Russia’s Tactics in Eastern Europe
Although Russia has lost its superpower status, it remains an important actor on the global political stage. Taking into consideration the expansion of the EU and NATO into Eastern Europe, Moscow is planning its triumphant return. Russia is more eager than ever to exercise its influence in the former Soviet countries.
Putin’s mid-/long-term goals are to:
- Strengthen Russia's role in the system of intergovernmental political and economic relations
- Extend and further institutionalize Russia’s influence among the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)
- Secure Russian economic interests in the region
- Play a leading role in global political affairs
On the external front, Putin’s rather inflexible policy toward the EU and NATO has become even more difficult to maintain with Kiev on the path to democracy, Moldavia’s upcoming presidential elections, the potential confrontation with Transnistria and Georgia’s intention to take back its lost territories. Nonetheless, Putin steams ahead with his agenda to use the countries that were once part of the USSR as satellites.
Vladimir Putin is genuinely popular in Russia and since becoming President, he has pushed for an economic boost and to a lesser extent, political reform. His political aims are to reduce state corruption, create a more transparent legal framework and an efficient political class. Such steps have brought a sense of stability and optimism to Russia and have made it a more attractive place for foreign and domestic investment. However, Russia is still only a quasi-democracy, where the state controls and censors the mass media and the president makes proposals that range from electing members of parliament from political party lists to making certain amendments to the Constitution and personally nominating governors to Russia's regions. This proves that the president has effective and decisive control over the political decisions being made in Russia.
Although Russia had close ties with Ukraine on a social, political and economic level, the Russian-backed candidate Viktor Yanukovich could not defeat opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko. The Orange Revolution brought a Western-oriented regime to power in Kiev. President Yushchenko seems determined to put the welfare of his own people before Moscow’s interests.
Since the battle for Ukraine is a lost one, President Putin is concentrating his efforts on Moldavia. The present Moldavian political leadership is pro-Russian and President Putin wants to make sure that this will not change in the near future.
The Republic of Moldavia is politically dependant on the regime from the Kremlin, mostly because it has a failing economy and it needs Russia’s supplies in terms of financial loans and electricity. With this in mind, Romania's newly-elected President, Traian Basescu, announced during his recent visit to Chisinau that Romania will supply Moldavia with 300 million kilowatts of electricity and will continue to encourage closer relations between the Romanian and Moldavian political and business class.
Stanislav Belkovski, a well-known Russian political analyst, has emphasized the importance of Romania in Eastern Europe and in the Balkans. Belkovski declared that Basarabia might reunite with Romania in the near future while the American analyst Dick Morris said that Chisinau is on the verge of having its own Orange Revolution.
Opposition leader Iurie Rosca stated in his meeting with President Traian Basescu that he is not waiting for Romanian or EU support for the sake of his party, the PPCD (Christian-Democratic Peoples' Party), but for Moldavia. "After the elections held in Romania and Ukraine, the Moldavian Republic is a red stain in an orange sea," declared Rosca.
The emergence of Mikhail Saakashvili, who led Georgia's Rose Revolution and was subsequently elected president signaled more than the end of Eduard Shevardnadze's corrupt regime. Mr. Saakashvili symbolized the first popular revolt against the system of pseudo democracy prevalent on post-Soviet soil. What has further happened in Ukraine is the logical continuation of Georgia's Rose Revolution. The successful examples of Georgia and Ukraine are a sign that real change is possible on former Soviet soil.
Gleb Pavlovski, one of Putin’s main political consultants, announced a few weeks ago the strategy Russia would use in its relations with its near and far away neighbors. The strategy announces the penetration of the Kremlin’s intelligence within various political parties - from the government and the opposition - and the penetration of various NGOs. This is designed to influence the civil society’s political views. In Moldavia, the plan has apparently been put into action already.
This strategy is extremely dangerous for the states that Russia has in mind. It clearly is an attempt to annihilate the liberal democracies that are blossoming in Eastern Europe, through promoting the so-called "assisted democracy" - a concept that benefits Putin’s goals.
A growing number of Russia’s observers seem to be coming to the conclusion that Putin’s political maneuverings may enter into a profound crisis provoked by the string of political failures both at home and abroad. In the last two years, Moscow has been shaken by a number of setbacks, including the assassination of pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, a large-scale raid by Chechen militants in the Republic of Ingushetia, the simultaneous terrorist bombings of two passenger airliners, the horrific hostage taking in Beslan and a wave of social unrest both at home and in Caucuses. In this context, the only place where Russia is not having problems is Belarus, considered to be the last communist bastion in Europe.
Therefore, keeping the separatist enclaves in the former Soviet space remains a winning policy for Moscow. The pro-Russian separatists from Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia receive both official and clandestine support from Moscow.
The current trends of Putin’s foreign and domestic policy are likely to further alienate Russia’s relations with the EU on issues related to human rights and civil liberties. Many fear that Putin’s successful attempt to secure cooperation with the US in the war on terror provides him with an excuse for using military pre-emptive attacks. On the economic level, Putin is trying hard to boost Russia’s role in the oil market both in Europe and the Middle East while continuing to prevent the emergence of an independent, free media or a strong civil society.
What happened in Georgia and Ukraine is proof that the former slaves of the Soviet Union are no longer willing to be used as tools for the benefit of Russia. Now they can look to the economic life of Europe and the military protection of NATO to lead them to political and economic freedom.