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Tuesday, April 19th, 2005


Intriguing and perceptive observations were made by Dan of tdaxp and CKR of Whirledview in response to my “Weimar Russia” post. Here is Dan on my worry of Russia breaking apart:

“The one thing I would change is that Russia’s disintegration does not have to be against our interest. So far it has been very positive.Since at least the early 1980s Moscow has been trading geopolitical power for working capital. Every step of this journey has freed nations from Moscow’s grip and increased liberalization and connectivity with the “global” econony.From Eastern European countries having to raise international capital, to the fall of the Soviet Outer Empire in 1989, to the fall of the Soviet Inner Empire in 1991, to Georgia’s, Moldvoa’s. and Ukraine’s recent realignments, we are winning. Even now, a free Ukraine is better than a Moscow-dominated Ukraine. As Russia falls the concern should be to connect the succssor states to us, not to save their connection with Moscow. “

CKR, addressed Dan’s point as follows ( more on CKR ‘s other point later):

“The problem is, Dan, that there is one gigantic lump of state that isn’t going away. Let Chechnya and a few others of what the Soviet Union called autonomous republics go, and you’ll still have an enormous state with enormous natural resources and strategic placement. And some of those will never be let go, because they’re surrounded by…Russia.Whether Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will turn out “free” is still open. But I suspect that you don’t care, as long as they are aligned with “the West.” And geography is destiny there, too. That “West” is more likely to be Europe than the US. They can’t pick up and move to Kansas.”

My commentary:

Dan’s connectivity observations regarding what we might call the first great centrifugal wave of nationalism that rocked the Soviet empire concerned true nation-states, all of which had previous experience with political independence, however briefly and long cultural histories. Georgian and Armenian historical memory stretch back to antiquity, the Ukranians to Kievan Rus, St. Cyril and Byzantine tutelage in Chritianity and civilization. A few of the original memnbers of the Commonwealth of Independent States like Belarus, Moldova and Tadjikstan have somewhat shakier national pedigrees but all of them outshine the potential aspirants of the second centrifugal wave battering Russia, of which the Chechens are but the cutting edge.

Currently Becker and Posner are debating the viability of small states, arguing in the main that the current world economic and political climate is more receptive to the survival of small polities. I agree provided the polities come with good governance – something I have grave doubts can be achieved by numerically tiny peoples like the Ossetians, Kalmyks, Mingrelians, Abkhazians who are little more than tribes yearning for flags, dominated politically by mafiya oligarchs and ex-Communist thugs.

Perhaps a free Tartarstan can make the grade, being larger and having oil but I don’t forsee a Yakut, Daghestani or Ingush state anytime soon petitioning for admittance to the WTO. They simply aren’t yet playing in the same civil society league that the Lithuanians were in in 1990 and at present the retreat of Russian power from these territories today is apt to spawn a constellation of failed states – a subsaharan Africa on the Caspian.

It isn’t that these peoples are not entitled to democracy and connectivity, it’s that the prospects of connecting them to the West are likely to be higher in reasonably-sized economic and political units that are not awash in complete anarchy.

I will deal with CKR’s identification of the failure to implement a Russian Marshall Plan in the 1990’s as one cause of today’s problems in another post.

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005


Pundita had an excellent post on Russia that I encourage you to look at that continues to elaborate on her DSSK theme. This post led me to read through her file cabinet on Russia and Ukraine – more specifically, on American foreign policy toward those states. Pundita’s observations have a good deal of congruency with my views and with those of Soviet specialists like Tom Nichols who has excoriated the last decade of State department bumbling in the states of the former Soviet Union. For those hoping for a reprise of the Orange Revolution in Moscow, Pundita offered this caveat:

“America is now out there on the cutting edge, advocating democracy as a cure for the world’s most deeply entrenched social ills. So the Democracy Stage Show Kit should be deployed with great caution and only when all other avenues have been exhausted. Whatever we gain at the moment from slapdash use of the kit is lost when disillusionment with faux democracy sets in..”

I am admittedly, an enthusiastic advocate of exporting democracy. And I have looked with dismay at the creeping authoritarianism in Russia under Vladmir Putin but before we contemplate giving his illiberal but semi- democratic regime a bump into modernity, we need to consider that right now Russia is teetering on the edge of an abyss. We need to pull them back to the Western camp, not shove them toward the precipice

That Russia stands peering over the edge is mostly the fault of the Russians themselves but if they topple in we cannot avoid having to deal with the resultant, very dangerous, mess. America needs Russia in the New Core and not as a member of the Gap. Russia as an embittered, revanchist, hypernationalist, rogue state or a disintegrating, strife-torn, ” Yugo-Eurasia” would be a first class disaster for American national security. We need to put Putin and Russia in a a larger historical and cultural context if we are to understand how to help the Russians move in the direction of liberty and prosperity. First some hard truths:

  • First, few nations in the last three hundred years have suffered greater devastation or steeper decline in a shorter space of time than has Russia. The last century saw the loss of roughly 50 million Russians killed by war and Stalinist terror, only to see the extent of the Kremlin’s influence pushed back to the borders of Old Muscovy. For purposes of comparison, it would be like the United States suddenly reverting to the territory it held after the Lousiana Purchase. The potential for political extremism here is rife.
  • Putin is popular with ordinary Russians and the elite – both the corrupt oligarchs and the democratically-minded liberal intelligentsia – are not. Russians have always preferred a tough Vozhd – a ” supreme leader” – who will ” put shoes ” on the petty tyrants who make their lives miserable. Back in 1843, the Marquis de Custine wrote in his Empire of the Czar: “There is a class of persons which corresponds to the citizen class among us, though without possessing the firmness of character derived from an independent position, and the experience obtained by means of liberty of thought and cultivation of mind: This is the class of subaltern employees or secondary nobility. The ideas of these men are generally turned toward innovations, whilst their acts are the most despotic that are committed in a despotism: this is the class which, in spite of the emperor, governs the empire” Little has changed. Russians favor the Tsar over the Boyar because the Tsar is far away.
  • Russia has little of value to sell the world except Soviet weaponry, nuclear technology, natural gas, oil and its good behavior. The higher the oil prices remain the stronger the position Putin will be in to push through desperately needed reforms.
  • The democratic alternative to Putin in the Duma is weak, divided and unpopular. The undemocratic alternative in the Duma is divided and unpopular but far from weak. In the provinces too, they are watching to see if Putin can clamp down on Chechnya. If he cannot, expect Russia to start unravelling as ethnic groups that few Americans have ever heard of go into revolt. This is one reason among many that Putin has reasserted Moscow’s administrative control over the governorships.
  • Putin has centralized military and intelligence agency powers directly in his own hands like no Russian leader since Joseph Stalin. Putin however, is no Stalin nor does he have the extent of control over the levers of coercion that Stalin had. The system is simply too corrupt to be reliable and for all the emphasis on Putin’s KGB background, his actions indicate he trusts the SVR and FSB less than the Army.

I mention these things not because a democratic, free market, Westernized, Russia as a solid member of the Core is impossible but that we are confined to work within these realities to achieve it.

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