The Eastern Europe often is associated with CIS, while the CIS is easily traceable back to the times of USSR and the name of the CIS in former Soviet space associates immediately with Russia. And in many ways this organisation was primarily meant to keep the shattered links between Moscow and former Union’s republics. As events proved, many Russian elites initially viewed the creation of the CIS as the basis from which the new country, not countries, could be rebuilt. The empire was lost, and the first reaction was a hope for a restoration of this empire.
Meanwhile the new Russia was born, a country where the discussions about the Great Mother Russia were no longer a taboo. It finally had the possibility to rewrite a new history building up on the past of the 19th century Empire, with a vision of imperial past extending through Soviet times. In ’90s the country no longer feared to admit it had conquered and subdued many nations in its imperial past, and was proud of that “glorious” history. This incursion into the past helps us understand how the new realities were building on both of country’s pasts, Tsarist and Soviet Empires, constructing a new Russian man, whose world revolved around a vision of a Great empire, transformed in time, and finally lost. As one could recognise, hidden facts and lack of continuity in historical sciences, the soviet precedents when scientists were encouraged to deform the facts, all these could bring to a distorted and incomplete past, sometimes constructing an image of heroic and nostalgic times.
The people of the still largest country in the world felt that their glorious past was robbed, they have been defeated by the West, that they lost territories, although they could not have these lands or nations, people, different than Russians and with their own past and hopes for future. Russian national pride and the perception of loss, therefore, remained one of the important factors throughout the recent history, in Kremlin’s decision-making that was shaped by the people who underwent the same psychological transformations and crumble congestions as their countrymen. On the other hand, the times of USSR stability reminded Russia that size mattered, as much as the buffer zone of European satellites, in the context of their perceived defeat from the West.
Russian perception of Europe, evolved, also as a result of one of the past factors – gas supply. Russia was a successor of USSR and continued to exercise the role of raw material supplier to Europe, as well as continued being interested in western high tech. Therefore, Russia inherited the “love-hate” relationship with Europe.
Distorted imperial history provided no scientific continuity, while providing modus operandi. However, the lessons of USSR provided the necessary precedent and coupled with psychological perceptions replaced the scientific continuity.
One could easily remember Russian opposition to the independence of Baltic States, which for Moscow meant these countries westernisation and loss, or Kremlin struggle to avoid further extension of NATO into its former Warsaw block and to the Baltics. Its continuing opposition to these processes means that Russia sees these processes as unnatural to itself, and against Russian interests. In the past it did continue to sell gas, however, as it continued to need high tech.
Whether one likes it or not, the European dimension of Russian interests, therefore, builds up on the Kremlin perceptions of a discomfort of its relation with the Europe – a necessary contact rather than a partnership, as one may suggest, constructed on the Soviet time perceptions, coupled with the communist precedents of the security belts around USSR.
It is often mentioned that Russia had a different behaviour at the beginning of 90s compared to its current stance. Although one may speak about a post-communist transition period for Central and Easter Europe, the more to the East, the more difficult this transition proved. Russia’s transition was quite different from what West initially hoped for. On the other hand, a country with a broken, totalitarian past and imperial loss syndrome, emerging on the continuous perceptions of a Great Russia, also large and difficult to administer, a Russia that needs to hold on to Western intrusion, could not evolve all by itself into a beacon of democracy that actually the West provided. Europe was for Russia an anti-hero, from the start.
The space to the West of Russia, therefore, became that space of converging ideas of either imperial rebirth, of an area of Russian “ownership”, or at least as a space of further use, very much like in the military tactics, a possible buffer zone, or a barrier to dampen adversary’s expansion.
Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova felt into the space of such immediate neighbourhood of importance for Russia. The agreement of these countries’ independence in 1991 was, although initially genuine, a mere temporary solution to settle in the new realities and determine new roles, for Russia as well. The agreement on independence was followed immediately, at the same meeting, by the documents to constitute the Commonwealth of the Independent States. This move shows the double pattern of Russian deep interest in the areas between itself and the West and pragmatism on economic front – a win-win situation, both for Russia mostly, however. One may argue that the constitution of the CIS follows the trends of the British Commonwealth based on common past and joint economic interests. Although some part of this assertion may be true, during 1994, Kremlin diplomacy gave the first clear sign of Russia’s intent in this geographical area – which, this time, it directly tagged as its sphere of interests. The Ethical and Public Policy Centre reported in an article called “Muscular Diplomacy”, signed by George Weigel in February 1994: “Russian foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev has also been making increasingly assertive statements in recent months. He has claimed "the entire geographic area of the former USSR" as a "sphere of vital interest to Russia" and has sought international recognition of Russia as the successor state to the former Soviet Union, so that a "distinctive zone ... of good neighborly relations and cooperation" would be maintained around Russia – a zone presumably to be policed by the Russian military.”
Moldova was a peripheral region in the USSR and remained an unimportant spot until the demise of the Soviet Union, when every fragment mattered. Thus, Moldova, very much like these days, looked at such articles, analyses and observations with a note of wonder. That is because Western countries saw in 1994, what Moldova felt yet in 1991-1992. While the West was surprised in 1994 by a more aggressive Kremlin stance, Moldova already faced a military conflict with separatist paramilitary openly supported by Russia in 1992, and with Russian forces as well – the Transnistrian conflict in the eastern regions of the country, where Russians where actually a minority. The region’s population was 23 per cent Russians, 26 per cent Ukrainians and 45 per cent Moldovans. However, the 23 per cent of Russians, supported by political parties from Russia, took over the power in this part of Moldova and started a confrontational policy against the new pro-independence Government of Moldova. It led to an armed conflict in 1992, which ended up with a direct Russian military intervention on the side of the separatists, while Moldovans and Russians were involved in the conflict on both sides. Moscow claimed it acted as a peacekeeper in such circumstances, when people were killed. If not identical, due to a different ethnical composition, then very similar events happened in Georgia, also with a direct and openly recognized Russian involvement, as peacekeepers, to prevent killing of innocent people. A scenario that a reader could recognize in Georgia most recently, in August 2008.
As it was mentioned, in Moldova, the authorities of Russia openly supported the separatist movement with their armed forces. The statements made by Russian generals after the conflict, either by General Netkachiov in Zakavkazskie Voennye Vedomosti or by General Lebed in other Russian media, clearly sated that the 14th Russian Army provided light and heavy weaponry and training to the Transnistrian separatist paramilitary, while “volunteer” kozaks came from Russia without any hindrance to support these forces organised by the Russian officers. It is alleged that until these days some of the kozaks occupy the houses of internally displaced Moldovans. Finally, the 1992 Agreement on the settlement of the conflict, which stipulated the ceasefire, was not signed between the separatists and central authorities in the Moldovan capital Chisinau. This document was signed by the Presidents of Russia and of Moldova, clearly stating that a ceasefire is signed between Moldova and the Russian Federation.
One another fact showing that at least a part of the political elites in Russia never gave up the idea to reconstruct a joint state with former Republics, was also voiced by the Russian social-democrats in 1992, and also in the case of Transnistrian separatists. At a meeting in the capital of the already self-proclaimed Transnistrian Moldovan Republic, they stated that this is the place where the Soviet Union will be reborn. And as we know, already during Putin’s presidency, he declared that the dissolution of USSR was a mistake. During Putin’s time the history lessons started to be changed again, so as to include Stalin as a great leader of the Soviet Union, continuing the trend that was mentioned above – the Great Mother Russia transformation from Tsarist into another empire, holding large territories that should belong to it. Thus, as we can see, the implications of the past have partially dwelled over Russian decision makers and not only their statements, while also deeds proved that Moscow had a strong willingness to reunify the territories of the former USSR, by all means available. However, a true expansion policy until now could not be implemented because the Kremlin did not have sufficient might and means.
In the 1996 Country study, in the chapter called The Near Abroad, Glenn E. Curtis, speaks about Russian views and their perceptions in the CIS the following: “Many Russians use the term "near abroad" (blizhneye zarubezhiye) to refer to the fourteen other former Soviet republics that had declared their independence by the time the Soviet Union broke up at the end of 1991. Leaders and elites in those republics objected that the term implied limitations on the sovereignty or status of the new states. Some analysts in the NIS and the West warned that Russia was showing a desire either to reconstitute its traditional empire or at least to include the NIS within an exclusive sphere of influence. They speculated that its arrangement with the near abroad might take the form of a collective security pact, similar to the former Warsaw Pact, that would counter NATO.” Russian efforts to rebuild an organisation similar to the Warsaw Pact were successful – the Collective Security Treaty is in force, while such countries as Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, who were concerned of Russian belligerence, managed to avoid their membership in it. However, the very fact that Moscow decided to recreate some form of anti-NATO, actually provide an insight how Kremlin has perceived the entire West, not only NATO and respectively how it continues to operate against a perceived enemy up to this date.
As one can see, since 1992, Moldovans, Georgians, Ukrainians continued to face a more assertive Russia, being either direct neighbours or having Russia as one of their primary export market and at the same time their only energy supplier. Meanwhile the conflict resolution mechanisms in Moldova and Georgia, were dominated by Russia, as the main guarantor, or mediator. For example, due to unofficial Russian opposition, it took years for Moldovan diplomacy to ensure the internationalization of the existing conflict resolution formats, so that Chisinau does not seat only in front of Russia and Transnistrian separatist leaders from their capital Tiraspol, all Russian citizens. However, Russia keeping a veto right, the conflict resolution for a number of years was frozen. For Russia the status quo was more favourable than a resolution, as it provided a long-term leverage. For example in Moldova no political party can afford declaring Transnistrian conflict resolution as a second priority, for example as compared to reforms even. Russian influence over Moldovan politics was growing due to that.
Kremlin was using all means available to exert its influence over the CIS area, including military and political involvement. As Glenn Curtis mentions in its 1996 Country report, in 1993 after Georgia lost the war in separatist Abkhazia, it ended its opposition towards CIS and became a full member, while in 1994 Russia requested UN and EU to recognize the CIS as a regional organisation, which would legitimise its unilateral peacekeeping mission under CIS umbrella in Abkhazia, Georgia. This report rightly assesses that Russia's pressure of a trade blockade influenced Moldovan elections, which contributed to the fact that after 1994 elections the new Moldovan legislature ratified membership in the CIS, bringing the last of the non-Baltic Soviet republics into the organization.
However, it was not the CIS itself that was important in this equation for Kremlin, since it only provided the necessary mechanism to integrate the former USSR Republics into a Commonwealth, which Russians now see as a second EU, despite the obvious discrepancy in member-states’ relation inside these to organisations. This also shows that Russian policy towards CIS and the relations with former Republics fluctuated depending on internal political situation and perceptions in Russian, rise of Russian nationalism, or a less positive attitude of “newly independent states” towards the non-providing CIS.
Kremlin oscillated between greater CIS role and closer direct bilateral ties with former Soviet Republics. These oscillations corresponded to periods of elections, as of 1995 up to the moment when the new leadership from the security services came to power. Already in 1995 President Eltsin, responding to national feelings of dissatisfaction with the state of Russian power, shifted its policies towards dividing the countries within CIS into more friendly and less friendly. These fluctuations led to a greater division of positions within CIS states and already in 1997, The Economist was reporting a swing back in Russian attention from its opposition to NATO towards CIS. In its May 22nd edition it reported that “Belatedly, Russia has come to see that relations within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a talking-shop comprising 12 countries of the old Soviet Union (with the Baltic trio refusing to join), have been fraying—perhaps beyond repair.” However, the economic realities in CIS, where Russia constitutes main economic partner for majority of members, provided a different turn. The 1998 crisis managed to build a greater cohesion between the inter-dependent economies, which reduced the possibilities of a fraying relationship reported in 1997 by The Economist.
The Moldovan news agency Infotag reported on November 26, 1998, that the Moldovan Prime-Minister Ciubuc stated "Of all 36 documents proposed for debates, we signed 18, of which the most important ones refer to the adoption of joint decisions and efforts to overcome the crisis". In these circumstances, the still existing economic interdependence provided possibilities for Russia to strengthen the ties with the CIS countries. On the other hand, the unilateral economic and energy dependency of Moldova, for example, generated a growing concern over country’s security. In 1998 elections the opposition to Russian policies in former USSR produced a governing collation that was less inclined in favour of the CIS. The chairman of Foreign Policy Commission of the Moldovan Parliament stated in august 1999 that CIS is not a viable organisation and Moldova should leave it, as it only repeats the same functions as Council of Europe or other international organisations.
Russia, on the other hand, understood that by 1998-1999 it became the only engine behind CIS, and displayed a certain fatigue, as well as consequent fluctuation between “greater” and “lesser” friends of Russia, inclining towards bilateral agreements, as having more importance over CIS cooperation. Thus, Russian isolationist economic policy, coupled with its support to Transnistrian separatism in Moldova, or Crimean separatism in Ukraine, Abkhaz and South Ossetian separatism in Georgia, generated even more adverse, or at least reserved reaction towards Russia and the organization that is associated with this country – CIS.
Moldova was sensitive to such pressure as it entered into Transnistrian conflict resolution in 1992 with a hope to solve it soon. After five years of negotiations, where Russia clearly displayed a unilateral military, diplomatic and financial support to the separatists, Moldova was no longer ready to support such a unilateral mediation. Moreover, it felt that it is forced to accept a number of agreements on conflict resolution that were viewed as serious concessions on Moldovan side. Thus, after refusing in 1994, upon Transnistrian and Russian insistence, the presence of neighbouring friendly Romania in the negotiations format, in 1997, Russian Foreign Minister Primakov managed to force Moldovan president to enter into a negotiation, in an undeclared 2+1 format, with participation of Russia, Transnistrian separatists and Moldova. As a result of Dayton like negotiations, Russian and Transnistrian side forced Moldova to sign a Memorandum through which it accepts a so-called “common state” with Transnistrian authorities, placing these authorities on terms of confederative subject with the right of secession and international recognition – a declared goal of Transnistrian authorities. The agreement was considered by most of the Moldovan non-governing political elites as yielding to Russian pressure that was not aiming to resolve the conflict, while was intended to provide more influence over Moldova and worse negotiation positions for Chisinau. This assessment proved correct later, when the separatist authorities used a number of economic concessions in their favour, without implementing their obligations under the Memorandum. Russia, however, always unilaterally supported the Tiraspol, quoting the Memorandum and never used its profound influence to convince the separatists to respect it. The entire negotiations period until 2002 was marked by further use by Russia of such tactics.
Moldova was at the same time in a difficult situation, understanding that Russia has a role to play, as well as he fact that it plays a rather negative role. Therefore, Russian influence remained strong in Moldova, as it remained strong over other countries of former USSR. One of the best examples of such strength is the account of The Economist magazine of June 22, 2000. It mentions that when visiting Moldova in summer of 2000 he was received with high honours. “For an embattled new president, talking toughly to someone weaker seems to be just the ticket. At home, Mr Putin may still feel overshadowed by the tycoons, regional barons and Kremlin fixers from the previous presidential regime, all of whom helped him into office. When dealing with pipsqueaks like Moldova, it is another story. During a recent visit to that impoverished republic in the south-western corner of the former Soviet Union, he could boss his hosts around as if he were the leader of a superpower” wrote The Economist at that time. The magazine also believed that the power of Russia was vanishing. However, the year 2001 in Moldova proved that Mr. Putin came with new approach – and this time in internal politics of the CIS countries.
In 2001, subsequent to economic crisis and political instability, the Communist Party of the Republic of Moldova (CPRM) came to power. The party was supported by Russia – this marked, for Moldova, the first serious attempt of Russia to diversify even more from the tactics of controlled chaos in separatist regions, towards ensuring its influence through alleged more serious funding and media support of a political party. The Communists promised Moldovan electorate better economic conditions, and, quite interestingly, to a part of a nostalgic or national minority electorate to declare Russian language as an official language of the country, and entering Russia-Belarus Union, both matching to Russian foreign policy objectives of that time.
The transition from a weak to a strong President showed that many in Russia were ready to depart from country’s “weaker” past and ensure a more active role in regional affairs. This should be taken together with the continuing trend of Russian national feeling of loss and humiliation that continued to haunt the society. The perception of the West as of an enemy was, in such circumstances, still very much present in Russian minds. Western criticism towards the lack of democratic developments of the country was perceived as unilateral and unfair allegation. Although Russia is a country that declares that it will act more decisively, however, the fluctuations in CIS area are still present.
Russian decisiveness is clearly stated in The National Security Concept of the Russian Federation, amended on January 10, 2000. It mentions that Russian national interests in foreign relations are to strengthen Russia’s position of a great power – one of the centres of the multi-polar world and development of equal and mutually profitable relations with all the countries and international unions, first of all with the member-states of the CIS. However, it also mentions the respect of human rights in such a manner that speaks about the inadmissibility of the double standards. This, basically, marks the departure of Russia from a Western like democracy concept, better relations with the West and its way to the new concept of the “sovereign democracy”, which allows the governance to amend democracy, when it sees fit. However, the new Russian decisiveness did not mean a well formulated policy towards CIS space. The only unchanged policy was that one of pressures in the conflict resolutions and the policy to attempt influencing political parties. Meanwhile the oscillations towards CIS, continue and in September Kremlin announces that it will introduce visas for CIS countries, a move that was never followed up for CIS members from the European part of this organisation. Already in June 2003 Russian Government declared it will leave a number of CIS agreements as these no longer is interested in them. Moldova news agency Basa-Press reported on July 1, 2003, that “Russian experts note that, in such a way, Russia “has given the start of the CIS dismantling”, due to the fact that the Commonwealth exhausted its functionality, which at its start had the goal to stop the final dissolution of the USSR.” Russia was implementing a new plan – a smaller Union, a Joint Economic Space, that might prove more manageable, and which might provide a better start for imperial reconstruction. The quotes of Russian experts provided above prove once again that for more than 10 years one of Russia’s national projects was to stop the dissolution of the USSR or to undertake necessary actions to re-establish a joint country again, the empire they’ve lost.
These developments explain to a certain extent Russian behaviour in years that followed. Russia did not accept the new European mentality, nor European values. Most of its policy further proved that it used real-politik in relations to both Europe and its CIS neighbours, whom it viewed and continues to view as temporarily lost territories.
In 2003 Russia pushes Moldova to accept a new Memorandum, negotiated by the Putin’s envoy Dimitry Kozak. The Kozak Memorandum ensures that Russian citizens from Transnistrian separatist region will have a veto power over foreign policy objectives o the country, will veto decisions of the Constitutional Court, will set forth policies in all the governmental areas, and finally this document ensures that Russian army will station for another 17 years to oversee the implementation of the Memorandum. The mere conditions set forth by Russia resulted in a refusal by the Moldovan side and support given by the European Union and its member states to Moldova. As a result of this refusal, Russian Federation introduced an embargo over the import of the agricultural production, which is mainly an agricultural country, and followed with a ban to import wines, another important product in the Moldovan export. Moldova meanwhile declared the European integration its strategic and irreversible course. Moreover, in time more events triggered Russia’s nervousness. It was not happy with losses of Ukraine and Georgia as a result of the Rose and Orange revolutions that followed.
Russian remained with, basically, three leverages over countries in the western CIS space – one of them was mass media, another was straightforward war, and another was gas. In case of Moldova, the Russian Federation was careful to ensure that its official TV channel is retranslated on the Moldovan State Frequency, which meant national coverage. The situation in Ukraine may not be identical, while it is certainly very similar to Moldova, in terms of Russian media importance for a big part of the country. As a consequence of such a coverage at the end of 2008, Moldovan citizens stated in a series of opinion polls (by Moldovan NGOs IPP and IDIS-Viitorul) that Prime-Minister Putin is the most popular politician in the Republic of Moldova with over 70 per cent popularity, followed by Russian President Dimitry Medvedev, while the Moldovan president himself takes only around 37 per cent popularity from its own citizens, twice less than Russian Prime-Minister. The populace in Moldova is so indoctrinated by the Russian television that declared that the European integration of Moldova was best covered by the Russian public TV, which actually never reported on that. The popularity of Russian leadership in Moldova is matched by similar figures in Armenia, for the same, media-related, reasons. Ukraine is also affected. Finally, in Moldova this situation is provoking more and more discussions about Information Security. The appearance of the Russian Prime-Minister on Russian TV with a message on who should be voted in Moldovan elections, indeed became a mater of national security, although one may say that this sounds incredible.
In case of Georgia, the war conducted against it in August 2009 was the only leverage Russia had over this country. Georgia is not influenced by Russian TV, it is less dependent on Russian gas, however, it declared its willingness to join NATO and the oil pipeline is transiting its territory, creating god conditions for a competition against Russian oil. It also helped avoiding further NATO expansion that Russia continues to perceive as an enemy and reduced Georgia’s credibility as a safe country in terms of energy transit, hopefully increasing Russian chances of gas and oil supplies to Europe. There was also a Russian desire to impose itself on international arena through a forceful action that would “respond” to Kosovo precedent, thus forcing an international image of a more powerful country, whose concerns should be no longer disregarded, basically attempting to raise its status in international relations. The action in Georgia was also important inside Russia, to accommodate the psychological feeling of loss and humiliation of Russians, mentioned above.
In case of Ukraine and Moldova the use of energy weapon was a sufficiently serious and not less effective leverage at Kremlin’s disposal, since both Ukraine and Moldova had been more linked to Russian gas network. In the case of Moldova its dependency on Russian gas is 100 per cent. After the events in Moldova and colour revolutions, Russian perception of loss of territories strengthened, and the energy weapon took from that time an important role in Kremlin’s political arsenal. The prices for gas suddenly started to grow, particularly after hasty Gazprom announcements during the winter. And it could be understood that Moldova or Ukraine did not calculate their budgets for such sudden and unplanned changes of pricing policy and were unable to find the money requested by Gazprom immediately. Before negotiations ended both countries were disconnected by Russia from the network.
Ukraine provided Moldova a part of its strategic reserves during the recent crisis, thus reducing gas supply to its own nationals and consequently lowering the pressure in its pipelines. At the NATO Riga Summit of 2006 the Western countries openly criticise for the first time Russia for the use of energy “weapon” for political ends.
In reality Moldova faced energy crises earlier. Moldovans had gas supply cut during the 1992 Transnistrian war and had energy crises a few times after. Transnistrian separatist leaders, who are ethnic Russians and citizens of Russian Federation, have cut, to Chisinau, in winter, electricity supplies from the Moldovan National Power Station located on their territory as well, additional to gas supply cuts by Russia. Such actions were making Moldova more flexible. The central authorities in Chisinau are now supportive again to the Russian plan to revive CIS, which shuttered after Georgia’s statement, and fears that Ukraine and after it Moldova might leave it. They even agreed to take over the CIS presidency in 2009 to prove its loyalty ahead of Moldovan elections where Russia could fund one party or another, or use its energy weapon in plain winter, as it did before.
The current irony, in the January 2009 energy crisis, is not that Russia used the same tactics as the pervious time, surprisingly cutting gas in winter. The current unfortunate development is that it used initially mass media to convince Moldovans, Ukrainians themselves and other Europeans that gas interruption was well motivated – an explanation that seemed to work in Europe. Gazprom is concerned with the Ukrainian debt of over 1,5 mlrd USD, which appears to an ordinary person as a big figure. In reality in Gazprom terms it is not, it operates with greater figures. However, even that is irrelevant compared to a simple fact that comes from Moldova. Russian geopolitical crusade against politically instable Ukraine and Moldova that is approaching the elections proves to be very simple to confirm, with the help of a perspective from Moldova, as mentioned by IDIS-Viitorul NGO Director – the Transnistrian separatist authorities owe Russian Gazprom over 2 mlrd US Dollars. That does not bother Russian Federation, while Ukrainian debt of about 1,5 mlrd US Dollars did bother Gazprom. Who, in their right mind, would believe that, Mr Putin?
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