Wednesday, March 30, 2005

All eyes on Russia 

Interesting times in what used to be the former Soviet empire:

"The shock waves from Kyrgyzstan's lightning revolution are spreading around the former Soviet Union - and into the heart of Russia - leading analysts to wonder which regimes might be next to face the peoples' wrath.

"Recent days have seen a spate of copycat protests launched by opposition groups that were perhaps hoping their own local authorities might fold and flee under pressure, as did Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev when demonstrators stormed his Bishkek complex last week.

"About 1,000 people rallied last Friday in the capital of Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko runs the last Soviet-style dictatorship in Europe, to demand his resignation. Police quickly dispersed the crowd and dispatched the ringleaders to prison.

"Two Russian ethnic republics, Ingushetia and Bashkortostan, have seen mass street demonstrations this week directed against Kremlin-installed leaders. Even in remote Mongolia, the former USSR's Asian satellite, hundreds of protesters gathered last week to 'congratulate our Kyrgyz brothers' and demand a rerun of last June's disputed parliamentary polls.

"Some experts see a common thread among these upheavals that began 17 months ago when Georgians overthrew Eduard Shevardnadze in a peaceful revolt and continued with Ukraine's 'Orange Revolution' late last year.

" 'Every situation is different, but a single process is unfolding,' says Valentin Bogatyrov, a former Akayev adviser and director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Bishkek. 'Kyrgyzstan is a kind of trigger that will spread this unrest to our neighbors, and beyond. We are witnessing the second breakup of the Soviet Union'."
This is precisely the reason why Vladimir Putin has been so paranoid about the democratic revolution sweeping in and around the Commonwealth of Independent States. Those who think that Putin's aversion to true liberal democracy is a function of his KGB past and of the fear of losing his quasi-autocratic power miss the much more important point.

As the Soviet Union was an amalgam of numerous republics centered around the core of Russia, so Russia itself is in reality an amalgam of dozens of autonomous republics, regions and ethnic enclaves centered around the core of the old medieval kingdom of Muscovy, the Russia proper.

What Putin fears - and on that he's probably right - is that the advent of true democracy in Russia itself will mean the territorial disintegration of the state, as everyone from the autonomous Tartar region to Siberia will, for various historical, ethnic, religious, political and economic reasons, seek their own future, free from Kremlin's shackles.

Thus Putin, a nationalist rather than a nostalgic commie - is not fighting merely for his own political survival (although there is that too, of course) - but much more importantly he's fighting for the very survival of Russia as a state.

The stakes in this game are truly great.

Which will make the official Moscow celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War Two so fascinating to watch. Leaders of Ukraine, Lithuania and Estonia have already
declined the invitation to participate; Yuschenko ostensibly because he's got his own celebrations to attend to in Kiev, Adamkus and Ruutel arguably because for their countries the end of the war meant the end of independence and incorporation into the Soviet Union rather than liberation. 49 other countries as well as the heads of the UN and the European Commission are still coming, but many under a large cloud, including leaders of countries "liberated" by the Red Army in 1945.

Poles as well as the Balts, for example, are furious at Putin's recent interview in which the Russian president called the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939 "the right response" to the "Munich conspiracy" against the Soviet Union by France, Great Britain, Italy and Germany. The Pact, of course, made the Soviets, together with the Nazi Germany, the original aggressors of World War Two, and co-conspirators in the extinguishment of independence of Poland, as well as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

This is going to be a very hot Eurasian summer.


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