Friday, August 15, 2008

Lessons for Russia

A final observation, as I step back to survey the larger Eurasian picture. And my hope is that the Russian Foreign Ministry and its analytical wing begin to pay attention to a critical question: why, with all of its advantages, has Russia failed to deploy and use its soft power to much better advantage in the Eurasian space?

Russia is the economic center of gravity of the region; there are millions of Ukrainians and Georgians who live and work in Russia, and who have benefited from its prosperity (and by extension, helped the economies of their countries as well). Russia has done much more in economic terms than the West. There still are immensely strong cultural ties as well.

I know that people point to the nationalism of the west Ukrainians or of some segments of the Georgian elite, but in the case of Georgia, why did no stronger pro-Russian party develop as a counterweight?

Russia does seem to have pursued a much more effective policy toward Kazakhstan--even when Kazakhstan has flirted with the West and pursued closer ties with the U.S. and Europe. Is it because Russia has been prepared in its dealing with Astana to work on the basis of equality/near equality of partners?

Is there a way Russia could have said, join with us for mutual prosperity and benefit, that would have resonated? Could this have also borne fruit in Russia's problematic ties with Central-Eastern Europe. It does seem that in Russia's relationships with Hungary and Slovakia, for instance, this message--let's make money together--has won out. Not so much with Poland.

Perhaps Russia should study the often prickly U.S.-Mexican but also sometimes problematic U.S.-Canadian relationship; it is hard for smaller countries to subsist in the shadow of a major power (and the U.S. did fight wars with Mexico and twice tried to conquer Canada in its earlier history).

You see the warm relations between members of the various post-Soviet Olympic teams in Beijing, even the Russian and Georgian ones. There is a foundation there.

Perhaps the Russian version of Joe Nye can research and explain this problem. I am still genuinely puzzled by it--and this meandering post is a reflection of that confusion.

I don't think that Russia's softpower is really so ineffective. Georgia is a case when an open conflict has always prevented it from working. In fact, economic and other relations between Russia and other countries in the neighborhood are quite intensive, sometimes beneath the surface of official animosity. The West partly deludes itself by chosing and encouraging people with more anti-Russian attitudes and by refusing to see anything else.

Regarding specifically Georgia, it is not good as an example because there has always been an unresolved conflict, with a lot of bad memories. Will be much worse now, certainly.
In order not to be unsubstantiated, I'll make a reference to a source, which I despise, but which can be useful exactly due to primitivism of its hatreds:
Russia has been prepared to work with partners when the partners have been prepared to work with Russia. You mentioned Hungary and Slovakia, and the previous commenter mentioned Latva, and we could add the Azeris to the list.

Absent a willingness to cooperate with Russia though, things seem to go downhill pretty fast, as we've seen in Russia's relations with Georgia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia. US-Russia trade is minimal for both countries too, despite numerous Russian concessions, offers of cooperation, and attempts to conciliate the US over the past quarter century.

Maybe it would be more fruitful to direct your research to these places.
I think there is some correlating evidence that among Ukrainians, those who worked in Russia tended to vote for Yanukovich and the blue team. But it does seem that Georgians living off of remittances from family in Russia still were voting for Saakashvili, maybe thinking he'd get a lot of cash from the west.
Russians still don't understand how to win friends and influence people. They are stll used to issuing commands in what they see as their space, their neigborhood. True, US has had similar experience in Latin America. Its tough for a hegemonic power to act differently.
Russia may be able to work with partners anonymous 2:43, but the question I think then to ask is whether politicians in those countries could run on a pro-Russian platform and get elected (except in Azerbaijan, where that doesn't matter).

I do think by the way that you can in Germany--I think being sensible on Russia is seen as a plus.
Right from the start, Saakashvili created very unnerving environment for the opposition. Plus, Georgia is a post soviet country where government opinion matters more than in the west. People need a bit more time to develop a more mature political culture.

Saakashvili’s anti-Russian hysteria worked well so far… This time though Georgians may realize in a few months what he has done to the country (hundreds are dead, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are most likely lost forever) and will kick him out of the president’s chair.
Kazakhstan is divided between the Russian & Ukranians (Orthodox) in the North and the Kazakhs (Muslims) of the South. There is very little social interaction among the two groups. Moreover, the state culture is Russian and the elite is intensely un-Islamic if not down-right anti-Islamic. They have no place else to go but Russia as both US and China are too far away.

Nevertheless, Kazakhstan, just like Ukraine, will be broken up and pieces of it will join with Russia in the coming decades if not sooner.

As for soft-power; I think that you have to articulate it more clearly and distinguish among political. diplomatic, moral, cultural, financial, and economic forms of it. Soft-power, in itself, is devoid of analytical content.

Mexico lost 1/3 of its territory to US; is that a good example of "soft-power"? And what was teh war of 1812 about? And how about the US imperialists that had wanted to incorporate both Mexico and Canada into the United States?

The salient feature of both Mexico and Canada vis a vis US is that both states have accepted their assumed inferior position. Georgia has not neither have the Baltic states, Poland, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan encouraged by US & EU.
@ anonymous 7:21pm.
Successfully running on a "pro-Russian" (rather a "not-madly nationalist") platform is absolutely possible in all countries in question where elections matter, with an obvious exception of Georgia. In all cases more open rapproachment with Russia is prevented by various unsettled issues, either territorial, or concerning the rights of Russian minorities in these countries.

Poland is a strange country in this regard as it does not have any obvious disputes with Russia but still manages to have fairly difficult relations with it. I suspect that parts of Polish establishment have some quasi-imperial ambitions, to which Russia is an obstacle. Playing old Rzech Pospolita, I guess. Poland is a drop-out empire, it is necessary to remember.
By, the way, there is a funny video on the NYT website today, it highights the fact of Russia's exerting some soft power in Baltics:

Actully, "finlandization", "Russians buying up our politicians", and the like, are constant cries from the Eastern European far-right these days, amply repeated by the U.S. and British media. It's a little strange that Mr. Gvosdev didn't notice them. I do think the outcry will turn much louder after the Georgian debacle. If I were a supporter of conspiracy theories, I would speculate that the Saakashvili's stupid attack of Ossetia was masterminded in Washington, specifically to prevent Eastern Europe from building more normal relations with Russia.

By the way, I think that as American economic and political clout in the region stops to be unmatched, the U.S. may well end up supporting openly dictatorial forces in Eastern Europe, all in the name of protecting "independence and democracy" from Russian money. Depends on who will be in charge in Washington, of course.
Thanks for all the comments.

I am well aware of Russia's influence and that there are a number of political forces in ex-Soviet space that take a pragmatic approach to dealings with Russia. What I am still trying to get a handle on is how this translates into electoral politics in these countries.
When Lithunians elected a wrong president, he was impeached. An example of electoral politics.
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