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Russia - Regional Policies
The Near Abroad
Many Russians use the term "near abroad" (blizhneye zarubezhiye ) to refer to the fourteen other former Soviet republics that had declared their independence by the time the Soviet Union broke up at the end of 1991. Leaders and elites in those republics objected that the term implied limitations on the sovereignty or status of the new states. Since independence, Russian policy makers have tried both to restore old bilateral connections and to create new relationships wherever possible. Throughout the first half of the 1990s, inconsistency and reverses characterized these diplomatic efforts because no firm principles underlay them. However, Russia maintained strong influence with all but the Baltic states, so the nationalists' hope of reclaiming part of the lost empire stayed alive.
In Tajikistan, oppositionist forces ousted the procommunist government in September 1992. Strong circumstantial evidence indicates that Russian forces assisted in the routing of the Tajikistani coalition government three months later. In 1993 several agreements formalized Russian military assistance. That year the new Tajikistani government deployed about 24,000 CIS peacekeeping troops from Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, and Kyrgyzstan (the majority of them Russian) along Tajikistani borders and at strategic sites. In late 1993, Tajikistan agreed to Russia's conditions on joining the ruble zone (see Glossary), including giving Russia control over monetary and fiscal policy, in return for subsidies. Tajikistan and Russia signed a cease-fire agreement in September 1994, but Tajikistani settlement talks, held under UN supervision with close Russian participation, remained inconclusive as of mid-1996. A small team of temporary UN military observers deployed in Tajikistan after the cease-fire agreement reported cooperative relations with CIS troops.
The new states signed friendship treaties and other agreements with Russia pledging them to protect ethnic Russian residents from harm and to respect their human and cultural rights. Because the borders among the states were open (except for Russia's borders with the Transcaucasus states, which were wholly or partly closed in 1994-96 during the Chechnya conflict), Russia's leaders asserted that Russia had important interests in ensuring the security of NIS borders with other states, such as Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan. In some cases, Russian troops served as so-called peacekeepers in conflict areas at the request of host governments such as Tajikistan and Georgia. In April 1994, at the request of the Ministry of Defense, Yeltsin decreed that Russia would seek military bases throughout most of the NIS.
Russian peacekeeping efforts in the NIS began with ad hoc agreements. For example, in August 1993 Russia formally invoked a Collective Security Agreement, signed by members of the CIS and ratified by the Russian parliament, to justify those efforts in Tajikistan. Avowing in the UN and the CSCE that its diplomatic and military efforts in the NIS supported regional stability, Russia requested international approval and financial support for its efforts. Kozyrev called for the deployment of UN and CSCE observers and the involvement of the international diplomatic community in solving the conflict in Georgia. In March 1994, Kozyrev asked the UN to recognize the CIS as an observer international organization and asked the European Union (EU--see Glossary) and the CSCE to recognize the CIS as a regional organization. Acknowledgment from these organizations would implicitly endorse the regional peacekeeping actions of the CIS.
In Kazakstan in the mid-1990s, ethnic tensions increased between the Kazaks and the large minority population of Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians) located primarily in northern areas of Kazakstan. The two groups represented an approximately equal share of the population, and Kazak president Nursultan Nazarbayev did a skillful job of balancing ethnic needs. He addressed many ethnic Russians' concerns while pushing language and other policies that were in the interests of the Kazak population. He resisted Russia's pressure to grant ethnic Russians dual citizenship; the legislature elected in 1995 contained a majority of ethnic Kazaks. In 1993 Kazakstan and Uzbekistan introduced their own national currencies rather than accept Russia's onerous conditions for membership in the ruble zone. Kazakstan also defied Russian pressure on its vital fuel industry by seeking new pipeline routes that Russia could not control. Nevertheless, for all five Central Asian republics, cooperation with Russia remains an essential element of economic and military policy.
Azerbaijan, which anticipated substantial economic rewards from Western development of its Caspian Sea oil, resisted Russian offers to station peacekeeping troops in its war-torn Nagorno-Karabakh region. Azerbaijan's president Heydar Aliyev was a former member of the Soviet Politburo and came to office in a Russian-supported coup in 1993. But Aliyev has proven more independent than Russian policy makers expected. He has accused Russia (with some justification) of supporting Armenia against Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In 1994 Russia demanded and received a 10 percent interest in a Western-dominated oil consortium that is to develop rich offshore Caspian Sea deposits for Azerbaijan. Russia called for construction of a new export pipeline that would terminate at the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk and allow Russia to collect transit fees and control the flow. In 1995-96 Russia objected to a territorial delineation of Caspian Sea resources to pressure Azerbaijan for concessions on oil revenue sharing and political and security matters. Azerbaijan decided on dual routes for oil shipments, one of which would bypass Russian territory by crossing Georgia to reach the Black Sea.
Many Western experts believe that Russia's relationship with Ukraine was the truest test of its willingness to accept the independence of the former Soviet republics. After regaining its independence at the end of 1991, Ukraine argued with Russia over the division of the Black Sea Fleet and the disposition of the Crimean Peninsula, which Nikita Khrushchev had "awarded" to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954 to mark the 300th anniversary of the union of Ukraine and Russia. After the end of the Soviet Union, the ethnic Russians who had come to dominate the Crimean Peninsula lobbied for autonomy from Ukraine or reunification with Russia. Ukrainian-Russian relations improved after the election of Ukraine's president Leonid Kuchma in July 1994. Russia did not support Crimean separatism, and both countries moved toward a peaceful settlement on dividing the Black Sea Fleet (see Naval Forces, ch. 9). The United States-Russian-Ukrainian Trilateral Nuclear Statement signed in early 1994 resolved many disputes over compensation for the transfer of nuclear weapons from Ukraine to Russia, and Ukraine transferred its last nuclear weapon to Russia in June 1996.
In 1995 Yeltsin achieved a customs union with Belarus that later included Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan. In March 1996, a new treaty among the four countries strengthened the terms of their economic integration. That treaty was part of Yeltsin's presidential campaign effort to show that he advocated gradual and voluntary integration among CIS members, in contrast to the threatening gestures of the State Duma and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. However, an April 1996 agreement between Russia and Belarus to set a timetable for closely coordinating their governments and foreign policies brought opposition from Kazakstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, which saw the agreement as a danger to their national sovereignty.
In Georgia, Russian mercenaries, allegedly bolstered by Russian military support, fought alongside separatist forces from Georgia's Abkhazian Autonomous Republic, who finally defeated Georgian forces in September 1993. In October Georgia was forced to end its strong opposition to membership in the CIS by becoming a full member and signing a series of security cooperation agreements. That step prompted Russia to send military peacekeepers to support government forces, which saved Georgia's president Eduard Shevardnadze from large-scale insurrection and further fragmentation of the country. The terms of the so-called rescue included a Georgian-Russian friendship treaty calling for the establishment of Russian military bases in Georgia. In June 1994, Abkhazia and Georgia agreed to the interpositioning of Russian peacekeepers between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia to enforce a cease-fire. In September 1995, a Russian-Georgian treaty established twenty-year Russian leases of three bases. The Russian forces continued to share cease-fire enforcement in Georgia's breakaway South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast, where they had been since 1992, because no treaty had ended that conflict. The UN military observer group deployed in Abkhazia reported cooperative relations with the Russian peacekeepers.
The geographical extent of Russia's foreign policy interests is considerably less than that of the Soviet Union, which sought support and bases of operation wherever they might be available in the world. Nevertheless, most of the Soviet Union's primary zones of interest--Central and Western Europe, the Far East, the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions, and the United States--are priorities for Russia in the 1990s. To that list has been added the near abroad, which has become a zone of insecurity and the subject of constant debate.
However, the Yeltsin government took considerable diplomatic actions to end NIS conflicts, and it stated that the financial burdens and human loss involved in burgeoning regional peacekeeping efforts precluded continuing such operations. Opinion polls showed that although some Russians supported a greater role in the near abroad, particularly in safeguarding ethnic Russians, the majority did not want Russia to assume new economic and defense burdens, particularly in Central Asia. Even in the State Duma, many members expressed doubt about the wisdom of even the peacekeeping efforts already under way in Tajikistan and Georgia.
Particularly perplexing for Western observers were apparent contradictions between Yeltsin government policies and the Russian military forces' actions in certain of the newly independent states (NIS) of the former Soviet Union. An example was Russian military support of Abkhazian rebels against the Georgian government in 1993 at the same time that the Yeltsin government was promoting a cease-fire in the region. Some Western observers explained those contradictions as partly a result of differing bureaucratic interests and turfs, with the military seeking to continue its traditional influence and presence in the near abroad against the meddling of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If Russia's overall policy goal were to emasculate Georgia and force it farther into the Russian sphere of influence, ran the argument, then military and diplomatic actions would have been more compatible.
At the December 1993 CIS meeting of heads of state, held after the Russian elections, Yeltsin's calls for strengthening military and economic cooperation within the CIS met with greater approval than they had previously. Since then the CIS states have been far from unanimous in supporting closer CIS integration, however: Armenia, Tajikistan, and Belarus have been most amenable; Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan have maneuvered to maintain independence while seeking support in some areas; and Ukraine, Moldova, and Turkmenistan have been most opposed (see The Commonwealth of Independent States, ch. 9).
In September 1995, Yeltsin again maneuvered toward a more conservative CIS policy by repeating the Russian nationalists' concerns with border security and the treatment of ethnic Russians. In a program stressing regional integration, including a "defensive alliance," Yeltsin stipulated that the CIS should consist of countries "friendly toward Russia" and that Russia should be "a leading power" in the CIS, while reiterating the call for UN and OSCE participation in CIS peacekeeping actions. Among CIS regional problems of concern to Russia were relations between China and Kazakstan, the effect of ethnic separatism in China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on neighboring nations of Central Asia, ethnic problems in Russian regions bordering Transcaucasia and Mongolia, and emigration of ethnic Russians from Central Asia.
In the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, ethnic minority Russians had proclaimed the autonomous Dnestr Moldavian Republic, or Transnistria, in September 1990. By late 1992, forces of the Russian 14th Army had enabled these Russians to consolidate control over most of the Dnestr region. Russia's actions chilled its relations with the now-independent Moldova, whose legislature had not ratified the 1991 CIS agreement. The pressure of a Russian trade blockade contributed to the victory of anticommunist candidates in Moldova's February 1994 legislative elections. In April 1994, the new legislature ratified Moldova's membership in the CIS, bringing the last of the non-Baltic Soviet republics into the organization. In October 1994, Russia and Moldova agreed on the withdrawal of the 14th Army, pending settlement of the political status of Transnistria. The agreement was jeopardized immediately, however, when Russia unexpectedly declared that the State Duma had to ratify the agreement, an outcome that had not occurred as of mid-1996.
The last Russian troops left Estonia and Latvia in 1994, leaving significant populations of Russians behind. Russian officials criticized citizenship and other laws allegedly discriminating against those groups in the Baltic republics, and some Russian enclaves in the Baltic states made separatist threats. Border disputes with Estonia and Lativa remained unresolved and heated in mid-1996.
However, beginning in 1993 a greater degree of concordance appeared between the actions of the military and the government. Yeltsin and Kozyrev stressed that Russia ensured regional stability and acted in accordance with international standards in offering Russian diplomatic and military "peacekeeping" services to help end conflicts in the NIS. They also emphasized, however, that Russia had vital interests in using diplomatic or military means to protect the rights of the more than 25 million ethnic Russians residing in the near abroad. Accordingly, Russia pressured the NIS to enact legal protections such as dual citizenship for ethnic Russians. At the same time, Russia provided some aid to ease the internal economic distress that stimulated the emigration of ethnic Russians from the new states.
Other Former Soviet Republics
Although a strong body of opinion in Belarus supported the April 1996 bilateral agreement that would bring closer integration with Russia, independence-minded Belarusians in Minsk staged large-scale protests, and the policy encountered substantial opposition in Belarus's parliament and among reform factions in Russia. Nuclear weapons in Belarus, which reportedly were under tight Russian control after 1991, were scheduled for transfer to Russia by the end of 1996.
Some analysts in the NIS and the West warned that Russia was showing a desire either to reconstitute its traditional empire or at least to include the NIS within an exclusive sphere of influence. They speculated that its arrangement with the near abroad might take the form of a collective security pact, similar to the former Warsaw Pact (see Glossary), that would counter NATO. Western analysts concluded that Russia's political and military elites adopted a more assertive foreign policy after the election of large numbers of ultranationalists and communists to the parliament in December 1993. They observed this trend toward assertiveness again during campaigns for the legislative elections of December 1995 and in the rhetoric of the 1996 presidential election campaign.
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