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Whither Goes Russia in the Post-Soviet Space?
May 18, 2012
It has been two decades since the end of the Cold War, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. In the last twenty years or so Moscow’s former sphere of influence underwent massive social, economic and political changes. Many states followed Boris Yeltsin’s Russia in implementing economic ‘shock therapy’ and the privatization of state assets. This led to the bankrupting of many countries and the destruction of the fabric of the Communist state. The decline of the Soviet Union also re-opened ethnic cleavages that engulfed regions in conflict and prompted the further dissolution of states. Health problems and economic migration continue to have long-term implications for the demographics of many former Soviet states, most notably Russia.
Yet out of the aftermath of the decline of the Soviet Union many countries forged new economic and geopolitical visions. Many of the Central and Eastern European states that once fell under Moscow’s influence are now fully integrated into the European Union (EU) and NATO. Central Asian Republics such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are utilizing natural resources to stimulate economic growth. Much of the post-Soviet space now looks beyond Moscow when conducting foreign policy and developing international relations. This has allowed the likes of China, Iran and Turkey to increase their geopolitical significance in areas that were once unquestionably Moscow’s backyard.
However, Russia’s vast territorial expanse, economic resources and military prowess ensure that Moscow’s influence is still felt across the former Soviet space. Parts of Eastern Europe, for example, continue to rely on Russian energy supplies, while the likes of Georgia and Ukraine need to consider ethnic Russian minorities when safeguarding their territorial integrity. And in keeping with other countries of the former Soviet space, Russia has also made enough of a political and economic recovery to be considered an emerging global power. Yet the fact that Russia forms part of the BRIC club of emerging global actors demonstrates that its return to the world stage stands in sharp contrast to its rise in prominence at the end of the Second World War.
This week we consider how Russia is trying to meet its geopolitical objectives in five successively smaller spheres of influence. On Monday we consider whether Russia is looking eastwards to China in particular or to the West in order to secure its status as a global power. As Moscow was once pitted in an ideological struggle with the West, we then assess how Western modes of governance and cooperation may be utilized by Russia to fulfill its foreign policy vision. The rest of the week is devoted to analyzing interactions between Russia and the former Soviet space. After framing Moscow’s policy objectives for these regions on Wednesday, we consider how these policies are influencing Moscow’s relations with Central and Eastern Europe and the Central Asian Republics.
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