The messenger logo

Russia has failed to establish a sphere of influence

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, July 28
While the US and Russia were trying to press the reset button it became clear that the USA will not accept Moscow’s claim that it has the right to establish a sphere of influence. This support is of course welcome. But in addition to the voices of these two big players the modest bleatings of the small nations who would be part of this ‘sphere of influence’ should also be considered when discussing this issue.

The Kremlin reckons that its natural sphere of influence consists of the post-Soviet countries united in the CIS. In Putin’s Russia there is serious nostalgia for the Soviet Union and Moscow dreams of reintegrating these countries through a certain common framework. Despite the fact that Russia possesses many levers for doing so, military, political, economic and otherwise, it has so far failed to influence its neighbours in the post-Soviet area in the way it considers desireable.

The attack on Georgia last August was supposed to be exemplary punishment of a disobedient “ally”, a lesson for all CIS member countries. Of course these countries were frightened and nobody dared to utter a word in defence of sovereign Georgia or condemn Moscow’s actions openly. But neither did these countries follow Moscow’s steps blindly, and they have not recognised the separatist regions of Georgia as independent states despite Moscow’s demand that they do so. It’s likely that these countries are concerned about their image in the civilized world but also concerned about their own future. If Moscow snatches a piece of Georgian territory who can guarantee that it will not do the same in other CIS countries? Obviously these countries are not very happy at the prospect of violations of their sovereignty.

The Russian leadership meanwhile does its best to promote its puppet countries internationally, using different diplomatically acceptable or unacceptable methods. Moscow’s arguments when it vetoed the continuation of the OSCE and UNOMIG missions in Georgia were an indirect attempt to enforce international recognition of these ‘states’. But sometimes this leads to comical situations. For instance on July 18 puppet leaders Baghapsh and Kokoity were invited to watch a horse race at the Moscow Hippodrome for the President Medvedev Cup alongside the heads of legal states. Though the event was informal Baghapsh and Kokoity’s presence among real heads of state would have been seen as a legitimisation of their positions and therefore their ‘countries’. The Presidents of Belarus, Ukraine and Turkmenistan simply did not turn up to this event, citing several reasons. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliev arrived but refused to sit at the same table with Baghapsh and Kokoity. Probably his motivation for doing both things together was to maintain good relations with Georgia and also seek some help resolving the Karabakh conflict. However the result was that Kokoity and Baghapsh sat at a separate table with the Russian President Administration chief Sergey Narishkin.

Even Russia’s closest ally, Belarus, is distancing itself from Moscow. Despite the categorical demand that he recognise breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia the Belarus President has refused to do so and even turned down a half a billion USD soft loan Moscow was offering on this condition. Central Asian countries also seem to be establishing independent priorities and have taken steps to create new energy transport routes which would bypass Russia. Moscow claims to be the natural leader of the post-Soviet sphere and seeks to reunite the former Soviet countries around itself. But it has not given any country as a reason to allow it to do so. It presents no credible reasons why the region’s countries consolidate around Russia. It also demands that they confront the EU and NATO, again without giving a credible reason why anyone should.

Russia breeds fear rather than respect and hatred rather than love in those it considers its natural servants. Consequently interest in Russia’s culture, language, science and educational system has fallen dramatically in the post-Soviet countries. Instead their people are interested in learning English, French and German, receiving an education in Western countries, establishing deeper and stronger links in fields such as science and technology and promoting cultural relationships and so on with the western countries. This of course is a tragedy for Russia.

Russia’s attempts to establish a sphere of influence in the former Russian empire have been frustrated. It cannot create a sphere of influence in the 21st century by using the methods of 19th century. But nobody should be blamed for this apart from the Russian leaders themselves.