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memri
December 27, 2016 No.
6721

Director General Of Russian Government-Funded Think Tank, Andrey Kortunov: 'Does Vladimir Putin Want To Restore The Soviet Union?'

Andrey Kortunov, the director general of the Russian government-funded think tank Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), published an article in the media outlet Russia Beyond The Headlines (sponsored by the Russian government-funded Rossiyskaya Gazeta), titled "In Reading Putin, Don't Mistake Nostalgia For Ambition." According to Kortunov, although Russian President Vladimir Putin feels nostalgic about the Soviet Union, he does not seek to restore it, "assuming that the Russian leader is a rational politician capable of a realistic assessment of Russia's current capabilities as well as of the nature of today's international system." He then added that the most recent attempt to approach this "daunting task" is Putin's pet project, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU, the treaty establishing the EAEU was signed in May 2014 and became operative in January 2015). However, Kortunov defines the EAEU as falling between "hopeless" and "harmless."

Following the September 2016 Duma elections, Putin told the leaders of the parties which won seats in that chamber:" You know my attitude towards the collapse of the Soviet Union. There was no need to do it. Reforms could have been undertaken, including those of a democratic nature."[1]Recently, in an interview with the Russian news agency TASS, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said that "the Soviet Union cannot be restored, but a new Union can be established", in the former borders, with the same members, and on the basis of free will.[2]

As concerns the EAEU, the Russian magazine New Times in an article titled "Peculiarities Of The National Nostalgia" (published back in March 2016) seemed to agree with Kortunov. New Times wrote: "Russia's integration with former Soviet republics is very peculiar in character. The most precise definition for it is 'postcolonial'. What underlies the reasoning of Russian politicians is their nostalgia for the severed economic ties and determination to restore them. This, however, is hardly probable." The article then explained: "To begin with, a truly equitable integration union is rarely characterized by a total domination of one of the parties. Germany's share in the EU economy is 19%, Indonesia's share in the ASEAN economy is about 38 %. Russia's share in the EAEU economy is 83% (!)... It is worth noting that the reason why the economic ties were severed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is that production chains that they made up stopped being effective in the context of globalized market economy. In addition, there is not a single region in the world where a former colonial power would be integrated with its colonies; usually they prefer to establish connections with countries on their own level of development (France's trade with its former dominions decreased from 24–27% in late 1950s to less than 2% today — and this is the path that former Soviet republics have been following). In other words, trying to rebuild relations inside the former Soviet Union borders in the modern context is, on the whole, complicated, expensive and counterproductive." Furthermore the article explained: "The Kremlin's imperial ambitions, which have manifested themselves over the recent years, will be viewed more and more anxiously by the former Soviet republics and will push them to search for new partners. And this search will become even more active after the replacement of the old generation of politicians in Central Asia."[3]

Below are excerpts of Kortunov's article:[4]


Andrey Kortunov (Source: Russiancouncil.ru)

'Russia Has Become A Capitalist State, Even If Its Transition From Communism Is Incomplete And Incoherent'

"Does Vladimir Putin want to restore the Soviet Union? Nobody can irrefutably prove that he does not… It is apparent that Putin feels nostalgic about the Soviet past, which is only natural for a person of his age and background. I also feel nostalgic about the 1970s and 1980s: these were the times of my childhood and my youth, with all the wonderful, unforgettable things so uniquely associated with that period in life.

"All the dreams, wishes, hidden desires and nostalgia brushed aside, can Putin realistically plan to restore the Soviet Union? The answer is a definite 'no' assuming that the Russian leader is a rational politician capable of a realistic assessment of Russia's current capabilities as well as of the nature of today's international system.

"First, the Soviet Union was erected on the foundation of a cohesive and powerful communist ideology that had – at least in the first half of the 20th century – hundreds of millions of enthusiastic supporters all over the world.

"The current Kremlin emphasis on 'sovereignty' and importunate concerns about the 'color revolutions' demonstrate isolationist rather than expansionist reflexes of the regime; both display the evident fear of foreign ideologies penetrating Russia rather than an intention to promote another universalist ideology abroad.

"Second, the Soviet Union had at its foundation a unique modernization model. It was cruel and ruthless, but in many ways, it provided for very efficient social and political mobilization. The most graphic example of this capacity is, of course, the Second World War, but there are others, such as the Soviet space program. Today this uniqueness no longer exists – Russia has become a capitalist state, even if its transition from communism is incomplete and incoherent.

"Third, there is simply not the political will and commitment needed to start restoring the former Soviet Union. After German reunification, Berlin introduced the so-called 'solidarity tax' to facilitate the integration of the former East Germany into the Federal Republic; German society accepted this additional burden without too much opposition. However, the idea of a similar 'solidarity tax' to integrate Crimea into Russia did not meet with a lot of enthusiasm in Moscow and was swiftly abandoned.

"Does this mean that Russia is not trying to maintain its influence on the territory of the former Soviet Union? Of course not. The former Soviet republics are not the same for Russia as British colonies in Africa were for the UK; the level of Soviet economic, social and cultural integration makes these republics more similar to Ireland and Scotland.

"The chronicle of Kremlin policies in its neighborhood for the past 25 years has been to a large degree a chain of attempts – mostly quite clumsy and unsuccessful – to create a belt of friendly states along Russia's borders, to maintain economic, social and humanitarian ties that have deep roots in the history of this vast region.

"Long-term repercussions of the crises in Georgia and Ukraine make this goal more challenging and distant than ever, but even these bloody conflicts do not change a fundamental reality: Russia can be secure and prosperous only if it is surrounded by stable, vibrant and friendly neighbors.

"The most recent attempt to approach this daunting task is the concept of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Should the West be concerned about this undertaking? Is it a disguised attempt to resurrect the Soviet Union?

"Once again, my answer is 'no.' In my view, the EAEU is either hopeless or harmless. It is hopeless if it remains a 'holy alliance' of antiquated economic and social regimes unable and unwilling to launch any meaningful reforms. It is harmless if Eurasian economic integration goes hand in hand with a deep transformation of member states in the direction of a free market, social innovation and political pluralism. In this latter case, Russia may finally overcome its post-imperial trauma without accumulating more costs in blood and treasure."

 

 

[1] Rt.com, September 23, 2016.

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch 6719, Russia This Week – December 13 - 22, 2016, December 22, 2016.

[3] http://newtimes.ru/articles/detail/108380

[4] Rbth.com, September 28, 2016.