ALMATY, Feb 9
�Stability of the Central Asian regimes and these countries is a big mystery for our analysts,� a western diplomat said in the exclusive interview to THE GLOBE on February 9 in Almaty.
Here are his arguments. In the last year everybody gazed at Uzbekistan after the well-known explosions in the governmental square in Tashkent in February and the so-called Batken events happened in summer and autumn. This was unexpected, as, on one hand, western analysts had been discussing the possible Yugoslavian variant of events in the former Soviet republics since perestroyka. They said long ago that Muslim extremism and violence would splash soon. People have got sick and tired of speaking about that. Suddenly, we may say � at last � that began.
�We became less confident in the future of this region. we do not understand many things. We do not understand what is happening in the Uzbek society. We do not have the required information. Is there a basis of political and religious extremism? �asks my interlocutor. �When the USSR was collapsing, we all understood that new communities would be unstable. But for almost 10 years we as well as you got used to the situation. Now suddenly everything goes out.�
�That is why analysts in the West overestimate their attitude to the future of Central Asia,� my interlocutor, the western diplomat concluded.
New Russia: looking from the West
It seems to me that the West�s desire to re-estimate the situation caused by new situation in Russia: consolidation of the society during the Chechen war, and coming of the new strong leader. In my interlocutor�s opinion, the Chechen campaign could have been a start of the Russia�s very toughen policy regarding its southern neighbors, first of all regarding the Transcaucasian countries.
�When in November-December 1999 Russia seriously accused Georgia of non-impeding supplies of weapons to Chechen gunmen via its border, though there were no serious evidences and facts, the West was extremely alarmed. Many analysts thought that the tension in the Georgian-Russian relations meant Russia�s effort to press the weakest section of the southern flank,� the diplomat states.
Western anxiety was at its zenith before Christmas, he says.
However, soon after the New Year�s Day, after Putin was appointed, the anxiety was replaced by hope, he believes. Though after Putin came to the top of the Russian power, western press published a number of sensational materials about the new wave of cold war and fascism in Russia. At the same time western diplomats in Moscow, western politicians who came to visit Putin pointed to other things. They mention pragmatism of Putin�s policy, his moderate reaction to criticism and his willingness to negotiate with the West. Moreover, diplomats say that the anti-NATO sentiments in the Russian press became less accented, my interlocutor says.
At the same time the West�s attitude to the Chechen war did not change. We still negate disproportional force and inadequate measures to protect the Chechen population. We should say that the Chechen campaign began against the background of sharpening Russian relations with the West after the Kosovo conflict, and a lot of other stumbling-blocks: reconsideration and ratification of some military agreements, geo-strategic issues of the further development of oil pipelines (one- and multi-polar world), widening of the NATO, etc.
Nevertheless, recently we began to hope, my interlocutor says once again.
Russian and the CIS : looking from the West, but not merely this
As far as the position of the new Russian administration regarding the CIS is concerned, the western diplomat thinks that it is too early to judge the conceptual approaches. Tension in the Georgian-Russian relations is obviously falling, the Shevardnadze�s negotiations in Moscow, and the visit of the Russian Minister of Internal Affairs to Tbilisi prove this. The Russian-Uzbek partnership (maybe, even strategic one) seems very interesting. The trilateral military exercises in Kyrgyzstan to be held in March are one of those facts.
We may state that the January CIS summit in Moscow was held within Putin�s pre-election campaign. All presidents had played into his hand, my interlocutor said.
Russia�s desire to strengthen its position in the south is quite understandable. But it will hardly manage to have any serious achievements, first of all due to its economic problems, the western diplomat thinks. My interlocutor points to the interesting circumstance: �Most Russian analysts believe that if Russia has a strong leader, it may become a significantly stronger state. People in the West think in a different way: Russia�s influence in the world will be decreasing. Russia considers itself to be stronger than it really is.�
I do not dare to argue with my interlocutor. But many local analysts� opinion differs, at least as far as Central Asian countries and the Caucasus are concerned. For example, Sabit Zhusupov, director of the Kazakhstani Institute of Sociology and Economic Prognosis points to the Russia�s serious potential to strengthen its influence through applying to local problems. They are the Tajik problem, the Georgian-Abhasian opposition, and Russia�s possibility to settle such conflicts as the Batken events 1999. Moreover, he mentions that Russian departments may be concerned in the Kazakhstani-Uzbek frontier problems.
As far as Kazakhstan�s problems are concerned, they concern first of all Kazakhstan itself. Today Russia is our main trade partner. In fact, in its present political-economic situation Kazakhstan having difficult relations with the West, stays face to face with Russia, which has a strong administration on the threshold of the Caspian pipeline. I think that Nazarbaev faces the most serious task for all the time of his governing. Frankly speaking, we see neither any ideas nor a team. We see previous strategic mistakes. But we will talk of this next time.
ALMATY, Feb 10
The consolidation of the Russian society (it seems, for long) around the leader Vladimir Putin and his toughen decisions gave rise to many speculations by media, as well as a feverish reaction by literally all leaders in the post-Soviet space. The latter, as usually, try to gain minor profits from usual for them bustle between Moscow and Washington, but they do really realize that:
- the potential of the Russia�s domination that so frightened (after the USSR collapsed) presidents of �new� and �independent� �states� (really, sometimes we do not know where we should put inverted commas) and former colleagues by the Political Bureau is getting the real energy;
- we mean the sacred thing � functioning of their regimes. Here references to a peculiar way of the development, which they may sell to �naive� Americans, will not do with Russia: they were also deceived for 70 years;
- finally, we mean the existence of at least some of these states � it is possible and necessary to word the question in this way namely.
We may say that Vladimir Putin came on the �SUPREME POWER� wave, having managed to gather around him practically all strata of both the elite and the population.
Putin�s phrase �we will find them in a lavatory!�, which he said regarding Chechen gunmen, allowed an American Professor to exclaim: �He should erect a monument to the image-maker, who invented these words, as they so warm Russians� hearts� (from a private conversation).
Sabit Zhusupov, Kazakhstani sociologist and analyst of the Kazakhstani Institute of Social and Economic Prognosis supports him (but not Putin): �The idea of Russia�s supreme power is in fact the only uniting thought, the only thing that remains stainless. The market, democracy, liberal values, tens of images that were so common in the early 1990s � everything ruined. Yevgeny Primakov also tried to apply to the �supreme power� idea, during the Kosovo war, when he was the Russian Prime Minister and Russia was opposing the NATO. But only Putin made it the corner stone to build his image and his policy. This became possible only after the Chechen campaign �had succeeded�.
�It is quite natural to spread the idea of supreme power in direction of the Russia�s CIS policy, first of all in Central Asia and in the Caspian region,� Sabit Zhusupov concludes (from a private conversation).
Obviously, Russia will have to weight its plans, and, possibly, to agree with the West. This dialogue, if you want � wrangle �is especially possible and even necessary in the southern direction of the post-Soviet space: the Caspian Sea and Central Asia. Roughly speaking, that space may split up, if you want � will be divided, along the Caspian Sea:
- everything from the right, maybe, except Uzbekistan, becomes the area of Russia�s exclusive interests. Uzbekistan has a big internal manpower and economic potential, hence it does not depend on Russia much. Indeed, the style of life and governing, and mentality differ greatly from the Russian ones. Uzbekistan may become a place, where the West will face other geopolitical reality. Though here it is impossible to forget, Sabit Zhusupov emphasizes, about the Tajik-Afghan card of Russia and of its possibilities in the Fergana Valley. But, we remember that merits are the continuation of demerits;
- everything from the left, except Armenia, as it �attached� to Russia with the Karabakh knot on the map will belong to the West.
However, the West, first of all, the USA, refutes this picture by the oil pipeline Baku-Ceykhan. To gather all Central Asian countries with their only wealth � oil (the �quasi-democratic� and almost anti-Russian and exactly � anti-Iranian pul) is something like the fairy tale about kolobok (�round loaf�): �I went away from grandmother, and I went away from grandfather.� But the Russian fox Vladimir Putin may bar koloboks� (first of all the Kazakhstani one�s) road.
Thereupon we remind the western analysts� dilemma popular in the late 1980s to the early 1990s, when they anticipated the USSR collapse: to deal either with the only monster (i.e. the USSR and Gorbachov), that was somehow manageable or with the weaken monster (i.e. Soviet republics � some of them possessed nuclear weapons � and Russia)?
In fact, today, in ten years, we face:
- renewed Russia with the potentially strong President and rudimentary democracy;
- more and more authoritarian countries situated southwards from Russia, that are moving away from the world development trends. Either internal squabbles or vanguard waves of Islamic extremism are shaking these countries;
- economically fast-developing and politically frozen China. The world expansion may become the leading motif of the development and opposition soon;
- and smaller players.
Of course, the unanimous opinion caused by Putin�s coming and the majority taking shape in the Russian Duma seem very dangerous for Russia itself and its development. If the Russian democracy develops normally or, at least paralelly to the western values, Russia and the USA may and should agree (moreover, on the threshold of the Chinese sprint) to divide spheres of their influence: in Central Asia and the Caspian region, first of all.
Here Kazakhstan will become a hostage of these agreements. All debates about artificiality of this state formation, its friability, sparsely populated country (objective factors), as well as about numerous subjective mistakes made during the 10-years governing of the present elite � everything will become obvious.
We are speaking of the existence of the Kazakhstani State. In fact, people always discussed this. I want to argue about the 10-years experience of the sovereign Kazakhstan, about mechanical, moreover � mechanistic approach to the problem of Russian influence. It seems to me that this problem was the main one and absolutely incorrectly settled by the elite close to President Nazarbaev.
We will discuss this in the next publication:
Russians are coming,
Or about the mechanics and physics of President Nazarbaev�s foreign policy
All Over the Globe is published by IPA House.
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