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Outside View: Russia's Future

The New Russia.

St Petersburg, Russia (UPI) Sep 06, 2005
Today people over 65 in Russia are a lost generation, the old communist welfare state is gone, and besides living in poverty they are discredited as political mishaps from a bygone era.

World historical revolutions leave the effected country psychologically traumatized. The sudden lose of customary politico-social environments creates a state of psycho-social disorientation.

Communism was installed in Russia by the Leninist Revolution of 1917, and Leninism was extinguished by the Yeltsin Revolution of 1991. The Soviet Union lasted for 74 years, a span of time in which four generations lived their lives, in which the structures of a communist society were incorporated by individuals as behavioral norms.

Fourteen years now separates the Yeltsin Revolution from contemporary Russia, but the population is still disquieted. A gap between pre-and post Yeltsin generations is easily discernible, and the confusion between the politico-social rules of communism, and the unexpectedly triumphant demands of capitalism leapt from the lips of Russians to whom I talked during my recent visit to Russia. Politically and psychologically, the aftershocks of the revolution of 1991 reverberates throughout Russian society.

"Fourteen years ago we were the second-greatest superpower in the world," Dr. Elizaveta Isaev, Professor of Russian Politics, said to me. "Today we fear the expansion of NATO to the east, the Islamic Revolution on our Southern Flank, and the encirclement by the United States with its military bases in Uzbekistan, and Krygystan, or Central Asia.

"Fourteen years ago seniors enjoyed a social safety net that gave them dignity in later life," Isaev said. "Today people over 65 are a lost generation, the old communist welfare state is gone, and besides living in poverty the are discredited as political mishaps from a bygone era."

From the international perspective, the current Russian malaise encompasses three geographic pivots: On its Western border Russia fears European Union and NATO expansion eastward, on its Southern Flank Russia worries about Islamic Fundamentalist secession, and on its Eastern border it is concerned about U.S. encirclement from Central Asian bases.

The Yeltsin Revolution not only denuded Russia of all territorial gains made by Bolshevism, but also by Czarism, or a Double Imperial Extinction.

On its Western Pivot the collapse of the Soviet Union extinguished the Bolshevik empire in Eastern Europe. The fall of the Soviet Union amounted to the cancellation of the Yalta Agreement, and Red soldiers evacuated Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, and Bulgaria.

But the Double Imperial Extinction also entailed the simultaneous eradication of Czarist territorial acquisitions. The Baltic States, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia gained their freedom from Moscow in 1991, and the Baltic expansion of 1791 of Peter the Great was concurrently annulled.

Tsarina Catherine the Great suffered the same affront. This empress absorbed the Ukraine and Crimea from the Turks in 1783, and by participating in the three Partitions of Poland moved Czarist Russia's Western borders to Warsaw.

However, the collapse of the Soviet Union also involved the synchronic loss of Catherine's conquests. Although Russia retained the Crimea, the Ukraine slowly gained its independence from Catherine's initial 18th century grasp.

This Double Imperial Extinction meant that on its Western Pivot post-1991 Russia retreated to the boundaries of 17th century Russia. Approximately 300 years of territorial annexations were reversed.

"This was Gorbachev's great failure," Isaev said. "He did not negotiate a Second Yalta. When he decided to pull Red troops out of Eastern Europe he should have bargained for a Second Yalta with the West setting hard limits to the advance of NATO and the EU into Eastern Europe. Without a Second Yalta Russia was forced to accept a Second Treaty of Brest-Litovsk."

The Double Imperial Extinction is also manifested on the Southern Flank of Russia. The First Imperial Enlargement in the Caucasus and Central Asia was carried out by the czars. In the 1880's in the Caucasus the czars had seized Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan from the suddenly collapsing Persian Empire, and in Central Asia in the same decade the czars took control of these mostly tribal territories. Power vacuums in the Caucasus and Central Asia opened the way to Tzarist penetration into the Islamic world.

After the Leninist Revolution the Communists' Imperial Enlargement simply absorbed the Czarist Imperial Enlargement in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Like a carpet the Bolsheviks took the conquests of the czars and swept them under the Communist rug, which was called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Imitating the events in Eastern Europe, the Yeltsin Revolution witnessed the erasure of the Communist Imperial Enlargement, which was simultaneously the evaporation of the Czarist Imperial Enlargement in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

The dismemberment of the Soviet Union in December 1991 led to the Balkanization of the Caucasus. Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, all non-Slavic peoples, followed the Slavic Ukraine into declaring their independence.

(Norman Levine is a professor of international history and a regular contributor to the Munich-based World Security network. This article is reprinted by permission of WSN.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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