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Placing the Central Asia Region in the Equation of Neo-Colonialism Promoted by Russia

Placing the Central Asia Region in the Equation of Neo-Colonialism Promoted by Russia

The reconsideration of Russia’s foreign policy[1] was made under the condition that, as a result of the steep increase in international prices for crude oil and natural gas, considerable financial resources flooded into the state treasury. With their help, the Russian authorities have slightly improved the standard of living of citizens and, on the assumption of the continuity of the windfall, it was considered appropriate to launch for public reflection the topic of the international role of the state entity inheriting the foreign policy issues of the former Soviet Union. At the centre of these efforts was an objective which was difficult to reject for the Russian citizens, to regain the historical honour and to preserve the integrity of the space in which Russia exerts its natural influence. At first, the international community did not attach much importance to these signals, taking some time to notice the pitfalls of these internal and foreign policy messages. There were also some concrete moves on the geopolitical arena. Russian troops were involved in a brief war in Georgia in 2008 over Georgia’s attempt to bring separatist regions back under Tbilisi’s authority, in 2010 the non-military pressure on Kyrgyzstan made itself felt, and in 2014 the first overt military actions in Ukraine started, after years of non-kinetic hybrid warfare and lawfare. 

A pattern emerges 

It became obvious that some of the basic principles contained in the UN Charter (in particular respect for the territorial integrity of the states, the interference in the internal affairs of others, the sovereign equality) are no longer the basic foundations of a new geopolitical system underwritten by the Russian authorities. The somewhat discreet and delayed reaction of the Western chanceries was due to fears that a more radical position would appear to be embedded in the defining logic of the Cold War, which Western decision-makers were trying to detach from. What became more and more obvious to the careful analysts of the movements that took place was the fact that, instead of being specific and distinct actions of the Russian Government, they were all clearly within the scope of an aggregate strategy that had long-term goals. both internally and internationally. In other words, the aim was to “rebuild” a Soviet Union - it is true, under other conditions and by other means, but still one in which the hegemon is the Russian Federation with undisputed authority in its near abroad. It may be easy to point out that the actions taken by Russia were not reactive (meant to respond to developments on the part of neighbours considered threatening), but proactive, in that they were part of an articulated approach pursued regardless of the stimuli that came from that region or beyond.

There is also a strange excess of transparency, especially of the rhetorical type, which causes the political leader of Russia to organize more public conferences and to make more statements than his counterparts in the big democratic states.

Supporting this idea are all of the attempts to influence political developments in the states of the region, the annexation of Crimea, and the military support for secessionist movements. Labelling the dismantling of the USSR as “the major geopolitical disaster of the twentieth century”, Vladimir Putin announced the launch of the new type of economic integration on the former Soviet territory, but also the intention to propose to Russia’s closest partners progressing towards a full economic union and, in perspective, towards the most advanced stage of integration, that of political union. It is worth mentioning the initial change of geopolitical paradigm at the level of the American decision-makers, who had begun after 1991 to no longer consider Russia an enemy, attaching to it the qualification of a possible credible partner. In support of this perception came also what specialists described as a change of dominant logic in the attitude of the decision makers in Moscow, placing them in the area well described by the deterministic doctrine. 

Empires today 

We can say that the West fell into a trap according to which the actions taken by Russia were characterized by: “being based on the historical argument; taking the European Union as an example of success; good intention and openness to sustainable and mutually beneficial partnerships[2]. The imperial approach must be treated with the utmost care as history has fully demonstrated that no empire in the history of the world, when it reached its peak and entered decline, ever recovered, no matter who and how it attempted it.

There are analysts who do not agree with this idea, invoking the fact that the Tsarist Empire is an exception to the rule, with its “reincarnation” starting in 1920, through the USSR. This topic is not the subject of the present research, but it should be mentioned that things are not simple and comparisons taken out of context do not lead to robust and relevant results. The two agglomerations of peoples operated under fundamentally different geopolitical and geo-economic circumstances, were influenced by particular factors and used binding agents of a particular type. Neither of these two experiences can be used as a benchmark (this seems to be understood by the Russian Government) for Russia’s efforts to reposition itself as a relevant actor in the future geopolitical picture. The new current political-strategic and economic landscape requires the use of other categories of partnerships, the most powerful becoming: energy resources, infrastructural and info-structural corridors, training programs, finance and capital flows, monetary policies, migrant flows. New geopolitical strategies must start from identifying “global public goods” (and by referring to the “global public worsts”), creating the foundations of partnerships that determine their production and balanced dissemination and the need for cooperation between governmental and non-governmental plans.

Measures aimed at keeping states such as the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine or Armenia out of the association agreements proposed by the EU are entered in the bizarre register of a certain type of collective security.

Some analysts have signalled an intelligent decoupling between the fervour with which one talks about the main strategic objective (that of the restoration of Greater Russia) and the almost total silence on the concrete ways by which to act to achieve this goal. It becomes increasingly clear that there is a decoupling between the strategic and tactical plan, between the goals and means, between good intentions and the debatable ways of achieving them, between the public character of the strategic plans and the almost total secret nature of the tactical ones. One thing that should worry us is the massive centralization of the process, with only a small group of decision makers having access to the details being considered. This results in subversive actions, an idea based on the fact that, if there were no goals to be hidden from others, the process would also involve non-state actors (corporate actors, NGOs, other civil society groups) or sub-state actors (regions). There is also a strange excess of transparency, especially of the rhetorical type, which causes the political leader of Russia to organize more public conferences and to make more statements than his counterparts in the big democratic states. 

The causes of Russian conduct 

The causes of this behaviour are found in the specific institutional and democratic design of Russia. Despite some progress in the path of democracy and institutional transparency, this country still has a very large and influential government bureaucracy. As such, without placing the strategic dimension at the level of a single power centre, the mechanism can become blocked and inefficient. The leader of Moscow still considers the words democracy and disorder synonymous and conveys the message that Russia can only be led on the right path by “a strong hand”. The worrying part is that Western leaders (European and American) believe that their Russian counterpart can be drawn from the “network” he has created and attracted in modern and mutually beneficial partnerships. As one of the analysts of this geopolitical and geo-economic space emphasized[3], the problem of reintegration of the former Soviet space, initially at the level and with the help of economic mechanisms, was a constant of the foreign policy agendas of the Moscow decision-makers, as they were never reconciled with the idea of ​​losing influence in a region that they considered permanently as belonging to them.

Since 1995, the Kremlin authorities have decided that the issue of reintegration of the former Soviet space would become a strategic task of all government structures. As emphasized in the Russian media[4], this strategic task had to be viewed as a binder of the integrity of the Russian Federation, a complex entity subject to numerous centrifugal movements. The forms designed to serve this desire are among the most diverse. Among the most important actions were those contributing to the emergence of integrationist groups, having especially economic and commercial objectives. However, the attempts to relaunch intra-regional partnerships were not limited to the purely economic component. In the plane of military collaboration, since 1992, when the Tashkent Collective Security Treaty (CST) was laid, an arrangement that evolved into the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)[5], the message was transmitted that the great regional power wants to understand the principles of public international law and that it follows a line that cannot be labelled as a neo-colonial type.

In the case of Central Asia, the Russian authorities have to counterbalance another gravitational attraction, the one exerted by China, which uses economic levers to attract as many states as possible in its strategic projects.

It cannot be said that these outbreaks of foreign policy were kept purely on an intentional and unobtrusive level. Even top leaders in Moscow acknowledged, in 2008, after the military intervention in Georgia, that Russia has a number of special interests in certain states in the region, either in the form of a reconsideration of its geographical borders or in its sphere of influence[6]. It turned out a little while later that, in Russian ruling circles, the imperial-type format is considered the only functional one for governing a composite state with a very large surface area. A Russian analyst[7] emphasized that “Empire is the main category of any strategic political analysis in the Russian language. Whenever we start to ponder a full-scale, long-term construction of the Russian state, we begin to think of empire and in terms of empire. Russians are inherently imperialists”. 

Key quotes 

This type of attitude emanates from many foreign policy documents of the Russian administration. Thus, in 1999, the executive leadership in Moscow sent to the EU decision-making bodies a foreign policy document setting out some guidelines for the behaviour of Russian decision-makers. This document shows the basic pillars of the foreign policy promoted by the Moscow leadership, namely: “of a Euro-Asian state and largest country of the CIS. The development of a partnership with the EU should contribute to consolidating Russia’s role as the leading power in shaping a new system of interstate political and economic relations in the CIS area, and, thus, Russia would oppose any attempts at economic integration in the CIS [that may be made by the EU], including through ‘special relations’ with individual CIS member states to the detriment of Russia’s interest[8]. The main message of this quote is that the Russian decision-makers have as a profession of faith and as a strategy of internal and foreign policy the behaviour, at times undemocratic, even authoritarian, and the desire to create a regional integrationist block largely subordinated to their interests. They are driven to pursue their interests unhindered by Russia’s international obligations, and this behaviour should be recognized and accepted not only by its neighbours, but by the entire international community. We can say that this state of affairs is in no way different from what it was in the 1920s, when Stalin emphasized that “only two alternatives confront the border regions: either they join forces with Russia and then be emancipated from imperialist oppression; or they join forces with the Entente, and then the yoke of imperialism is inevitable[9]. The geopolitical developments of the last years confirm that the Kremlin continues to believe that the survival of Russia as a great international actor is possible only if its imperial structure is reconfigured, which can only be achieved to the detriment of the national sovereignty of other state entities and contrary to the principles of international law. In this regard, some positions of Russian political leaders are worrying. Thus, in 2014, President Putin emphasized that “Kazakhstan was never a state before 1991[10]. Such a public position is not a singular one but adheres to an important doctrinal line of the last few decades. We find in many of the papers that dealt with this subject a series of arguments for and against this attitude, but also a series of analyses that can be ironically titled “Russia makes its neighbours offers impossible to refuse”. This diplomatic rigidity, however, also expresses a state of outrage among Russian decision-makers, who have no patience, nor the diplomatic means with which to become convincing in their partnership endeavours. An analyst on this topic pointed out that “Russia is more than willing to tolerate instability and economic weakness in the neighbouring countries, assuming they are accompanied by an increase in Russian influence. In fact, Russia consciously contributes to the rising instability and deterioration of the economic situation in some, if not all, of these countries[11].

Central Asia figures prominently in Russia’s foreign policy. To the issues already mentioned, in the case of these states, one can add the argument that, after the disintegration of the USSR, several million Russians remained within their borders whom the mother country feels compelled to take care of. The Russian authorities are constantly giving assurances that they do not intend to use this argument to initiate actions that may be considered threatening by the states in the region. However, the reality shows that, on more than one occasion, this argument is invoked or used to obtain certain concessions or to determine certain forms of partnership. It can be illustrated with the case of Kazakhstan, when this argument began to be invoked as early as 2006. Moreover, certain statements by Russian leaders such as the proposal to create a new state called “Novorossiya”, on the Southern and Eastern border of Ukraine, should not be treated with indifference, as mere exercises of rhetoric. It is important to take them seriously and prepare appropriate reactions to them. 

The Central Asia competition 

It can be said that the main sources of Russia’s foreign policy are not primarily economic but rather geopolitical. One Russian foreign policy expert[12] points out that the intensification of the steps taken by the Moscow authorities in the direction of deepening the economic integration with the states in the vicinity of this country occurred in the same period as the European Union’s efforts to attract the respective states in its sphere with programs such as its neighbourhood policy and the Eastern Partnership. We are witnessing an increasingly fierce competition, and not always fair, between the great powers to attract and maintain within their sphere of influence the same states of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In the case of Central Asia, the Russian authorities have to counterbalance another gravitational attraction, the one exerted by China, which uses economic levers to attract as many states as possible in its strategic projects. China, but also the EU, have intensified their trade relations and increased investment flows with the countries of the region, in many situations exceeding Russia’s economic influence, which worries Kremlin decision-makers. For this reason, the challenge of creating a customs union for Russia to attract Central Asian states became urgent. Noticing the revival of Russia’s imperial vocation, the states in the region are becoming more reluctant to accept its geopolitical and strategic intentions. That is why the Russian authorities have begun to pay more attention to both statements and concrete actions. The dimensions of Russia’s partnership with Central Asian states are multiple, one of the most important being the military one.

The Moscow authorities show that they have carefully studied the good practices in politics and economics established in other regions, that they take them as a benchmark when elaborating their strategic lines of foreign policy, give them a note of originality and promote them using all modes of persuasion.

The Collective Security Treaty (CST) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) were initiated and implemented with the main purpose of creating the regulatory and institutional premises for maintaining the military and strategic equipment existing during the Soviet Union. Despite the steps taken, these exercises did not lead to a reversal of the disintegration process of the former USSR, nor to the maintenance of the desired level of security. For this reason, by operating the Community of Independent States (CIS), the idea of ​​peacekeeping and the importance of these missions for stability in the region was emphasized. Trying to convince the international community of their good intentions, the Moscow authorities brought the issue to the attention of the UN Security Council since 1993. Although the other members of this forum were not seduced by the “siren song” of Russian officials, they have not done anything concrete in the direction of stopping this inclination. Even if several elements of ambiguity are kept in relation to the operational aspects of the CSTO, it can be said that the intention of these partnership structures was to help maintain internal order in the Member States, functioning somewhat similar to strategic components of NATO. For example, Uzbekistan has granted the right to use Navoi airport under certain strict conditions and only in case of emergency. In exchange for this facility, the Russian side made available to its partners modern naval and anti-aircraft defence equipment. Advancement of plurilateral military cooperation has been delayed due to the many differences between the states in the region regarding borders. Uzbekistan, for example, has conflicts with all of its neighbours regarding border areas. For these reasons, the plurilateral component of military cooperation has remained very unobtrusive, with states preferring bilateral agreements and timely treatment of different sensitive topics.

It can be said that maintaining or even aggravating the tensions in Central Asia and especially in the Caucasus region does not displease Moscow, but, on the contrary, is to its advantage. There are numerous records in favour of the Russian authorities carrying out actions to activate the Russian ethnic groups existing in the neighbouring states in order to motivate interventions in their favour. Several analysts believe that all actions taken by the Russian authorities with the stated purpose of generating security and stability in certain areas have led to insecurity and disharmony. Measures aimed at keeping states such as the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine or Armenia out of the association agreements proposed by the EU are entered in the bizarre register of a certain type of collective security. These actions may seem strange only if we judge them in the logic of standard economic integration, consistent with multilateral trade behaviour, not if we look at them from the neo-colonialist perspective. From this perspective, these actions derive other connotations and require a different kind of reaction from the states concerned but also from the international community. Some specialists[13] have identified a new type of diplomacy practiced by Russian leaders, namely “coercive diplomacy”. States in the region must pay close attention to both balance sheets proposed by their largest neighbour. On the one hand, it promises: economic prosperity, commercial liberalization, increased investment flows, regional stability, predictability, non-interference in domestic affairs. On the other, there are: insecurity, instability, centrifugal developments, distrust and hidden thoughts. 

The integrationist dimension of Russian neo-colonialism 

The Moscow authorities show that they have carefully studied the good practices in politics and economics established in other regions, that they take them as a benchmark when elaborating their strategic lines of foreign policy, give them a note of originality and promote them using all modes of persuasion. The evolutions that have taken place in recent years show that the model of economic integration carried out at the level of the Western part of the European continent has informed Russian strategists. They have decided to employ similar methods to convince their neighbours of good intentions, of the modernity of Russian foreign policy. and the need to understand the great advantages of promoting integration. The launch and advance of structures of commercial integration at regional level became emblematic for the entire foreign economic policy of Russia after the rise to power of Vladimir Putin. Some approaches have proven more successful, others have not. In the case of those which succeeded, it quickly became obvious that Russia had far more to gain than its partners. The analysis of gains and losses is difficult to complete because of the lack of counter factuality in analyses of this process. Since the time of the disbandment of the former USSR, Russia has offered all former republics the opportunity to join the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Looking at the world in terms of competitiveness, the Russian decision-makers intend to consolidate their external force vectors (geographical size, availability of basic resources, human capital, industrial potential, etc.) by adding those from the former Soviet republics to remain a global player.

Except for the Baltic republics, these states became part of one of the most consistent integrative structures in the Eurasian region. This integration structure had a beneficial role at the beginning, allowing the amicable settlement of many sensitive issues that persisted after the breakup of the USSR. Gradually, the organization ceased to exert a positive influence on the dynamics and depth of the regional integration process. Despite the high expectations of the various categories of stakeholders and the numerous agreements signed regarding economic, political or military collaborations, there have been repeated failures in the implementation of the commitments made by the participating states. Although the signatories advanced the idea of ​​setting up a free trade area and then a customs union, to which was added that of an integrated common market, the group did not have the institutional structures that allow the careful monitoring of the implementation of the commitments made. In addition, gradually other sub-regional integration structures, considered more flexible, more efficient and closer to Russia’s specific interests were promoted above those of the CIS.

In October 2000, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan formed the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEc or EEC) which Uzbekistan joined in 2006 and Armenia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine became observers. This integration group aimed to harmonize the economic and commercial regulations and to consistently reduce the tariff and non-tariff trade barriers in the mutual relations. The aim was to reach the stage of customs union (adoption of a common customs tariff), uniform procedures and accession stages to the World Trade Organization and other international economic organizations, joint development of transport networks, harmonization and stabilization of energy product markets, uniformization of the regulatory framework and education systems, economic, social, cultural and scientific development. In order to overcome the obstacles encountered in the case of CIS operationalization, the participating states decided to create some common institutional structures (the Committee for Integration, a Community Court of Justice, the Council of Border Issues, the Financial and Economic Policy Council, the Council of Ministers of Justice). 

The Eurasian Customs Union 

In October 2007, at a meeting of the Intergovernmental Council of EurAsEc, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia agreed to establish a customs union within which to regulate, in accordance with multilateral trade rules, their elements of regulatory framework in the economic, monetary and migration topics. The agreement on the creation of the customs union was signed in November 2009 and, since 2010, a common customs tariff has been adopted. The agreed level of single customs duties was based on the existing level in Russia, which did not significantly influence Belarus’ trade flows, but, as a result of increased customs duties, further affected imports made by Kazakhstan. The trade diversion effects were felt differently by the three states, the most affected in the welfare loss plan being Kazakhstan[14]. There are analysts[15] who have argued that the magnitude of the effects of trade creation and diversion should be treated with caution because, after the implementation of the agreement, significant changes have taken place at the level of the commercial administrations of the respective countries and, at the same time, there has been an exacerbation of barriers leading to diminishing trade with third countries. These developments have prompted some analysts to ask why the two states marched in lockstep with the customs union project if the effects on their economies were negative?[16]

Various analyses have shown a certain balance between gains and losses. In the case of the states that had trade diversion effects, the revenues from import duties were significantly increased. Although for Belarus and Kazakhstan, there has been a less favourable evolution of investment flows and technology flows, the long-term effects are uncertain. This approach should not only be dealt with in economic logic (in this, the effects appear to be mainly negative), but also in the political and geostrategic ones, where the effects are harder to quantify. Since 2011, customs controls at the borders of the component states have been abolished. Following Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization, the implementation of the commitments undertaken in this framework opened up the country’s market for partner products and produced significant economic gains. From 2020, when the finalization of the customs union was foreseen, the beneficial effects generated by the economies of scale, the uniformization of the customs and administrative formalities, the reduction of all the categories of transaction costs, are going to determine results in excess of those initially estimated by the specialists.

The use of the energy lever, which has increased dependence among major Western European economies and contributed to the redesign in positions in foreign and security policy promoted by these states, has been among the concerns of the Kremlin strategists.

Despite the interest shown by other EurAsEc member states, they were not initially accepted. It was agreed to have a wide mutual trade liberalization, the renunciation of customs controls at the border and the unification of the levels of customs duties practiced on import to a consistent number of tariff lines. The first stage of the commercial integration process began on January 1, 2010, when a harmonized external customs tariff was introduced in its original form, taking as a reference the taxes included in the Russian tariff. Since then, the citizens of these states have been able to move freely only on the basis of an internal passport. In 2011, Member States signed an agreement under which they pledged to enter into the agreement their specific commitments made after WTO accession. Following Russia’s accession to the WTO in 2013, it was agreed that the Community Court of Justice should rule on cases of incompatibility between Member State regulations and WTO-managed multilateral trade rules. It went further towards the realization of a common Economic Space, establishing an Economic Commission for Eurasia to manage the economic integration process. This integrationist group was also equipped with a number of supranational institutions that collaborated with both the government structures of the Member States and with the relevant actors of the economic and social environment. From the point of view of the economic theory regarding the effects of the processes of commercial integration, it can be said that they exist, they can be consistent but the moment when they will appear and their certainty are questionable. 

Eurasia Economic Union (EEU) 

The ambitions of the partners were aimed at the rapid advancement from the stage of customs union to the one of common economic space, a process that started in 2012. The partners set out to create a common market in which to move goods, services, capital and labour freely. To these four traditional freedoms for the common market stage, it was agreed to add: coordination of monetary and fiscal policies; joint development of transport, energy and information systems; harmonization of sectoral policies and unification of national systems to support research, development and innovation processes. The main challenge facing this new stage of integration that began in 2015 was represented by the different way in which the governments of the participating states looked at the non-economic aspects that wanted to be harmonized. The Russian decision makers proposed the creation of a grouping Parliament, an idea that was not well received by the leaders of the other two states. The differences in approach are also related to the advancement of integration according to the Western-European model towards an economic and monetary union. The issue of the common currency and that of the common bureaucracy to handle the integration process was raised. One sensitive issue was that of keeping the participating states’ freedom in their foreign economic relations because, if the Belarussian leader was more in favour of unifying the decisions, that of Kazakhstan wanted to maintain its freedom to maintain and strengthen its country’s relations with China, the EU and the US. Kazakhstan also insists on the need for Central Asian states to work more closely with each other, without becoming heavily dependent on a large economic or military power. Initially, the military component of mutual cooperation was not overruled, since the signatory states are also members of the CSTO. The experience of the EU that has advanced a lot in the direction of economic integration has been invoked, while the military issues have been left at the disposal of a different collaboration architecture, namely NATO. Since 2013, as a result of Armenia’s reorientation from its association with the EU towards closer relations with Russia, this country has announced that it wanted to become a member of the Eurasian Union, starting institutional steps in this regard. Meanwhile, this country has joined the regional integrationist group. It was not long before the forces that insist on democratizing the country brought very violent criticism to this step and insisted on leaving the group.

The binding agents that make it possible to advance the integration process in this region are of several natures. The decades-long membership of these republics in the USSR has led to the creation and operation of solid infrastructure networks and the establishment of quite solid economic interdependencies. Throughout this territory, there are functional logistics chains integrated over the decades, very close economic and technological complementarities, qualification schemes and very tight human mobility flows. Looking at the world in terms of competitiveness, the Russian decision-makers intend to consolidate their external force vectors (geographical size, availability of basic resources, human capital, industrial potential, etc.) by adding those from the former Soviet republics to remain a global player. 

Originality and consistency in promoting the new foreign policy of Russia 

The most frequently used modalities in which the decision-makers in Russia operate are an interesting combination between the traditional tools, applied since the time of the Tsarist Empire, and ones that are newer and considered adequate to the geopolitical and geo-economic realities of the beginning of the new century (weaponized energy and virtual space). The handling of inter-ethnic conflicts and the activation of “frozen conflicts” have been used in practically all cases. In other cases, the cyber instrumentation or even direct military intervention was insisted upon. The ingenuity of the Russian authorities regarding the combination of means used in various situations and their degree of sophistication cannot be overlooked. It is also important to point out that the mix of action instruments was not a short-term one, but expresses a robust continuity and a synergistic alignment with the strategic objectives of the country’s foreign policy. This attitude fully underlines the focus of the steps at the highest level of the political decision-making and the restoration of the country’s role of high military-strategic and, as far as possible, economic power as an essential target of the foreign policy.

The problem raised by several analysts was the one related to the nature of the foreign policy strategy practiced by the Russian authorities. In other words, the extent to which the mix of instruments used is an exclusively coercive, a priority coercive or rather a persuasive one. The evolution of recent years shows that an interesting combination of traditional and modern diplomatic instruments, with an economic priority, has been firmly opted for, which increasingly calls for cross-border trade and investment flows, especially direct ones. After the disbandment of the former USSR, it was necessary for all the former republics, including Russia, to reconfigure their diplomatic and consular missions. While all of the other former Soviet republics had to build from scratch all the mechanisms specific to a process of diplomatic and economic representation of their interests abroad, Russia inherited the entire architecture of representation of the USSR, without much effort to do so. Moreover, unlike the Soviet period, in which the diplomatic missions also included specialists of nationalities other than the Russian one, after 1991, the diplomatic corps of this country is made up mainly of citizens of Russian ethnicity. This process was also repeated regarding the premises of the diplomatic missions, respectively the communication mechanisms between the diplomatic centre in Moscow and the capitals of the host states. Other experts in this area noted the constant concern of the Moscow authorities for maintaining and strengthening the interpersonal relations with the new (or older) leaders from neighbouring republics through repeated visits to these states or the organization of numerous international forums to which they are invited. Compared to this dynamic network of relations cultivated by Russian diplomacy, similar efforts of authorities from other major powers of the world can be categorized as “discrete” at most[17].

Among the diplomatic actions followed consistently by the Russian diplomacy, the specialists also count the constant attempt to weaken the international governance architectures. The most consistent of these efforts were the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe. The areas targeted by the representatives of this country were, first and foremost, the mechanisms by which the organizations put at the centre of their concerns the monitoring of the respect for human rights but also the supervision of the way in which the electoral processes in the Member States were carried out. One analysis[18] highlights the numerous Russian diplomacy efforts at the Council of Europe, which focused in particular on the constant opposition to the efforts of the other members to generalize democratic principles and to block some of the activities of the European Court of Human Rights. Some success was also achieved in the plan of dividing the participating states so as to delay the formation of common positions and the recommendation of measures addressing certain behaviours of the Russian authorities. 

Russia and the rest 

What sets Russia apart from the former imperial structures today is the opening of this country to the external economic environment. For several decades, the largest multinational companies have expanded their activities in the territory of this country and have gradually become the promoters in other regions of some of the vectors of the new foreign policy of Russia. The use of the energy lever, which has increased dependence among major Western European economies and contributed to the redesign in positions in foreign and security policy promoted by these states, has been among the concerns of the Kremlin strategists. Germany is always given as an example of great economic power that shades its actions so as not to affect its good economic relations with Russia. The control and even the manipulation of information, especially the economic one, has been permanently established in a channel through which some of the foreign policy actions of this country are carried out. After a very short period of freedom granted to media channels, after Vladimir Putin came to power, efforts to take control over practically all media channels intensified. In this way, the range of correct information about the course of events in Russia and its vicinity has been restricted, the international community being obliged to comply with carefully processed and almost permanently cosmetic versions prepared by the diplomatic teams controlled by the Russian Government.

More and more citizens of the planet have come to believe that the events (or at least a large part of them) that take place in Ukraine are orchestrated by the CIA and that Crimea has joined Russia based on a democratic process in which an overwhelming majority of free citizens voted for this. The influence of Russian communication channels is not as great in all states in the region. In countries such as Georgia or Azerbaijan, where there are many radio and television channels in the national languages, this influence is lower. The same cannot be said of the reality in Central Asian states, where the local media are weak. As one of the authors shows[19], such a strategy is well documented when the Kyrgyzstan leader was subjected to a particularly intense media bombardment in 2010 because he did not obstruct the access of US aircraft to the Manas military base, which led to his removal from power. Because the strength of Russia’s mass media was quite limited outside the former Soviet space, the Moscow authorities invested a great deal of money in several television stations (especially in the Russia Today television channel) that present the official version of most developments from this country and from the region, insisting on the subject of the Western conspiracy to which Russia and its neighbouring states are exposed[20].

The carrying out of subversive actions was permanently in the arsenal of the Russian authorities when they set themselves the objectives of undermining the defining elements for the statehood of the former Soviet republics and of strengthening the forces loyal to its interests. Since the disbandment of the USSR, the Russian security services have maintained and strengthened the specialized infrastructure and strongly encouraged the intelligence networks that they used whenever necessary. Some of the former Soviet republics (Estonia or Georgia) had the political determination and human strength to completely abandon the previous security structures and rebuild them from scratch, which weakened the effectiveness of subversive measures in these states. The other former Soviet republics did not want to or could not do the same, and the negative effects are still visible today. Many of the workers of the Soviet security services have advanced to top political positions in many of the states in the region, and they promote with specific means and with great efficiency policies to maintain their countries’ geopolitical and geo-economic proximity to Russia.

A sensitive area of ​​which the Russian neo-colonialist architecture was used with great success was the cultural and religious one. The greatest successes were achieved in the states of Christian religion (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia), the high prelates of these new states strongly promoting the interests of Russia and blaming the so-called dangers associated with the projects brought in these areas by the Western governments. The media assault of the Russian authorities was not limited to the government or civil society level in the former Soviet space, but advanced to the Western democratic world. Very strong public relations campaigns had political decision makers or opinion vectors in the Western world at their centre. To these were gradually added influential journalists, renowned scientific researchers, prominent art and culture figures. Investment projects in the largest energy infrastructure have been and are feverishly supported by the highest-level politicians in the developed European states (Gerhard Schröder – former German Chancellor, Paavo Liponen – former Prime Minister of Finland). Very influential lobbying or advocacy companies have won important contracts financed by major Russian companies or directly by the government authorities of this country to promote huge economic and infrastructure projects, to present the desired story of the Moscow decision makers about various actions of this country, to build a reality other than the one that can be seen with the naked eye. [21]

The latest research on the subject area of ​​Russian neo-colonialism has highlighted the frequent call by the Russian authorities to think tanks, renowned experts and journalists with high ratings to plead its specific causes and demonize their opponents. The main purpose of these debate groups was to alleviate the criticisms of some of the actions of the Russian government, to instil mistrust in the results of highly complex research, to publish articles favourable to the Russian position or to create the feeling that the Russian reality must be viewed from several perspectives. Where the Russian authorities failed, they proceeded to support the opposition forces in the former Soviet republics, to fund election campaigns, to encourage opposing civil factions, to undermine the legitimate power in these states or to advocate even open military interventions. The playing field of Russian diplomacy was not limited to the former Soviet area, extending to Western Europe but also to other regions of the planet. In the industrialized world, Russia’s involvement has taken the form of supporting populist and extremist political forces, assisting civil society structures in these areas that were in the beginning and lacking financial means. There is also a more hidden face that a number of researches have highlighted. On this side, we can mention the actions of sabotaging important actions, the use of various forms of violence, the support for civil conflicts in different areas or even military actions. Numerous transport and energy infrastructure networks in the Central Asian region were destroyed by so-called terrorists and these deeds paved the way for Russia’s reconstruction of these networks or for the legitimization of measures that clearly deviate from public international law. In the same thematic register, we have the increasing number of assassinations of the most powerful opponents of the hegemonic project promoted by the Moscow authorities. Permanent suspicion that at the origin of these numerous attacks, some unsuccessful, there are high political or military decision-makers in Russia has strengthened, although the burden of evidence has rarely been met. 

Photo credit (1):Background photo created by v.ivash

Photo credit (2):Sun photo created by nikitabuida

 

Notes:

[1] Starr, Frederick; Cornell Svante (ed.) (2014). Putin’s Grand Strategy: The Eurasian Union and Its Discontents. Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program.

[2] Ibid. p.7.

[3] Mankoff, Jeffrey (2013). Eurasian Integration: The Next Stage. Central Asia Policy Brief, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, p. 1.

[4] *** Rossiyskhaya Gazeta. Moskow, September 23, 1995.

[5] Carmen, Amelia and Gayoso, Descalzi (2013). Russian Hegemony in the CIS Region: An Examination of Russian Influence and of Variation in Consent and Dissent by CIS States to Regional Hierarchy. Doctoral Thesis submitted to the Department of International Relations, London School of Economics, pp. 52-85, 124-160.

[6] Medvedev, Dimitri (2008). Interview to Television Chanel One, NTV, August 31.

[7] Etkind, Alexander (2011). Internal Colonization, Russia`s Imperial Experience. London. Polity Press.

[8] ***, Strategiia Razvitiia Otnoshenii Rossiskoi Federatsii s Evropeiskim Soiuzom na Srednerochnuiu Perspectivu (2000-2010), Diplomatickeschii Vestnik, November 1999. www.ln.mis.ru/website/dip_vest.nsf items 1.1.,1.6, and 1.8.2000, cited in Hannes Adomeit and Heidi Reisinger, Russia’s Role in Post-Soviet Territory: Decline of Military Power and Political Influence, Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies, Forsvarstudier No. 4, 2002, p. 5.

[9] Stalin, I.V. (1942). The Policy of the Soviet Government on the national Question in Russia. Pravda. October 10. 1920. Joseph Stalin, Marxism and the National Question: Selected Writings and Speeches, New York: International Publishers, p. 77.

[10] ***, “Address by President of the Russian Federation”, March 18, 2014, http://eng.kremlin.ru/transcripts/6889.

[11] Stewart, Susan (2014). The EU, Russia and Less Common Neighbourhood. SWP Comments. Stiftung Wissenschaft Und Politik, January.

[12] Adomeit, Hannes (2012). Putin`s Eurasian Union. Russia`s Integration Project and Policies in Post-Soviet Space. CIES Neighborhood Paper. No.4.

[13] Stewart, Susan, ibid.

[14] Tumbarello, Patricia (2005). Regional Trade Integration and WTO Accession: Which is the right sequencing? An application to the CIS. IMF Working Paper WP/05/94.

[15] Djamankulov Nuritdin (2011). SPS Regulations and Access of Kyrgyz Goods to the Customs Union, USAID Regional Trade Liberalization and Customs Project (USAID Contract No.: 176-C-00-07-00011-08), Bishkek.

[16] Pomfret, Richard (2014). The Economics of the Customs Union and Eurasian Union. In Starr Frederick; Cornell E. Svante (Eds.) Central Asia – Caucasus Institute Silk Road Studies Program. Johns Hopkins University.

[17] Starr Frederick; Cornell E. Svante (Eds.) (2014). Central Asia – Caucasus Institute Silk Road Studies Program. Johns Hopkins University.

[18] Pomerantsev, Peter (2014). Yes, Russia Matters: Putin`s Guerilla Strategy. World Affairs, September/October http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/yes-russia-matters-putin%E2%80%99s-guerrilla-strategy.

[19] Blank, Stephen (2010). Russia’s Fingerprints in Kyrgyzstan’s Storm. Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, April 14, http://cacianalyst.org/publications/analytical-articles/item/12033; Tisdall, Simon (2010). Kyrgyzstan: A Russian Revolution. Guardian, April 8, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/apr/08/kyrgyzstan-vladimir-putin-barack-obama.

[20] Heyman, Stephen (2008). A Voice of Mother Russia. The New York Times, May 18; Ioffe, Julia (2010). What Is Russia Today? Columbia Journalism Review, September/October; Bidder, Benjamin (2013). Putin Fights War of Images and Propaganda with Russia Today Channel. Spiegel Online, August 13.

[21] Jeavers, Eamon (2014). Who’s on Putin’s American Payroll? CNBC, March 5, http://www.cnbc.com/id/101465564.

 

 
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OEconomica No. 1, 2016