The Great Game: 21st Century Edition

Discussion in 'International Politics' started by Bellum, May 9, 2013.

  1. Bellum

    Bellum Citizen

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    The Struggle for dominance in Central Asia(and whole Post-Soviet Space) continues. This time the big boys are Russia, United States and China. EU might have the potential, but not the cohesion at the moment to be too relevant. There are also smaller powers like Turkey and Iran that have some sway in the region.

    I think it is pretty clear that USA and China are still the clear underdogs in this game. A couple of years ago, in the aftermath of the invasions on Afghanistan and Iraq, USA made significant gains by getting favourable governments in power in Ukraine(Orange revolution) and Georgia(Rose revolution). The nature of the Tulip revolution in Kyrgyzstan isn't as clear to me. In that case the new power might not have been as clearly in the US pocket. Also setting up a number of military bases in the region gave at least a certain symbolic advantage. Over the years all these revolutions reversed and to power came people with much greater appreciation for Russia. Even in the Georgia the new government is a huge improvement, although its rethoric on strategic level hasn't made a giant distinction compared to Saakashvili's reign. Kyrgyzstan's new leadership even requested a Russian military intervention in the face of instabilities and has sought a place in the forming Eurasian Union.

    The CSTO holds Russia's solid allies Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, atlhough the relationships aren't always so cordial especially with Belarus. Uzbekistan recently left CSTO again, but it is my understanding that it has more to do with her problems with Kazakhstan and other neighbours than with Russia. For Uzbekistan Russia is still the most important partner and a recent meeting confirms that she seeks closer ties with Russia. Kazakhstan and Belarus are also members of the Customs Union and seem to be actively and willingly pushing for the Eurasian Union. Kazakshstan is at the moment the biggest economy on nominal terms in the post-Soviet Space(even bigger than Ukraine) after Russia and Belarus is also one of the stronger ones so they are very useful allies.

    Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Turkmenistan are the uncertain cases. Ukraine is at the moment leaning towards Russia, but there is a big part of the country that is wary of Russia and prefers closer ties to the West. So probably Ukraine won't integrate very deeply to structures that might be viewed as Russia dominated, like CSTO or Eurasian Union. There is a more sensible government in Georgia now, but it remains to be seen how much it will rebalance towards Russia. Azerbaijan is performing quite a balancing act between Russia, USA and Turkey, but it is my feeling that they wouldn't mind if Russia disappeared from the face of the earth. Russia after all has a base and tight military ties with Armenia with whom Azerbaijan doesn't see eye to eye and there is even a real possibility of war for the Nagorno-Karabakh. Moldova and Turkmenistan seem to be rather isolationist countries and I don't know what kind of trends there are forming in regards to them.

    It would be expected that China has some influence on Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan that are members of the SCO, but I have no real sense of its magnitude. Probably it is safe to say that in the future China's role will grow. Hopefully someone else has more to say about that and other subjects under the headline.

    Please offer your insights!
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  2. AlexBond

    AlexBond Office Registrar (13th class)

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    I'll add here my thoughts on those post-Soviet states which are of interest to me.

    The current situation and nearby prospects look as follows.

    Belarus: continued alliance with Russia, further economic, military, cultural and possibly political integration. President Lukashenko is clearly set to rule the country for another 10-20 years - his relatively young age, popular support and strong grip for power will allow him to remain "the last dictator of Europe" for years to come. Lukashenko manages to preserve Belarus a relatively nice place to live - clean cities, social welfare, relatively equal incomes.While he bickered with Russia over some issues in the past, it was rather superficial, and I cannot remember any truly unfriendly action towards Russia from Belarus. Currently, Russian and Belorussian armies are all but united - and the air defence systems (the key component of modern state defence) are united indeed. Russian language remains totally dominant and the influence of Belorussian nationalists negligible. Younger Belorussians often go to Russia to get education and prestigious jobs - it's not like the migration for low-paid jobs from Ukraine/Moldavia, the Caucasus and the Central Asia. Much of the economic prospects of Belarus are dependent on Russian megaprojects - the Belorussian Nuclear Power Plant and the Yamal-Europe II gas pipeline.

    Каzakhstan: continued economic alliance with Russia and further economic integration, but relative cultural and political independence. Kazakhstan's landlocked geography and resource-based exports make the Customs Union with Russia and Belarus vital for developing of trade with Europe. China is the other major trading partner, but, unlike Europeans, Chinese are right on the Kazakhstan's border and Kazakhstan does not really need to integrate with them for the improvement of trade.Kazakhstan's geopolitical status will likely remain dependent on China and Russia, while the U.S. is too far away and has almost nothing to offer Kazakhstan economically or politically.

    Kazakhstan's President Nazarbayev has been an initiator of the Eurasian integration and is considered a friend of Russia, but domestically he has been also friendly to moderate Kazakh nationalism. Nazarbayev is old, and the next generation of Kazakh leaders might very likely not be so disposed towards Russia. Even now the official position of Kazakhstan seems to be further economic integration with Russia within the Eurasian economic community, but not political integration - Kazakhs currently don't want the creation of supranational organs of power like those in the EU. Ethnic Kazakhs tend to occupy most of administrative positions, while the share of ethnic Russians in population continues, however slowly, to decline (Russians constituted over 1/3 of the population in 1989, but less than 1/4 now). However Russians retain the most important role in functioning of the industry. So the geography, economy and still large number and important role of ethnic Russians make it pretty sure that Kazakhstan will remain an important ally of Russia for many years, but it is also likely to attempt pursuing significant cultural and political independence. Much depends on the Kazakhstan's relations with other Central Asian countries - say, in case of a strong conflict with Uzbekistan the dependence on and all forms of integration with Russia might be likely to increase.

    Kyrgyzstan: further economic and political integration with the Eurasian community of Russia, Каzakhstan and Belarus. After some turbulence following the Tulip revolution, Kyrgyzstan currently seems to be firmly set to move towards Russia. Russia plans to build a major hydropower plant in Kyrgyzstan, and the country has a roadmap to enter the Eurasian community.

    Ukraine: continued depopulation, economic backwardness, internal political division and inability to properly integrate either with Russia or the EU. Yes, unfortunately this is how the situation and the prospects of Ukraine look like. Unlike Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, the leadership in Ukraine has been too weak and divided, and Ukraine never returned to the old Soviet levels of economy and production - Ukrainian GDP continues to be about 70% of that of the Ukrainian SSR. The economy to a great extent deindustrialized, the infrastructure is mostly heavily underinvested and degrading, except for parts of few big cities and some export-oriented industrial enterprises. Currently the economy is in the state close to recession. From 1990 to 2013 the population declined from 52 million to 45 million - and of those remaining 45 million up to 6 million are reportedly residing abroad in the EU and Russia where they work typically as low-paid gastarbeiters. Significant migration for permanent residence in Russia and the EU also continues, and while the birth rate somewhat grew in the last few years, it doesn't change the prospect for further depopulation of the country.

    The government and the whole country are split among the nationalist-dominated western part and ethnically Russian southern and eastern parts. One one hand, the position of pro-Russia forces in Ukraine is strengthened by the obvious dismal failure of the nationalist idea to turn Ukraine into a "second France" (by separating it from Russia), while Ukrainians also can see a relatively good economic performance of Russia, Belarus and Kazakstan. On the other hand, the better demographics of the western regions, political support of nationalists from the West, the strong nationalist influence over education and media all strengthen nationalist positions, so the internal political balance does not change significantly. This political division precludes a consistent choice whether the whole country should politically ally with the EU or with Russia, and the polarized politics also preclude choosing a position of profitable neutrality. Instead there is incohesive movement to both sides resulting in no significant economic or political gain. For the EU, and to a great extent for Russia as well, Ukraine is just a big export market and a source of cheap labour and migrants - but it is too politically divided, too unpredictable, too big and too poor to integrate with.

    Ukraine is invited by Russia to join the Customs Union and Eurasian community, but while Ukraine so far is unable to make this choice and even tries to establish a free trade with the EU instead, Russia exerts rather tough economic policy on Ukraine: the price for Russian gas in Ukraine is higher than in many other European states; new export oil and gas pipelines (North Stream, South Stream, Baltic pipeline system, Yamal-Europe II) are all built bypassing the territory of Ukraine; new Russian military or cargo ports are built or planned to built on Taman peninsula to reduce dependence on Ukrainian ports; military and high-tech cooperation between Russia and Ukraine remains unsteady (for example, recently Russia cancelled/delayed the joint project of production of the Ukrainian An-124) and Russia tries to replace the few last parts of old Soviet technological cycles in military and space industries which were located in Ukraine by replicating them on Russian territory.

    So, Ukraine is likely to continue exist under heavy economic dependence on Russia and at the same time under heavy economic pressure from Russia, to remain politically divided, economically weak and depopulating. And that will be so until it either joins union with Russia and the basic economic conditions for the Ukrainian economy are improved, or until after many years of depopulation and economic problems the population becomes small enough and less divided so it could be absorbed by the EU.

    The Baltics - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania: continued depopulation, loss of the Russian cargo transit, energy dependence on Russia, possible rise of ethnic Russian political parties. The economic and political situation in the Baltic states is broadly similar between them, though it looks somewhat more positive in Estonia, and more negative in Latvia. Residents of all those countries continue to emigrate to other EU countries and to Russia, populations are declining, economies are largely de-industrialized and indebted. Russia has built new ports on the Baltic Sea - particularly the giant port at Ust-Luga - and gradually redirects its shipments there, i.e. depriving the ports of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and also Finland from income from Russian transit, which they had for decades. Russia also already builds two new nuclear power plants in Kaliningrad Oblast and Belarus which automatically renders Polish and Lithuanian nuclear power plans unlikely to ever be realized, and will likely leave the Baltic energy market c. 2020 dominated by Russia. In additions to this Russian instruments of economic influence on the Baltic states, Russia may also sometimes see some political support from Russian minorities within the Baltics. Currently those minorities are mostly disunited, to a great extent deprived of political rights ("non-citizens"), and declining due to low birth rates and emigration. But ethnic Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians are dying out and emigrating as well, and the younger generation of ethnic Russians are able to learn state languages and get citizenship and thus exert some political influence. In Latvia there is already an ethnic Russian mayor of the capital, Riga, and the Harmony Centre party supported by ethnic Russians. Except for Lithuania, where there are too few ethnic Russians, it is pretty possible that political influence of Russian parties will grow in the Baltics.
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  3. Vostok

    Vostok Gubernial Secretary (12th class)

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    Agree on Azerbaijan, especially as they were supposed to be heavily involved with the Nabucco Pipeline (Nabucco-West is designated to carry Azeri gas from the second stage of Shah Deniz through TANAP pipeline).
  4. Alexander Mercouris

    Alexander Mercouris Ship Secretary (11th class)

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    Dear Alex,

    I think that is a very good summary.

    The really pitiful player in all this is the Ukraine, which seems to be eternally split and unable to get its act together. As I recall there was a brief moment around 2003-4 when the economy appeared to be doing very well and the c0untry appeared to be set on joining Russia and its other former Soviet partners in an economic union, which does seem to me to be where its true interests are. The Orange Revolution then happened, the momentum was lost and it's been a mess ever since.

    I can't help but think that as with Moldavia and Georgia and the Baltic States the long term interests of the people of the Ukraine are being sacrificed to western geopolitical games and to the ethnicist obsessions of what is probably a very small minority of very angry but also very articulate and determined people some of whom actually live abroad (mainly in the US) who are able for good historic reasons to play on the genuine grievances of a section of the population. In saying this I should make it clear that I do not want to see the Ukraine fail, I do not dispute the existence of a distinct Ukrainian national identity and I am far from being a supporter of the Ukraine's absorption into Russia.

    Having said this, I should say that I would by no means discount the latter possibility. If Russia does achieve the 5-6% growth rate that its government is talking about and which we discussed on the economics thread, then its gravitational pull on places like the Ukraine is going to increase. I have never been to the Ukraine myself but friends who have tell me that Sevastopol and Odessa already basically consider themselves Russian cities. I suspect that things are more complicated in the Donbass and in places like Kharkov and Dnepropetrovsk, but even there I suspect that if people begin to see Russia approaching west European levels whilst they remain in the doldrums, pressure to join Russia will grow.

    I am not a prophet and I don't know how this is going to play out but given the degree of division that already exists in the Ukraine I can certainly see how this could go seriously wrong if the situation is not handled carefully, in which case we could find ourselves with a major crisis on our hands.
  5. Alexander Mercouris

    Alexander Mercouris Ship Secretary (11th class)

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    I should say that I also agree with the point about Azerbaijan. It has a sense of lasting grievance from its loss of Nagorno Karabakh, for which it blames Russia. Given its significant military superiority over Armenia, it's understandable if the Azerbaijanians see Russia as the main obstacle to their recovery of Nagorno Karabakh. It is fully understandable therefore if their attitude to Russia is an antagonistic one.

    Having said this, it is important to acknowledge that Azerbaijan has managed its affairs with Russia far more intelligently than have (say) Georgia or the Ukraine or the Baltic States. There is none of the same belligerence and posturing. At the end of the day the regime in Baku seems to understand that Russia is the major player in the region and that it must in its own interests maintain a civil dialogue with it.

    The big country that seems to be the odd one out in the former Soviet Union is Uzbekistan. The regime there seems to be a much tougher dictatorship than the one in Kazakhstan. For reasons I find difficult to understand (since it has no reason to quarrel with Russia) it has consistently tried to play off the US against Russia. The risk it runs is that by doing so it forfeits Russian goodwill, which may become a serious problem if the US does finally retreat from that region and it finds itself facing Russia on its own.
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  6. AlexBond

    AlexBond Office Registrar (13th class)

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    Indeed, the influence of diaspora on those countries is strong and not always positive: the immigrants (especially those in 2nd and 3rd generations) often poorly understand the actual situation and needs of people residing in their origin countries. In case of Ukraine the Canadian Ukrainian diaspora seems to be of major importance.

    When I visited rural parts of the East Ukraine in 2005, local men told me they were ready to join Russia as soon as Putin would supply them with some assault rifles. That was in Donbass, the region supporting Yanukovich and Party of Regions which came to power in 2010. But since that time, after much political struggle and disillusionment with politicians from every side of political spectrum, the predominant mood of the Ukrainians towards politics is largely indifference and low spirits. In this situation the possible beneficiaries are radical nationalists, who are in opposition and who remain loud and relatively united (and indeed they increased their influence as results of the last year parliamentary elections have shown).

    And while there are consistently anti-Russian and pro-EU nationalists (radical and moderate), there is no major political force in Ukraine which would consistently and strongly support integration with Russia (though some small pro-Russian political movements do exist, but they have no serious financial backing). The ruling Party of Regions seems to be centrist or simply undetermined in this respect.

    Many ordinary Ukrainians, while they despise their own politicians, seem not to consider becoming part of either Russia or a Russian-led union a good alternative. Perhaps, one reason was a strong anti-Russian propaganda in the Ukrainian media and education system over the last 20+ years. Another possible reason is that Russia does not look to Ukrainians lucrative enough compared with the EU countries: indeed, the Russian regions neighbouring to Ukraine, except for well-governed Belgorod Oblast, are among poorest in Russia, and while even the poorest Russian regions have larger incomes than the median Ukrainian income, the prices in Russia are also significantly higher.
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  7. AlexBond

    AlexBond Office Registrar (13th class)

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    Uzbekistan seems to be in strained relations with most of the neighbouring *stans of Central Asia: Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. There have been various territorial and ethnic disputes in Fergana Valley, and in past conflicts Russia has supported Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan too much - that was unfriendly in Uzbek government eyes. Russia tries to be friendly to all Central Asian states and to support the existing balance there - but for Uzbeks, who are the most populated nation in the region and who were politically dominant power in Central Asia prior to the 19th century Russian conquest, Russia is paradoxically both friend/keeper of regional stability and a major obstacle to re-establish regional dominance.
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  8. Alexander Mercouris

    Alexander Mercouris Ship Secretary (11th class)

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    Thanks for explaining things so clearly about Uzbekistan.

    On the subject of the Ukraine, I absolutely accept what you say about the sense of political demoralisation that exists there. Even from a distance it is obvious. However I was not discussing the situation today or in the immediate future. Rather I was thinking about the situation in the medium term if the Russian economy takes off and the Ukraine's doesn't.
  9. AlexBond

    AlexBond Office Registrar (13th class)

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    Ukraine declared the intention to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, with observer status. It also wants to become observer in the Eurasian Economic Council.

    http://lenta.ru/news/2013/05/29/ts/

    Few days ago Ukraine also agreed to pass the control of its pipeline system to Russia.
  10. Kolokol

    Kolokol Office Registrar (13th class)

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