At the end of 1991, the Soviet Union declared its disintegration, 15 republics became independent successively, and the original geographical pattern of Eurasia was broken. The term “post-Soviet space” came into being to describe this area with traditional connections.
In fact, the geographical categories represented by terms such as “post-Soviet space” and “near-foreign countries”, “Eurasian space”, “new independent countries” and “CIS countries” have gradually been unified. These words are used to refer to the “political geographic space composed of the 12 former Soviet republics except the three Baltic states”. Apart from Russia, other countries in the “post-Soviet space” can be divided into the following three groups according to their geographical location: Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova in the Eastern European Plain; Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan in Central Asia Stan, Turkmenistan; Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in Transcaucasus.
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been going on for more than four months, and it has had a huge impact on the geopolitics, economy and diplomacy of the “post-Soviet space”. The “post-Soviet space” has extremely important strategic significance for Russia, which constitutes its strategic security and strategic development space, and is also the main “battlefield” for Russia’s geopolitical game with Western countries. Dominance in many aspects. At present, what kind of strategic considerations does Russia have for the region?
From Negative Treatment to Promoting Regional Integration
In the early days of independence, Russia implemented a passive foreign policy towards the “post-Soviet space”. The sudden disintegration of the Soviet Union has plunged the “post-Soviet space” into serious economic crisis and political chaos. At the beginning of the disintegration, Russia, which was under internal and external troubles, was “coaxed” by the so-called supportive policies of Western countries that were incendiary. Cut off ties with countries in the region as much as possible, especially with Central Asian countries, in order to actively promote Russia’s “integration into Europe”. At the beginning of independence, Russia did not take into account its emotional ties with countries in the “post-Soviet space”, and put pressure on these countries to obtain the “Soviet military heritage” within the territorial jurisdiction of these countries, such as accelerating the “denuclearization” of Ukraine Wait. In terms of economic reforms, Russia has implemented radical “shock therapy”, which has made countries in the region already mired in economic crisis “worse”.
Russia’s “one-sided” pro-Western policy has had little effect, and the West has not really accepted Russia. In addition, the continuous eastward expansion of NATO has caused Russia’s geostrategic space to be continuously squeezed. Faced with this situation, Russia realized that in order to safeguard its own interests and restore its status as a great power, it must ensure that it can always exert influence in the “post-Soviet space”. Since 1993, Russia has implemented an active foreign policy of promoting regional integration. The “Basic Principles of the Conception of Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation” published in April 1993 emphasized that the “post-Soviet space” region “is directly related to the fate of Russia’s reforms”, and that Russia “has a special responsibility” for this region. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) will establish a new relationship of equality and mutual benefit” and plans to implement a policy of integration in the region. In 1995, Yeltsin approved the “Russia’s Strategic Approach to the CIS Member States”, which clearly pointed out that the CIS is the core area of Russia’s geographical interests, and the relationship with the CIS countries is a priority in Russia’s foreign policy. Only “strengthening Russia’s leading role in the CIS” can effectively counter “centrifugal forces” in the region. The issuance of these government documents marked the change of Russia’s policy towards “post-Soviet space” and also opened the prelude to the regional integration process led by Russia. In terms of security, the Collective Security Treaty came into effect in 1994, and the CIS countries began to establish collective defense spaces to prevent and mediate internal military disputes within the region. Economically, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia established the CIS Customs Union in 1995, and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan joined in 1996 and 1998, respectively. During this period, the CIS countries also signed a series of cooperation agreements in promoting cultural exchanges and unifying information space. Through these measures, Russia’s influence in the “post-Soviet space” in terms of security, economy, and culture has been greatly enhanced, and Russia has begun to actively intervene in regional conflicts, actively fulfilling its mediation duties, and its dominant position in regional integration has been increasing.
At the same time, the competition and contradictions between Russia and the United States in the region have become increasingly prominent. In 1997, the eastward expansion plan of NATO and the implementation of the “New Central Asia Strategy” of the United States made the “post-Soviet space” become the “main battlefield” for the competition of geographical interests between Russia and the United States. Regional alliances are at risk of fragmentation. That year, the pro-Western “GUAM Group” (a regional alliance of states) was established, with members including Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova, with Uzbekistan joining in 1998. In 1999, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan withdrew from the Collective Security Treaty.
Abandon full integration and pursue a flexible and pragmatic foreign policy
During Putin’s first presidency and the “Maple combination”, Russia implemented a flexible and pragmatic foreign policy towards the “post-Soviet space”. In 2000, Putin was elected President of Russia. Faced with the severe domestic economic situation and the increasingly intensified competition between the United States and Russia in the “post-Soviet space”, he made positive adjustments to the foreign policy of the Yeltsin period, taking Russia’s national interests as his foreign policy. The fundamental starting point is to take a variety of pragmatic measures to strengthen the dominance of the “post-Soviet space” and ensure Russia’s national security and geographical interests. This policy also continued in the subsequent “Maple combination” period.
On June 17, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the 25th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum and delivered a speech.
After the 9.11 incident, the United States strengthened military and economic cooperation with Central Asian countries through joint anti-terrorism operations, proposed the “Greater Central Asia Plan”, implemented the “New Silk Road” initiative, and actively promoted democratization in “post-Soviet space” countries. , launched a “color revolution” in Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, with the intention of establishing a “pro-American and de-Russian” government. In the face of the aggressive “offensive” of the United States, Russia has actively adjusted its relations with countries in the region, abandoned its previous comprehensive integration policy, and pushed forward the process of sub-regional integration. In 2000, the Treaty on the Establishment of the Eurasian Economic Community was signed with Bai, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In 2011, Putin proposed the establishment of a higher level of integration mechanism “Eurasian Union”. In October of the same year, the heads of government of the Commonwealth of Independent States signed the “Free Trade Zone Treaty”.
During this period, Russia responded with tough measures against pro-Western forces in the region. In 2005, Russia threw out the “energy” weapon. The Russian State Duma demanded the Russian government to raise the price of natural gas supply to Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and other countries to the international market level on the grounds that the relevant countries frequently defaulted on Russian gas fees, and more. This time, the Ukrainian gas pipeline has been limited to pressure and cut off the supply. In 2003, the “Rose Revolution” broke out in Georgia. After that, Georgia turned to the United States in an all-round way diplomatically. The then President Saakashvili actively sought to join NATO and planned to use force to take back South Ossetia and Abkhazia. At the NATO summit in April 2008, NATO agreed to absorb the grid as a member. On August 8 of the same year, the Georgian government troops exchanged fire with South Ossetian armed forces, and then Russia went to war with Georgia in the name of protecting local Russian citizens. Under international mediation, on August 13, Russia and Georgia reached an agreement on the principle of a ceasefire. On August 26, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed an order declaring the recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
At the same time, Russia has seized the opportunity to improve relations with countries in the region. For example, in the “Andijan Incident” in Uzbekistan in 2005, Russia helped the Karimov government to quell the unrest. In return, Uzbekistan announced its withdrawal from the “Guam Group” and asked the US military to withdraw from its military bases in the country. In 2006, the Collective Security Treaty Organization restored Uzbekistan’s membership.
“Bottom Line Diplomacy”
From the Ukraine crisis in 2013 to the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict this year, Russia has implemented a “bottom-line diplomacy” policy towards the “post-Soviet space”. In 2012, Putin was re-elected as Russian president, and he clearly regarded Russia’s interests in the “post-Soviet space” as the “bottom line” of geostrategic. On November 21, 2013, the then pro-Russian Ukrainian President Yanukovych temporarily suspended the signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union. That night, the Ukrainian opposition and pro-European people organized demonstrations and protests in Kyiv’s Independence Square to oppose the president’s move. policy, the Ukrainian crisis broke out. In the following months, the scale of demonstrations and protests grew, and the opposition’s demands also escalated from the initial signing of the agreement with the EU’s associated countries to requiring the president to step down, amend the constitution, and hold a new election.
Western countries led by the United States have provided a lot of economic assistance and technical support to the Ukrainian opposition, making the Ukrainian crisis a powerful weapon restricting the implementation of Russia’s geostrategy.
Faced with the challenge, Putin responded with a series of tough measures. Politically, denying the legitimacy of the Ukrainian interim government is a direct sign of a tough stance on the Crimea incident. On March 18, 2014, Putin signed a treaty with the representatives of Crimea and Sevastopol, allowing Crimea and Sevastopol to join the Russian Federation as federal subjects. Militarily, troops were sent into Crimea and military exercises were conducted on the Russian-Ukrainian border. Economically, Gazprom has greatly increased the price of energy exported to Ukraine on the grounds that its natural gas debt has not been repaid. It has also terminated the free trade area agreement with Ukraine and canceled the preferential tariff for Ukraine. Since then, Western countries have imposed a series of severe sanctions on Russia, including asset freezes and travel bans, and many Russian institutions and companies have also been included in the sanctions. From 2014 to February 2022, the United States and Europe imposed multiple rounds of economic sanctions on Russia, and the energy sector was also included, which created hidden dangers for the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
In order to offset the impact of sanctions and consolidate ties with countries in the “post-Soviet space”, Russia has taken a series of measures: First, to further strengthen economic cooperation in the Eurasian region. In 2015, Russia facilitated Armenia and Kyrgyzstan to join the Eurasian Economic Union, and promoted the integration of the Eurasian Economic Union and the “Belt and Road” initiative with China, and strengthened economic cooperation with China in the “post-Soviet space”. Second, strengthen participation in political issues in the region. Including assisting Belarusian President Lukashenko through the political crisis caused by the presidential election and promoting the Russian-Belarus integration process; actively mediating the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia on the Nagorno-Karabakh (Naka) issue; strengthening collective security The operational capacity of the Treaty Organization, stabilization of the situation in Central Asia, etc. Third, during the epidemic period, economic assistance was strengthened for the “post-Soviet space” and “vaccine donation” was promoted. Fourth, continue to implement a differentiated energy diplomacy strategy in the region, continue to export oil and gas to Belarus at preferential prices, and ensure the energy and economic security of allies; for energy exporters such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, Russia will increase its energy The investment and holding of the industry ensure Russia’s dominant position in the energy industry of the “post-Soviet space” countries. Finally, strengthen the use of “soft power” tools and implement cultural export to the region through educational cooperation, “Russia Today” TV, etc.
On January 13, 2022, the CSTO troops that completed the peacekeeping mission began to evacuate from the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan.
“Post-Soviet space” is still Russia’s core geographic area of interest
The Russian-Ukrainian conflict that has continued since February this year has caused some countries in the “post-Soviet space” to worry about their own security. Although there is a view that under the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the loss of Russian power and Western sanctions have greatly reduced Russia’s ability to control the region, but there is no doubt that the status of the “post-Soviet space” as Russia’s core geographic interest area will not change, and Russia’s determination to maintain its dominance in the region cannot be ignored. From a military perspective, Russia still has a considerable military presence in the “post-Soviet space”. In addition to eastern Ukraine, Russia has an army and air force of about 4,000 troops in Armenia, and has deployed nearly 2,500 troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. There are about 1,000 troops in the Transnistria region (Dezuo), and more than 8,000 troops in Central Asia. Some of these garrisoned troops control disputed territories in the region, while others provide security for Russian allies and become a powerful tool for Russia to consolidate its influence in the “post-Soviet space”. From an economic perspective, Russia is the most important trading partner and source of investment for most countries in the region. Russia’s energy, currency and investment policies are of great significance to the economic development and financial market stability in the “post-Soviet space”. Especially in Central Asia, such as Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, their national economies rely heavily on remittances from Russia, and Russia’s immigration policy will directly affect the normal operation of the two countries’ economies.
On June 28, Putin paid a working visit to Tajikistan, and the next day went to Turkmenistan to attend the summit of the Caspian Sea coast states. The trip to Central Asia is Putin’s first overseas trip since the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. This conveys to the outside world that Russia will continue to play a key role in Central Asia and wants to strengthen political, security and trade ties and cooperation with regional countries.