, Armenia and Azerbaijan seem to have come to some sort of tacit accommodation to cease hostilities between the two countries.

In November, Eduard SHEVARDNADZE, one of the most astute politicians of the Soviet era, won the newly-created post of Georgian president by a landslide.  In his inaugural address he said, “Rule of law, open civic society, socially-oriented market economy… these are the paramount objectives and challenges.”  For a man who barely survived a recent attempt on his life by political opponents, to put rule of law above everything else is a sign of new times coming to the ancient Caucasian land.

While in the Transcaucasian region, particularly Armenia and Georgia, some pro-Russian sentiments, deeply rooted in history, still exist.  Central Asian republics have been steadily sliding towards the Muslim world, bolstered by the promise of their natural wealth, and secular Turkey continues to naturally extend its influence.  The old ways endure in Central Asia, with Turkmenistan thrown back into feudal dictatorship and Tajikistan and Uzbekistan still controlled by unreformed communists dressed in national attires.  However, the $8 billion ‘deal of the century’ Caspian Sea oil development project, in which 12 major Western oil companies are involved, can drastically transform the Kazakh steppes, Turkmen deserts, and Azeri villages.  Georgia will be one of the beneficiaries, with Caspian oil flowing across the region to the Black Sea.  The oil producing states of Central Asia and Transcaucasia have been deemed the new oil emirates of the next century.  If so, real changes, stability and independence, may soon follow.

Russia has been jealously and grudgingly watching the process of negotiations, trying to get what they perceive as their fair share of the pie.  It was President CLINTON who convinced Azeri President Geidar ALIYEV to use the multiple routing option (through Russia and Georgia) for the export of early oil.

Today, as President YELTSIN looks around he will not find reliable partners for his, or his successor’s, blueprint for a new meaningful alliance.  Except perhaps one – Belarussian President Aleksandr LUKASHENKO.  Even if LUKASHENKO fails to bolster Russia’s military-political stance vis-a-vis NATO, he may render YELTSIN a great service – officially requesting, as he has already blurted out in public, to join Russia as a part of a new federation.  In this case, in one stroke, YELTSIN can legitimately solve some of his most nagging problems: getting rid of the hostile new Duma and postponing, ad infinitum, presidential elections set for June 16 of next year.  After all, the new state will need time to organize and be recognized by the world community.

December 1995

Daily Report on Russia

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Daily Report on Russia and the Former Soviet Republics.

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