Russia's New Europe

Russia's New Europe

Mini Teaser: A closet imperialist bent on reviving Moscow's dominion.

by Author(s): Janusz Bugajski

Russia is not intent on territorial incorporation, as this is an
expensive proposition. Instead, it pursues selective domination in
key areas such as energy, business and the military to enable primary
influence over a country's foreign, security and economic policies.
The CIS structures, although weak under the Yeltsin presidency, have
provided Moscow with a vehicle for projecting political influence and
limiting unwelcome Westernization. Putin's Kremlin calculated that an
invigorated Russian-dominated CIS would become a distinct pole of
influence in a future multipolar world. This would entail the
development of supranational organs, including an economic union
styled as the Eurasian Economic Community and a Collective Security
Organization launched in October 2002 under Russian command. As could
be expected, Moscow has pressed for "asymmetrical sovereignty", in
which it assumes the decisive voice in all Commonwealth affairs.

In addition to the CIS structures, Russia has pursued more binding
bilateral arrangements through the application of direct pressure
against targeted governments. This has included diplomatic coercion,
disinformation campaigns, military threats, peacekeeping deployments,
energy controls, economic pressures, ethnic manipulation,
exploitation of criminal networks and intelligence-service
penetration.

Putin views economic relations as an especially valuable means of
gaining political influence. As the region's dominant energy
supplier, Moscow has deepened the dependence of eastern European
states whose vulnerability can be transformed into political
leverage. Energy and other strategic resources can be decreased or
severed in order to exert pressure on particular capitals to adjust
their policies. The threat of potential economic chaos through energy
shortages has generated powerful pressures on neighboring governments
to synchronize their policies with the Kremlin. Russian purchases of
key infrastructure elements such as pipelines and refineries enable
Moscow to apply additional pressure. The most vulnerable states were
burdened with enormous debts that Moscow exchanged for a share in the
ownership of strategically important industries, particularly in the
energy sector. In this way, Moscow attached more strings to its
former puppets.

Between Eurasia and Euramerica

The struggle over eastern Europe revolves around two opposing
strategic concepts: Eurasia and Euramerica. The Euramerica option
envisages the close engagement of the United States in European
security, whether through NATO or in various bilateral and
sub-regional arrangements. In marked contrast, the Eurasian variant
would consist of a prominent Brussels-Moscow axis in which the EU
achieves a greater security role in close collaboration with Russia.
While most of the new democracies clearly favor the Euramerica
structure, competition with the Eurasian alternative is most
pronounced in Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova. All three countries are
now defined as "strategic partners" by Moscow, which calculates that
their close integration with Russia can counter the process of NATO
enlargement and limit American involvement in eastern Europe.

Moscow's exertions proved most fruitful in Belarus, a country with a
weak sense of national identity and whose president, Aleksandr
Lukashenko, maintained dictatorial powers and harbored ambitions to
become a pan-Slavic leader. A close relationship with Belarus was
viewed as a strategic imperative because control over Minsk's foreign
policy eliminated the prospect of a Baltic-Black Sea "belt" that
could isolate Russia. Forged in the late-1990s, the Russia-Belarus
union could develop into a confederated state. Another option,
however, judging by Putin's August 2002 proposal, is that Belarus may
simply be incorporated as a unit of the Russian Federation.

Security has been a key component of this union: Moscow pursues close
military integration through the unification of defense structures,
including air defense, intelligence networks and arms production.
Belarus has also been wholly dependent on Russian energy and obtains
highly subsidized supplies. Moscow remains Minsk's major trading
partner, while the bulk of Russia's exports to Europe traverses
Belarus, making Minsk's compliance all the more imperative. Through
cheap energy supplies, currency-support credits and a customs union
that favored Minsk, Russian economic support has contributed to
salvaging Lukashenko's hold on power. In recent years, an increasing
number of Belarusian enterprises have become dependent on Russian
capital. Russian companies are seeking primary access in the eventual
privatization of key sectors of Belarusian industry and support a
Russia-Belarus monetary union.

During Putin's presidency, the pace of controlling Belarus' energy
infrastructure has accelerated. In November 2002, the government in
Minsk passed various legal amendments that enabled the transformation
of the Belarusian gas transportation system, Beltranshaz, into a
joint enterprise with the Russian company Gazprom. The Beltranshaz
deal was put on hold this June as the two companies failed to agree
on a purchase price: Gazprom insisted on acquiring over 50 percent of
shares. In a gesture of defiance, Lukashenko declared that he would
not sell Beltranshaz "for nothing" and condemned Russia's
"imperialistic tendencies." He has also backpedaled on the
introduction of the Russian ruble, concluding that a currency union
with Russia would give the Kremlin overwhelming control. Minsk can
expect to experience intensive pressure from Moscow, and Lukashenko's
intransigence could result in sanctions, including higher prices for
Russian energy.

For the present, Moscow has little reason to interfere in Belarusian
politics, as Lukashenko's foreign policy is either in tune with
Russian interests or casts Moscow in a relatively moderate light.
Despite calls by Western powers for Russia to take a more active
pro-democracy role in Belarus, the Kremlin is little concerned over
democratization or the rule of law and was content to let Lukashenko
determine the outcome of the deeply-flawed 2001 presidential
elections. But Lukashenko may eventually be considered a hindrance to
further integration, in which case the Kremlin will use its arsenal
of influences to find a suitable pro-Moscow replacement.

Turning to Ukraine, Moscow's ideal scenario amounts to doing to Kiev
what has been done to Minsk, all culminating in a close political and
military alliance. For most of the 1990s, Moscow's exertions produced
only limited results because of Kiev's pro-Western aspirations.
However, during the late-1990s, Ukraine became more vulnerable to
Russian influences, largely because of the political turmoil that
began to surround President Leonid Kuchma. The Kremlin exploited the
West's ostracism of Kuchma by posing as a more reliable ally. Power
struggles between political interests, industrial lobbies and state
structures continue to swirl around the country and provide
opportunities for the Kremlin to pull Ukraine into a tighter orbit.
The Kremlin engages in various forms of subterfuge, including energy
blackmail, economic buyouts, the discrediting of pro-independence
politicians, attempts at diplomatic isolation and the manipulation of
ethnic issues.

Energy supplies have been a major tool of Russian policy: Ukraine
remains dependent on Russia's energy monopolies for its basic needs.
Moscow's ability to injure Ukraine's economy by raising prices or
calling in debts creates a permanent threat to the country's domestic
stability. Moreover, pressures to integrate into the CIS gradually
reduce Ukraine's sovereignty, while bilateral arrangements between
Moscow and Kiev have increasingly undermined Ukraine's ability to
administer its own economy.

Attempts to dominate the Ukrainian energy sector accelerated under
Putin. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and his Ukrainian counterpart
Anatoly Kinakh agreed in August 2001 to establish an "energy union"
and, in October 2002, crafted an interstate gas consortium. The
Ukrainian opposition issued alerts about the perils of Russian
economic dominance, and, in February 2003, the Socialist Party's
spokesmen informed parliament that Russian businesses jeopardized
Ukraine's national security by acquiring oil refineries, raw-aluminum
production, communications and other strategic enterprises.

The progress of neighboring central European states toward EU
membership is also reinforcing the dependence of Belarus, Ukraine and
Moldova on the Russian market, and the Schengen regime is likely to
strengthen this process. To compound its problems, Ukraine has become
enmeshed in a CIS Free Trade Zone with Russia, Belarus and
Kazakhstan. The arrangement was approved in August 2003 and led to
protests by some Ukrainian lawmakers, who argued that this would
further undercut the country's sovereignty and limit its prospects
for EU entry.

The Kremlin has skillfully exploited the opportunities presented by
Ukraine's political turmoil. It offered support to an embattled
President Kuchma in an effort to draw the country into a tighter
Russian embrace just as Western criticisms increased against his
alleged human rights abuses. The importance of Ukraine to the Kremlin
was underscored with the appointment in 2001 of ex-premier Viktor
Chernomyrdin as Russia's ambassador to Kiev and as Putin's economic
envoy. Chernomyrdin promptly criticized Kiev's policy of neutrality
and intimated that such a stance could undermine Ukraine's "strategic
interests." He openly interfered in Ukraine's parliamentary elections
in March 2002 by publicly supporting the pro-presidential parties.
Moscow remains determined to diminish the possibility that a
pro-Western candidate will succeed Kuchma after the 2004 presidential
elections.

Moldova remains completely dependent on Russian energy, and its
foreign trade is geared toward Russia. Gazprom controls Moldova's gas
pipelines while Chisinau's gas debts have been transformed into
Russian assets. With its political breakthrough in Chisinau after the
election victory of the Communists in 2001, Moscow made plans for
further inroads into the Moldovan economy and the domination of its
mass media. During Russian premier Kasyanov's visit to Chisinau in
October 2001 he was given a list of some sixty Moldovan enterprises
that were slated for sale and seeking Russian investments. Russian
companies with close ties to the Kremlin have purchased numerous
Moldovan industries on favorable terms or acquired properties to
offset Chisinau's unpaid debts.

Essay Types: Essay