Stanislav Minin, Nezavisimaia Gazeta
Last Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, gave interviews with “Voice of Russia”, “RIA News Agency” and “Russia Today”. Speaking about the fresh start with relations with the US, he said; “It goes without saying that one of the subjects that is being discussed is that of the post-Soviet space. This is an issue that requires that we conduct our activities transparently in this region; that we have no hidden agendas and, whilst defending our interests, we must take into account the legal interests of everyone else involved, in particular the states of the region.”
"It is unacceptable to present [CIS countries] with the ultimatum “either you’re with us or against us,” added Lavrov, “to do so would be to start off a struggle for spheres of influence, which is what no-one wants and which people sometimes try to attribute to Russia’s foreign policy. Spheres of influence are not our policy; our policy is that of relations based on equal rights and mutual benefits with whoever is prepared to engage in this with us.”
The language used by diplomats is very guarded and formal - the real ideas are essentially camouflaged behind the words. The language of the state press however, is somewhat more open. In reality, the discourse used by the Russian state press divides the world into the “spheres of influence” that minister Lavrov claims to be so unacceptable. The political elites of CIS countries are divided into “pro-Russian” and “anti-Russian”, otherwise known as “pro-Western”. Such language reeks of foreign policy games and does not leave any place for economic pragmatism nor for those very same “mutually-beneficial relationships”, which Lavrov himself claims to want.
Today, “The Independent” published a piece on the recent protests in Moldova. The correspondent suggests that the events in Moldova are playing into the hands of Russia. Russia is interested in having Moldova distance itself from the EU and the West and in return for it doing so it is offering the Chisinau authorities an “advantageous” solution to their problems in Transdniestria. Needless to say, such proposals are based on guesswork – the correspondent’s own interpretation and speculation on matters; a third-party evaluation of the situation. But he grasps the nature of Russia’s “mutually beneficial relations” with countries of the CIS perfectly; such relations are merely an exchange of services between political elites. We’ll give you your Transdniestria – and you get tough with the West. We’ll give you money – and you close that American military base [Note: In February this year the President of Kyrgyzstan demanded the closure of the American military base on its territory].
Relations based on equal rights and mutual benefits with “whoever is prepared to engage with us” are a marvellous thing. The only thing is – how can we know who is “prepared to engage with us” and who isn’t? Let’s say that state X (any state taken at random) wants to have strong trade and economic links with Russia. At the same time the said state very much wants to gain EU membership, or join NATO. Is such a state prepared for “mutually beneficial relations” with Russia? In my opinion, there should be no reason why wanting both of these things should be contradictory. However, the Russian ruling elite tends to think otherwise.
Does the US play its political games in the CIS? Does it defend its interests in the region? Yes. But the language that the US uses whilst doing so differs from ours. It differs only slightly, it would seem, but it’s the tiny differences that make it. The American elites divide political programmes in the post-Soviet space into “democratic” and “undemocratic”. Russia divides them into “pro-Russian” and “anti-Russian”. There’s no difference, you might say - “undemocratic” is as good as “anti-American”. However the essence of the difference is in the word itself, in the form, as opposed to the content. By saying “antidemocratic” instead of “anti-American”, you are appealing to the rules of the game in the world today, which, whether you like it or not, have become based on democracy. You are appealing against the violation of these rules. By saying “anti-Russian”, you automatically narrow the group of sympathisers. It is a label, intended for the internal consumer. Charges of “undemocratic” behaviour are intended for foreign consumers and are a far more profitable strategy.
There’s nothing meaningless or shameful in Russia’s struggle for influence and interests in the post-Soviet space. But, it would be much better if in this battle our interests were preponderantly economic, rather than political or historical. And it would be much better if, whilst defending these interests, we used a language that was globally acceptable, rather than inward-looking.