Valery V Tsepkalo. Foreign Affairs. Volume 77, Issue 2. March/April 1998.
Filling the Post-Soviet Vacuum
Russia’s post-soviet orientation toward Europe and the West is in serious trouble. Western leaders’ decision to expand NATO eastward without taking Moscow’s objections into account has sidelined Russia on matters that affect its strategic interests. Fellow former Soviet republics seeking Western investment and sponsorship have spoken out against Russia in international forums; within the country, some groups even feel they must leave the Russian Federation to gain Western favor. Since nobody wants powerful neighbors, even when they are not hostile, the Western powers have been the natural allies of all who would break with Moscow. The West does not want to see any structure in Eurasia that permits Russian hegemony.
But abetting the continuing destabilization of Eurasia is not in the West’s interests. NATO enlargement has not consolidated anti-Western forces in the region, as some Western experts had feared, but it has encouraged the division of Eurasia and the shattering of the Russian Federation. There will likely be further attempts at secession, although not necessarily according to the bloody model of Chechnya. Central Asia and the Caucasus are rife with flash points that could ignite several nations and draw in outside powers. And with regional destabilization and the slackening of central control, the nuclear threat is perhaps greater now than during the Cold War.
If current trends continue, Russia’s clout in Eurasia will further dwindle and that of Western powers and Western-dominated international organizations will grow. The United States, however, will be unable to maintain control of the process. Western allies like Germany, Japan, and Turkey will adopt independent policies in the region. The jockeying of Western interests will exacerbate tensions between and within countries. And the West will confront the increasing power of China and, to a lesser extent, Iran, which will make extending Western influence beyond the Urals impossible. Eurasia will rapidly become a less predictable and more dangerous place.
There is an alternative. The United States could begin supporting integration in the territory of the former Soviet Union rather than the forces that divide the region. This would limit Chinese and Iranian maneuvering, introduce economic and strategic equilibrium, and improve America’s relations with Russia. At the same time, Russia, along with the smaller countries of central and eastern Eurasia, must work to develop values capable of uniting disparate elements within states and drawing the broader region together into a more stable system. A tour d’horizon of Eurasia provides abundant evidence of the costs of the current course of disintegration and drift.
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
The Soviet union became vulnerable to internal fragmentation and external manipulation less because of its economic troubles than because it was a troubled society. After the sacrifices Soviet workers made in the early years of communism, several generations of Soviet leaders wielded power and reaped the benefits with a cynical disregard for the communist project. People lost faith in the collectivist ideal and Russia’s historic path, and communism became loathsome in the eyes of many. The ruling hierarchy weakened, and Moscow’s partners in the Warsaw Pact and the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance turned away. In the end the Russians dismantled their own empire with barely a shot fired. Now Russia is sick with self-doubt and has become an international loner. Nor do Russia’s current “democracy” and Western-style consumerism, divorced from the Protestant ethic that sustains them in the West, constitute a value system that can unify and inspire. The problem is not that Soviet values have been jettisoned but that there is nothing to replace them.
Russia actively contributed to the fragmentation of Eurasia. Its secession from the Soviet Union-for so its role in the 1991 treaty creating the Commonwealth of Independent States can be regardedresulted not only in the breakup of the U.S.S.R. but in enduring disputes between neighbors. Many felt that Russia had abandoned the union and was unmoved by the plight of fellow Russians left outside the borders of the Russian Federation. Moreover, Moscow arbitrarily began to refuse support to established allies, including both political forces in the former Soviet republics and whole foreign countries, that did not meet the new standards it had set for itself Moscow’s verbal attacks on neighboring peoples, its attempts to teach everyone else how to pursue political and economic reform, and its deprecatory attitude toward other CIS leaders combined to sour relations between what not long ago had been parts of the same country.
Of the former republics, Ukraine and Belarus have the strongest cultural affinities and some of the closest historical ties with Russia, but that has hardly forestalled disputes between them since the dissolution of the union. In fact, Russia’s bitterest conflict with a former republic is with Ukraine over the naval base at Sevastopol and the Black Sea fleet, which has driven a political and psychological wedge between Russians and Ukrainians. The strategic significance of the fleet cannot compare with the damage the running dispute has done to relations between the two states and peoples. When Russia lost Ukraine, it should have thought not about breaking off relations but about learning to coexist and finding ways of building a strategic partnership. Both the fleet and Sevastopol could, under certain circumstances, serve to bring the two countries together rather than divide them if national interests were less narrowly conceived.
Russia, as the only possible core of integration, behaves as if it does not need integration very much-or at all. It competes childishly with other republics in signing bilateral political and economic agreements, boasting that it signed, say, an agreement with NATO or the International Monetary Fund before Ukraine or Uzbekistan. Moscow changes tariffs and regulations without the necessary coordination with other Customs Union Treaty members. Russia even sometimes deprecates those countries and peoples that gravitate most toward it, such as Belarus. Talk of integration has remained mostly talk. The CIS, for its part, does little beyond bringing leaders from 12 of the former republics together to talk. Of the more than 700 agreements reached within the CIS framework, none seems to work.
Within its own borders, in the separatist republic of Chechnya, Russia has also followed a foolishly destabilizing course, justified by its purportedly democratic standards. In 1993 the Kremlin dropped its support for a long-time ally, Doku Zavgayev, the former leader of the Chechen-Ingush Supreme Soviet. Zavgayev was not, admittedly, a democrat, since he understood only too well the chaotic consequences for Chechnya of Moscow-style democratization, but he was no dictator either. Instead, Moscow backed General Dzhokhar Dudayev in his struggle for power. This led to Russia’s inept invasion in December 1994, more than a year of fighting, and a series of shaky peace agreements, all of which have undermined the Russian Federation.
As Russia broke up the Soviet Union, it soured its relations with the union’s former republics and stopped treating many non-Russian peoples in its territory with dignity. Thus the central government incessantly duels with Tatarstan over tax revenues. Ingushetia and the Primorsky (Far Eastern) regions have demanded greater autonomy North Caucasia, the Volga Basin, and the Siberian republics speak of secession. Tatarstan wants to sell oil independently on world markets and is building, with German help, its own tanker fleet. Talk of a Rus Republic that would include only predominantly ethnic Russian areas is fashionable. The Russian parliament held two hearings last year at which self-determination for ethnic Russian and Muslim Turkic populations was discussed, raising the possibility of the secession of ethnic Russian areas from the Russian Federation, a process that would break up Russia itself in the same manner as the Soviet Union. The very mention of such a scenario proves that the Russian elite has forgotten how to coexist with other peoples and ethnic groups.
The Power Next Door
Russian weakness has already allowed some newly independent states to slip into the zone of Chinese influence. Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan, larger geographically than three Germanys and two Frances combined, but with only 20 million unevenly distributed and partly nomadic people, worry about China’s burgeoning power and population to the east. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has moved Kazakstan’s capital away from the Chinese border, from Almaty to the north-central city of Akmola.
Although they fret about China’s regional ambitions, Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan look to the People’s Republic as an economic role model. China has not only avoided a Soviet-style collapse but has found its own path to modernization. The return of Hong Kong last year will add to China’s economic might. In several Central Asian republics, China’s growing strength could mean a return to power of communist parties, but ones whose economic ideas are closer to China’s than the Soviet Unions or present-day Russia’s.
Economics and demographics may well determine developments in the region. Russia’s Far East and Siberia are dying. Only 24 million people live in the two regions, which comprise 60 percent of the territory of the Russian Federation, and the population is falling. The region’s huge enterprises, symbols of bygone industrial power, are no longer competitive, and it is too late for them to modernize. Poor transportation and communications and high energy prices and railroad tariffs help make for a considerably worse economic situation than elsewhere in Russia. Across the border in rapidly developing China, demographic pressures and the strain on resources are astounding and will only increase. China’s current population is 1.26 billion, and the annual number of births is triple that of Europe and Russia combined. In recent years, China, 80 percent of whose power comes from coal, has developed a serious energy shortage. Coincidentally, 80 percent of the world’s known coal deposits are in Russia’s Siberia and Far East. Siberia also has enormous manganese and iron ore deposits and vast forests. All these resources are virtually useless to Russia at present because people are needed to exploit them and people are in short supply in Siberia. But in China they are not.
Traditional Western analyses of the Soviet Union assumed Chinese economic weakness and the West’s maintenance of its competitive edge, in spite of China’s demographic advantage. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the state of the Russian economy, little prevents China from gaining economic and political dominance in Eurasia, including the Far East.
The Anxiety of Influence
China’s rise will throw its traditional rivalry with Japan into sharp focus. The global standing and influence Japan has worked so hard to achieve could slip away all too quickly if not safeguarded. Since Japan is militarily weak, to counter Chinese power it will have to strengthen its armed forces dramatically and risk implementing a more independent and assertive foreign policy in the Far East. The former is already under way. According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Japan increased its defense budget from $29 billion in 1985 to $50 billion in 995, lifting it to third in the world in military spending. The unpredictable consequences of the buildup and a newly tough foreign policy could lead to confrontation with China and others.
If Russia’s Far Eastern regions gain more autonomy, Japan will have a real opportunity to regain four of the Kuril Islands (annexed by the Soviet Union after World War II), dominate the economy of neighboring Sakhalin Island, and operate more freely in the Far Eastern seas. If that happened, the Sea of Okhotsk would cease to be an internal Russian sea, thus losing its strategic significance, and all difficulties with Japanese fishing rights would be resolved within a zoo-mile-wide zone. Japan will likely be able to expand its territory considerably in return for promises of investment in Russia. The Kuril governor has already declared that the islands are ready to hold a referendum on annexation to Japan. Such territorial growth, along with an economically and militarily ascendant China, is likely to urge Japan to become a strong, independent player in the region.
The United States will gradually lose influence in the Pacific if it permits a Japanese or Chinese buildup in the political vacuum of the Russian Far East. Washington could return to splendid isolation or, more likely, maintain its influence in the region by keeping its forces in Asia for some time, steering an at least ostensibly neutral course between China and Japan. Alternatively, it could strengthen Russian and Indian influence to keep Japan and especially China from becoming too powerful.
But Russia would require much strengthening. Its 13,000 miles of border are difficult to secure, particularly in the frozen Far East. Conditions in Russia’s once-mighty military are, as Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin put it, “outrageous.” Soldiers and sailors in some regions are literally starving, corruption is rife, 60 percent of equipment is not battle-ready, and discipline and morale are extremely low. The Soviet Union was far more economically developed than China, but Russia has lost much ground recently and is by no means as dynamic; raw materials now account for go percent of its exports. It ranks far behind Japan, even with the current recession there. Meanwhile, China continues with its wise economic reforms, sometimes making use of Soviet advances that go unexploited in the Russia of today. Spiritually, Russia is in no way capable of competing with China and Japan, which have preserved traditional systems of religious and cultural values.
Germany and Eastern Europe
The absence of integration will also be felt further to the west. As the cultural and economic leader of an integrating Europe, reunified Germany will demand a more active role in European and world affairs. But since the burden of its history will not allow it to be assertive for some time yet, it will proceed through the instruments of international law and its own careful brand of diplomacy.
Germany has assiduously built on its already good relationships with Eastern European countries and the former Soviet republics without setting any political, humanitarian, or other conditions. German trade with and investment in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Belarus are comparable to those countries’ total combined trade and investment with other European countries and the United States. Britain and, to a lesser extent, the United States have made determined efforts to increase their trade and influence in Eastern Europe-Poland in particular-to counter German dominance in the region.
The three new NATO member-designates, especially the Czech Republic and Hungary, gravitate toward and will be clients of Germany rather than the United States. Germans find themselves in the extremely comfortable position of expressing sympathy for Russia and pretending they were not privy to the U.S. decision to enlarge NATO while watching the huge American effort broaden the German sphere of influence and bring the United States nothing but bills. Germany is likely to project its policy in the east in the medium term, probably by using the European Union (EU) and the Western European Union in specific regional conflicts.
The Turkish Option
The Turkish factor is as significant in the south as the German factor is in Europe. In past centuries, Turkey, as the center of the Ottoman Empire, dominated the Balkans and southeastern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa and was also a power in the Caucasus. Now, because of its relative economic success, it is in a position to extend its influence to the areas of Central Asia and the Volga basin mainly populated by Turkic peoples, including the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan, Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, as well as Tatarstan and Bashkiria, part of the Russian Federation. Its potential should not be overestimated, however. Turkey’s military capabilities are limited, although its membership in NATO adds some political weight in the Black Sea basin and the Caucasus. Problems with the Kurds, Greece, and Cyprus will continue to divert Ankara’s attention from its ambitious plans for the southern flank of the former U.S.S.R. It remains to be seen what effect the European Union’s recent rejection of Turkey’s bid for membership will have.
Turkey is capable of playing an independent role in the Caucasus and Central Asia, but it must offer a clear alternative to the West. Eurasia’s Muslim Turkic peoples, somewhat disappointed in Western values, are turning to the traditional values of Islam. Chechnya, for example, has introduced Islamic courts and public executions, and all of Central Asia is seeing rapid growth in the membership and influence of the Wahhabis, a Muslim sect. Turkey’s new mission would demand its liberation from the Western political, social, and cultural values of many of its elite and reanimation of the idea of the pan-Turkic state. The 1996 election of Islamist Welfare Party leader Necmettin Erbakan as prime minister signaled that Turkey is breaking away from the West, a geopolitical shift that continues even though the army forced Erbakan to step down last year. Erbakan has called for the creation of an Islamic NATO and United Nations, the introduction of an “Islamic dinar,” and the “liberation of Azerbaijan, Chechnya, and Bosnia.” Turkey is likely to remain partially secular, however, and will remain more attractive than fundamentalist Iran to the less observant non-Shiite Muslim peoples of the former Soviet Union.
In Central Asia, Turkey has forged strong economic and cultural bonds. It has provided $80 million in humanitarian aid and opened a credit line of some $700 million to countries of the region. It is involved in 100 joint ventures in Kazakstan and 20 in Kyrgyzstan in energy, construction, mining, and sea cargo shipping. Turkey has also opened cultural centers and Turkic schools in practically all the Central Asian states. When the Soviet collapse left a power vacuum in the Caucasus, once in Turkey’s sphere of influence, the government in Ankara began moving in; for instance, it invited former Chechen President Dudayev to visit in October 1993, and then invited him for a second visit over strong Russian protests.
Hard and Soft Integration
Either the disintegration in Russia will continue or a new system of values will emerge to unite the nations of Eurasia. If Russia manages to develop a new national idea capable of bringing together its people and urging it to leadership, and again displays an inclination for integrating Eurasia, there are two possible scenarios: “hard” and “soft” integration.
If the West does not support integration, Russia will implement a hard-line policy of “land collection” on its southern and western flanks. It will also adopt a confrontational attitude toward Western nations and probably China; Moscow will again begin supporting any state that opposes U.S. interests. It will likely start with Muslim nations like Iran, Iraq, and Libya and groups like the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Cuba and North Korea. The weakness of Russia’s conventional forces will probably lead it to rely on veiled threats of nuclear blackmail, using the above countries and groups, among others. Such a policy will allow
Moscow back into the negotiation process in the Middle East and on the Korean peninsula, marking its return to serious international policymaking. It would also mobilize and unite Islamic elements in Russia and the CIS, cutting the ground out from under Muslim separatists by casting Russia as the ally and friend of Islam. At one stroke, it would counter both the West and China, which is dealing with Muslim unrest of its own in Xinjiang province and elsewhere.
Outside Russia, where there is still popular support for the traditional Russian and Soviet state, the idea of reintegration has strong appeal. Fierce political rivalry in a number of the former Soviet republics has pushed opposition forces and clans toward alliances with Russia. A policy of hard integration by the Kremlin could allow it to regain some control in several troubled states.
The other form Eurasian integration could take is that of a gradual movement toward union, as in the EU. The CIS, headed by a practically powerless executive secretariat, cannot be called an operating structure for integration. The customs union-consisting of Russia, Belarus, Kazakstan, and Kyrgyzstan-functions, at best, as a free trade zone. The April 1997 Treaty on the Union of Belarus and Russia, however, is a step in the direction of real integration. The agreement’s soft brand of integration has a tremendous political advantage over a more rigid formula for unification with or entry into the Russian Federation; Belarusan sovereignty is not diminished, and Russia is not laden with economic burdens it cannot afford to bear.
Such integration could be palatable to both the United States and Europe, which could provide moral support and expert assistance in setting up efficient structures of interstate cooperation in the areas of ecology, export control, nonproliferation, communications, and transportation. The United States did the same for Europe in the aftermath of World War II with the Marshall Plan and the creation of the European Economic Community. America understood then that it was setting up a major competitor, but it put international peace and security before its own ambitions. And indeed, the policy has achieved that and more. A similar policy in central Eurasia would involve at the outset U.S. encouragement of a quick settlement of conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh and in Moldova’s Trans-Dniester region, in the breakaway Abkhaz state in Georgia, in Tajikistan, and in other areas of the former Soviet Union.
A Shared Destiny with Ukraine
Relations between Ukraine and Russia will not only determine the destiny of other newly independent states but will show whether reintegration in central Eurasia is a serious possibility. Ukraine is hardly the monolithic entity Westerners believe it to be. The Ukrainian people may have an independent history, but the territory does not, having been partitioned and divided up both by others and by its own people, changing rulers many times over the centuries. The presentday capital of Kiev was from the ninth through the twelfth centuries the capital of Kievan Rus, the forerunner of the Russian state. Intermarriage has made it impossible to draw a sharp line between ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians. There have been no serious conflicts between the two peoples. Any friction was mainly of a social and not a national character; moreover, the two have often joined in wars against outsiders. Today Ukrainians differ on whether they should build a separate state or work toward union with Russia. As one goes from west to east, opinion moves from strong support for independence to cultural identification with and economic inclination toward Russia. This split national consciousness makes the search for a national identity rocky.
Moscow must jettison the primitive Russian nationalism it has been displaying and reestablish relations with its large neighbor to the west on firmer ground. The material incentive is powerful. Russian-Ukrainian trade and other economic cooperation could help stabilize and revive both economies. The mutual dependence of the republics is still high after the breakup of the Soviet Union and its integrated economy. The closing of enterprises in Ukraine is painful for Russian industry and vice versa. Receiving the same amount of Western assistance it is currently getting, Ukraine would require lo or 15 years of development to bring it up to the level of Portugal or Greece. Without the Russian connection, it will suffer constant political turmoil, especially in the industrial regions of the east and south.
Better Balanced Baltics
Reintegration should also take the Baltic states into account. The Baltics are strategically important to Russia as the keys to its access to the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea from the enclave of Kaliningrad. After 50 years under Soviet control, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia want to become members of NATO. But the West, realizing their admission could start a new Cold War with Russia, has been reluctant to make the Baltics too many promises.
The Baltics have known only a few decades of sovereignty, in the 1920s and 1930s and again in the 1990s. A large portion of Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian society rushed into politics in the 1990s with the aim of ensuring the independence of their states. One of their main techniques was the exclusion of their large Slavic, Russian-speaking populations from politics. That avenue blocked, ethnic Russians turned their energies to business, until practically all enterprises there were in their hands.
Estonia and Latvia are the only countries in Europe where whole ethnic groups are denied citizenship and civil rights. Maintaining discrimination against the 700,000 ethnic Russians in Latvia and the 300,000 in Estonia will only increase their economic power and the political pressure for change, but abolishing discrimination, in combination with the financial clout they already possess, will lead to rapid political gains for them. Ethnic Russians could change the foreign policy orientation of the Baltic countries-the more so as relations among the three states are far from ideal. From a distance they may appear to agree on all major international issues, but they detain each other’s ships and quarrel regularly over mining on the continental shelf because of disputes over the demarcation of their international waters and even the common use of airspace. Former Latvian Prime Minister Andris Skele said that Lithuania did not have a single serious politician with whom it was possible to work.
Therefore the Baltic countries will soon see the emergence of strong political forces promoting rapprochement with the CIS states. Eventually economic necessity and demands for social justice will push Baltic elites toward balanced relations with the West and the East that will presuppose the political neutrality of the Baltics and their deep involvement in the economic life of Belarus and Russia.
Central Asian Flash Points
The perils of the post-Soviet vacuum are starkly visible in Central Asia. The region enjoyed a long period of stability under Soviet rule, but the demise of the U.S.S.R. has left an agglomeration of territories in which the various peoples’ overriding ethnic attachments make the five new countries vulnerable to both internal conflict and meddling by outsiders. Resurgent religion has also become a divisive force. Attempts by Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States, and China to influence events only upset the balance between clans and increase the chances of conflict. Conversely, intrastate conflict and ethnic wars have the potential to drag in outside states.
Developments in neighboring Afghanistan, torn by a century of civil strife, may have particularly powerful reverberations. So long as former President Mohammad Rabbani and Ahmad Shah Massoud, relying mainly on ethnic Tajiks, and General Abdul Rashid Dostam, an Uzbek, held the northern part of the country, with Russian border guards protecting the frontier with Tajikistan and neutralizing the Tajik opposition, the situation in the region was unhappy but predictable. But when the militant theology students of the Taliban, backed by Muslim fundamentalists from Pakistan, overthrew Dostam, panic broke out in both Central Asia and Russia. Then the Taliban were driven out of the north, and everyone calmed down a bit. But Afghan politics is an unpredictable seesaw. If the Taliban find an ally among the other armed Afghan groups and Russia further reduces its presence in the region, zealous and battle-hardened Taliban troops could invade Tajikistan or Uzbekistan. Worse, the Taliban could reach an agreement with Tajikistan’s opposition Islamic Renaissance Party. Then Uzbekistan, with its historic Tajik centers of Bukhara and Samarkand, would be in danger. If peace agreements for Tajikistan are implemented and the Islamic Renaissance Party gains power there, the Afghan-Tajik border will become more porous, since the party still has bases and allies in Afghanistan. In that situation, Russian border guards could be forced to leave, opening a direct route from Afghanistan to Europe. It may well be that silk will not be the only commodity to travel along this route.
Beyond the risk in one or more of the region’s countries of a redistribution of power with foreign armed support is the danger of ethnic warfare within a country or across a border. Afghans and Tajiks are members of the Iranian ethnic group, while Uzbeks, Turkmens, and Kazaks are Turkic peoples. To a large extent, this distinction was behind the civil wars in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and it could be a problem in Uzbekistan. Iran or Turkey could well become involved. Violent conflicts are possible between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks-indeed, they have already developed in Uzbekistan’s Fergana Valley, where radical Islamist sentiment is strong-as well as between various Muslim movements, orders, and sects.
In Kazakstan, half the population is nonKazak, mainly ethnic Russian, especially in the northern and eastern regions adjacent to the Russian Federation, and there has been talk of secession and of union with Russia. Moreover, any of the country’s three largest rival clans or one of the political associations or coalitions, such as the Communist Party or the Republican Strike Committee, could challenge Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is not as securely in power as he seems, and initiate large-scale unrest. Supporters of communist China inside Kazakstan among the millions of members of the Uigur and Kazak clans further complicate matters.
The political fate of Kyrgyzstan is tied to that of ethnically and culturally close Kazakstan, which dwarfs its neighbor in size, population, and resources. Kyrgyzstan’s central government may lose control of the mountainous Tien Shan region in the south to the powerful clans there. The weakness of the armed forces under President Askar Akayev as well as accusations of corruption and nepotism at the highest levels have led to threats of intervention by both Islamist populists and the leftist supporters of a restoration of the Soviet order. Kyrgyzstan may not escape a variant of the scenario in Tajikistan.
Despite the December 1996 peace agreement in its civil war, Tajikistan could still see a complex, endless armed struggle similar to that in Afghanistan. If the Taliban seize and consolidate power in northern Afghanistan, the victory of the Islamic Renaissance Party will become likely in Tajikistan, which could encourage the republic’s disintegration. Clashes are likely to extend to adjacent regions of Uzbekistan with substantial Tajik populations as well as to some parts of the Fergana Valley. On the other hand, implementation of the Tajik peace accord followed by the return of the radical Tajik Muslim opposition from its wartime base in Afghanistan cannot be ruled out. Thus Central Asia may see its first Islamic republic.
Currently Uzbekistan seems stable, but the stability is illusory President Islam Karimov is boosted somewhat by his country’s industrial potential, oil, gold, and uranium. But while the authorities are keeping the lid on conflict for now, intrigues are brewing. Instability in Tajikistan and the specter of the Taliban, along with the weakness of Uzbekistan’s armed forces, may aggravate tensions inside Uzbekistan. Foreign veteran troops would probably have an edge over the Uzbek army, which has more military hardware but no combat experience, and leaders who have been chosen for political reasons. In case of turmoil, Uzbek clans and outside powers could reach a compromise resembling the one at the turn of the century, when the emirate of Bukhara and the khanates of Khiva and Kojand suited everyone for a time, even the Bolsheviks.
Turkmenistan is best considered last since under the firm hand of President Saparmurad Niyazov, “father of the Turkmens,” this Central Asian republic has managed to build some sense of national unity based on state capitalism in the economy, social rather than national values in politics, and the idea of transforming the former republic into a Central Asian Kuwait. Niyazov holds relatively balanced views on social and religious matters. In spite of mild Western criticism of his domestic policies-and helped by the nation’s oil, its mineral deposits, and its natural gas reserves, which are among the largest in the world-he wields his authority shrewdly, keeping the leading ethno-regional clans content by dividing oil money, projects, and jobs among them. Abroad, he maintains reasonable relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and his flexible policy toward the United States, Russia, Turkey, and Iran attracts foreign investment in his country’s gas and oil industry. Unfortunately, the construction of strong national identities, which seems to be the route most of the region’s leaders are taking, can easily lead to rivalry among nationalities within countries, and possibly to jingoism and friction between countries.
Turkey or Iran could become a stabilizing influence in Central Asia, but their rivalry could prove a negative force. Turkey is striving to establish itself as the chief player in the region. Former Foreign
Minister Eldar Inonu stated that Ankara wants to institutionalize relations with the Turkic-majority Central Asian republics in a commonwealth. Already Turkey has provided the five republics with more than $80 million in aid and $700 million in credits. Uzbekistan received $54 million in assistance, while the much needier Tajikistan got only $400,000. The rationale is clear Uzbeks, Turkmens, and Kazaks are Turkic peoples. Tajiks and Afghans, on the other hand, are of Iranian ethnicity-which is why Iran, a regional power with substantial growth potential, can count on expanding its influence in Central Asia.
As IN Central Asia, the Caucasus’ emancipation from the status of Russian protectorate will mean a resurgence of influence for both Iran and Turkey. The population of the Caucasus is extremely diverse, and hostile relations between some of its peoples are a centuries-old tradition. In addition, each of its peoples is divided into clans that jockey for power among themselves. Historically, religion was the basis for the differences in the region. The Orthodox Armenians, the Georgians, and the majority of Ossets were Christian, oriented toward the nearby Christian empires of Byzantium and Russia. The peoples of the North Caucasus and what is now Azerbaijan were Muslim and received moral, economic, and military support from either the Ottoman Empire or Persia. Moreover, the relative importance of religion differed in the various cultures. The Georgians were more religiously observant than the Ossets, the Chechens and the Azeris more so than the Dagestanis or the Ingush. Some nationalities held on to their ancestral cults and pagan rituals and professed a Christianity or an Islam that was merely formal.
Conflict in the region is aggravated by Russia’s unsuccessful military venture in Chechnya, although Russian troops were subsequently withdrawn. The wars in Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Chechnya may not be the final chapters in the escalation of conflicts in the Caucasus. The many reasons for division among the Caucasian peoples are precisely why the region needs an external arbiter. The European countries and the United States will not intervene militarily in any Caucasian conflict, as the potential for casualties is high in mountain warfare against local militia and troops could not ensure control of territory.
The Beginning of History
Restoring the Soviet Union to its former self is impossible. Elites, old and new, in the newly independent states are intent on preserving their nations’ sovereignty. Every former Soviet republic has held presidential and parliamentary elections and adopted a new constitution. Everywhere the search for a national identity is under way, and people increasingly think of themselves not as Soviet citizens but as Ukrainians, Kazaks, or Azerbaijanis.
The scramble for the spoils of the Soviet heritage could cause serious conflict between major geopolitical players and threaten the very foundations of established security systems. When a tenant in a building falls ill or dies, if the tenants in the other apartments begin knocking down walls to expand their own space, they could end up destroying the entire building. Any “world order” is stable only when everyone knows his place in it and there is sufficient collective and individual power, and the willingness to use it, to maintain the whole. The challenge for Europe and the world in the post-Soviet space is averting further disintegration and keeping disorder and conflict from spilling out of the region and setting the globe ablaze.
It is clearly to the West’s advantage to promote certain kinds of regional integration in Eurasia. The rapid rise of any player, especially China or Iran, or a radical Islamic revolution could harm Western interests. Western unity would be shaken if one or more of its own, whether Germany, Turkey, or Japan, tried to secure its own zone of influence. The intervention of NATO forces in future conflicts in the region, probably at the request of the parties involved, could cause further disintegration, perhaps resulting in loss of control over weapons of mass destruction.
The West has levers that it can push to help shape politics in Russia and other CIS states today, including influence over opposition leaders. With NATO expanding to the borders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, and so long as Russia is weakened militarily and increasingly dependent on the West economically, Western influence is likely to grow. Economic integration supported by the West would be a powerful stabilizing factor in the region.
Having lost faith in its guiding principles, Russia may descend into chaos and destroy itself, along with the region, unless it discovers new values that can sustain it. Nations, like people, do not live by bread alone, nor by sophisticated weaponry They need, above all, the spiritual foundation that a great ideal and its related set of values provide. Large states and empires have always been built on an idea; the Monroe Doctrine and U.S. global leadership would not have existed but for the American belief in manifest destiny. The state should deploy such an idea with care, and citizens are right to regard it cautiously But with its deep emotional appeal, it fires the disparate members of a society to work for the common interest rather than for selfish gain. One need look only at the monumental plants and public works built in the early decades of communism by workers laboring not for wages but for a better future.
What ideal will Russia choose for itself? What course will it take?
The communist ideal can still bring people into the streets, but the current brand of communism has compromised itself and lost its mobilizing character, and it is sapped by squabbling between factions. The monarchical-Orthodox value system harking back to the days of the czars and the Holy Russian Empire-Moscow as the “third Rome”-has the support only of a small group within the intelligentsia. Moreover, traditional religions and cultures can compensate for economic pain, but they tend to divide rather than unite people in countries with mixed heritages. Business people’s views are reasonable and intelligent, but being wholly material, they lack the force of a universal idea and so fail to generate much support at election time or any other time. Western democratic ideals have been badly tarnished in Russians’ eyes as elections and other trappings of liberal democracy have failed to turn their country into a stable democracy. Instead it is becoming, according to a 1997 report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, a “criminal-syndicalist state” controlled by a troika of gangsters, corrupt government officials, and crooked businessmen who accumulate vast wealth by exploiting the “vulnerabilities of a society in transition.”
The best idea for former Soviet lands today would incorporate both the best of Russia’s past from the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries and the achievements of the modern age. It must also envision a just society based on fairness and interethnic cooperation-an idea ultimately more attractive and powerful than any purely national idea. The United States has united peoples from all corners of the globe with the promise of equal opportunity. Something of the sort in Kazakstan, for instance, could well defeat Russian nationalists with their dreams of secession and at the same time check the rise of Kazak nationalism. It would also reawaken the memory of the peace and stability that prevailed under the Soviet-era “friendship of peoples” and encourage closer integration in Central Asia and the CIS in general.
If the region cannot come up with an idea that embodies the aims and aspirations of its many peoples and draws them closer together, and if the major powers continue to jockey for influence and thus exacerbate divisions, the international security system could be destroyed and international rules of conduct undermined. An order would once again have to be built, not on principles of law and justice, but around the balancing of interests and forces. That would mark a new and inauspicious “beginning of history.