there is a single idea which today unites all those very different
people, who so love to call themselves the "Russian political elite," it
is the idea of "dominating the post-Soviet space," of finding a way to
restore the Russo-Soviet empire.
Post-imperial messianic complexes have always been a characteristic of
Russia's political class. If, however, in the first post-Soviet decade
our diplomats fought phantom battles against the expansion of NATO into
Central Europe or for "Russia's traditional interests in the Balkans,"
with extraordinary pomp and ceremony, today their operational area has
been reduced to the post-Soviet territories, where they are preparing to
make their last stand.
Russia lost her empire back in 1917. She emerged from three years of
civil war weakened and devastated. In the Caucasus and Central Asia her
opponent was Britain, ruler of the waves and victor of the First World
War. London had long been taking an interest in those regions. In the
course of a few months, almost without any apparent effort, the
Bolsheviks restored the Russian empire as if Britain were not even
there. What made this miracle happen? And why is it not going to happen
Well, because on their bayonets the ragged Red Army carried to the
peoples of the former Russian empire inspiring communist ideals of
social justice and liberation for the masses of the East. No matter that
the ideals proved false, and that their implementation was criminal.
That became evident only later. At the time, they inspired millions of
people, irrespective of their nationality. It was no quasi-religious
ideal; it was a fully fledged new religion. Just as the adoption of
Christianity prolonged the existence of the Roman Empire for 300 years,
so the adoption of communism extended the existence of the Russian
empire for several decades.
What has today's Russian elite to offer its former neighbors in the
Soviet communal apartment? Nothing except pompous talk about Russia's
greatness, its historical mission and the messianic imperial
predestination of the Russian ethnos. All of this megalomaniacal stuff
can't appeal to anybody beyond Russia's borders. We are trying to force
our neighbors to choose: Russia or the West. This is a completely
unconstructive and silly choice to put before them. Russia has
demonstrated more than once to the countries of the former Soviet Union
that she is unable and, worse, unwilling to help them resolve the
problems they face. Is it any wonder they are all trying to maximize
contact with the West?
It is this post-empire complex that is driving the Kremlin's senseless
and hysterical campaign against Georgia. Moscow's campaign has included
a trade and transportation blockade, ethnic cleansing and deportations
of Georgians living in Russia, and support for separatist regimes in the
enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The aim of the campaign is to weaken the position of Georgia's
pro-Western President Mikhail Saakashvili. But even observers who are
loyal to the Kremlin in Moscow have admitted that the result has only
been to consolidate Georgian public opinion to back their leader.
The main problem with Russian policy toward Georgia is that Moscow does
not know itself what it expects to achieve by such politics of total
pressure on Tbilisi. When Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was
asked this question, he answered after a long pause: "Georgia knows what
we want from her."
Moscow's closest ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko,
probably gave the best description of the inevitable consequences of
such behavior. Lukashenko was talking mainly about the pressure being
exerted by the Kremlin to push Belarus into joining a union with Russia.
But Lukashenko's words serve as a warning about the unintended
consequences of Russian policies not just in his