When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, due to many pressures both internal and
external, the ex-soviet satellites were given their independence, much to

Russia’s dismay. A new trend towards sovereignty made it difficult for the
largest country in the world to deny it’s former members the right to separate.

However, even with the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS),

Russia is still heavily involved with the matters of its former soviet members.

This then leaves the question, are those former states truly sovereign? In the
following pages we will examine the many reasons as to why this question is
currently being posed. Firstly, we will look at Russia’s history on the
international scene and how they have not really changed their agenda throughout
the last century, up into the present. Along with the brief history, we shall
elaborate on the reasons why the CIS was founded. Furthermore, modern day Russia
seems to feel the need to impose itself upon these new sovereign states for
various reasons that we will elaborate upon. Lastly, the members of the CIS see

Russia as both a friend and foe to the organisation, which will be shown by
looking at their interests and why they have divided views. However, to fully
understand the complexities that are the Russian Empire, let us take a step back
in time to when Peter the Great was building a country of grandeur. In the early

18th century, Peter the Great continued the expansion set forth by his
predecessors, and fought a long war against the seasoned Swedish army. With the
final defeat of their army, Peter gained control of several small countries,

Latvia, Lithuania, Ingria and Estonia. Upon his return from the war the Russian
senate voted that he bear the title of the Great and Emperor, his acceptance of
the last title marked the official inauguration of the Russian Empire. Peter the

Great continued to fight wars in hopes of expanding Russia’s borders and its
economy, regardless of cost, which eventually led to mistrust within the empire.

Russia was indeed a world power, influencing and controlling its neighbours.

Having built such a vast empire was only part of Peter’s public appeal, he was a
very ruthless but enlightened leader, the kind that appealed to the Russian
people. In one of the bloodier cases, he had 1000 members of a coup d’?tat
assassinated, a punishment that he himself helped administer. Upon his death,
many school children were then raised to see Peter as a hero, and a model
leader. Perhaps then it is not so surprising that in the decades to follow, his
accepted ruthlessness would be passed down into the next generations of leaders,
this time having stricter doctrines within the regimes. As Karl Marx’s ideas of
socialism spread across a desperate nation several men stepped forward to end
the oppression and starvation of their beloved country. The Russian revolution
in 1917 seemed to be a refreshing change compared to the imperialism of the old
regime and so countries such as Ukraine, Poland and Belarus joined willingly,
hoping to find guidance for their country. Regardless of the many positive
changes in the late 1920’s, Joseph Stalin gained sole control of the Soviet

Union and was more or less as ruthless as Peter the great himself. He began
expanding and militarising the union, putting the state above each and every
man. In the Ukraine, profitable farms were condensed into collective farms
hoping to support industrialisation, and as a result there was a great famine
and an estimated 5 to 7 million Ukrainians died. Even in Ukraine’s darker
period, because of their many natural resources, they were still considered very
important to the Soviet Empire, almost its backbone. The Ukraine was not the
only country to be used by the Soviets. Since the USSR spanned eight time zones,
the land occupied was enormous; in fact it was the largest in the world. With
such diverse landscapes there came many different natural resources which were
used to feed and house the population of the Soviet Union as well as push the
economy forward with its exports. The trees blanketing one-third of the Soviet

Union constituted more than one-quarter of the earth’s forest cover,
subsequently making it one of the main exports, coming second only to the mining
industry. The mineral deposits and precious metals in the Ukrainian and Siberian
areas brought in the most revenue for the Soviets. Now it is quite evident that
one of the reasons that the USSR prospered was that upon its vast amount of land
were several different resources which they had every right to exploit, allowing
access to the whole of the union, rather than one single area within. As the

Soviet Union weakened, its last secretary general, Mikhail Gorbachev, decided
that it was time to end the socialist era in 1991.Many countries, who had relied
upon the omnipresent Soviet government for so long, were lost. New governments
were appointed in each new state, and so, the roller coaster began. At first it
seemed as if a great weight had been lifted from the minds of the people in

Eastern Europe, but it was soon apparent that a new accord would have to be
signed to protect the minorities within the neighbouring states and distribute
the Soviet armed forces, among other things. The newly elected Russian
president, Boris Yeltsin, the Ukrainian president, Leonid Kravchuk and the

Supreme Soviet Chairman, Stanislav Shushkevich, met in the secluded Minsk forest
in December of 1991 to discuss the terms for the new accord. However, as time
would later prove, there was a wide gulf in the understanding between the
“fathers” of the commonwealth. “Boris Yeltsin would manoeuvre for

Russian supremacy over the organisation. Leonid Kravchuk would insist on an
amicable separation between equal and sovereign independent states. Stanislav

Shushkevich would argue for Belarusian neutrality and a multinational,
“rule-of-international-law” organisation that would enable Belarus to
sow the first seeds of a separate national identity.” Since these countries
had been linked so closely together for such a long time, they shared many
common bonds, some of which Russia was not ready to let go. When the accord was
created and the parties had all agreed to the terms, things appeared to be fine.

However, it took little time to realise that Russia was unsatisfied with the
direction in which things were heading and proceeded to place itself at the head
of the arena. Moscow was sick and tired of complying with the opinions of its
partners and decided to exercise the right of Big Brother to the CIS. They
continued on to forbid CIS members to pursue independent external policies.

Yeltsin called it “committing to their first priority, the CIS, and to
refrain from participation in unions or blocs against any or all of the
states.” There is an actual clause stating that if any member of the CIS
forms an alliance outside the given states then they will be forced to withdraw
from the commonwealth, however, it is no surprise that clause does not apply,
nor will ever apply, to Russia. As stated in president Kravchuk’s electoral
slogan, “Russia does not intend to develop its relations with CIS countries
on the basis of international law. (…) the further integration with the

Commonwealth is leading to the watering down of CIS countries sovereignty,
subordination of the interests to those of Russia, and the recreation of a
centralised superpower.” We have seen that Russia has always had interests
in her neighbouring countries, sometimes turning violent, sometimes not, but
always causing tension. The many borders surrounding the largest country in the
world preoccupy its government for safety reasons. During the Soviet reign, and
most importantly during the cold war, the Soviet states surrounding Russia were
a security barrier, a guarantee the west wouldn’t creep up to the Kremlin
unnoticed. However, there have been offers by NATO to several of the countries
of the CIS for membership, consequently enraging Russia, who does not want the
western organisation sitting on its doorstep. NATO argues that it is not
expanding to spite Russia and has even offered them a seat, which, was evidently
refused. Even though there is tension with the occident, North America is not
what preoccupies Yeltsin the most. With the bombings in Kosovo this past year,
we can see that Moscow’s concerns fall mostly in Europe. Because of the Kosovo
bombings there have been threats by Moscow to form negative alliances with

Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Iran and China if there were to be a NATO enlargement«

L’expansion de l’OTAN qui montre sa d?termination ? dominer la plan?te
pour les prochaines cinquante et une ann?es obligera la Russie ?
recr?er son propre potentiel militaire », ?crit Vladimir

Kouznetchevski, qui ajoute : « On ne peut arr?ter cette expansion que par
la force.» However, an alliance of that kind would alienate them from the west,
as well as financial aid. Albeit Russia’s current preoccupation with the eastern

European NATO expansion and the bombings in Kosovo, it has never had the
intention to join the neither European Union nor NATO. Moscow has been offered,
at several occasions, a place at the EU to calm tense nerves, but like with

NATO, it refused. To join itself to either would mean subjecting Russia to the
discipline and will of its former rivals, so they have chosen to counter it.

They have participated in several European security meetings and are no stranger
to dealings with the EU, but are too proud to accept membership. To compensate
for this over sized ego on the global market, they depend on the members of the

CIS, who are also “encouraged” to avoid contact with NATO as well. At
times Moscow has been known use pressure tactics on the countries to get its
way. It would seem that Russian influence is as important to Moscow as the
nation’s security. In the Caucasus, Moscow is supporting both Karabakh and

Abkhazia, two nations who have had longstanding disputes. This move allows

Russia to play both sides and still remain influential. Their fear is this; if
quarrelling countries are able to resolve their conflicts, then Russia will have
no say and will see its power and influence over the region diminish. Overall,

Russia’s crisis management has been known to be self-serving, resembling more
the tactics of dividing and ruling than integration. Georgia and Armenia are
currently addressing the possibility of peace settlements, but they are both
hoping that Russia’s direct role in their business is finished, as unlikely as
it seems. One of the reasons for which Moscow is so busy with external affairs
is that its own country is in shambles. “La corruption financi?re
sans limites, la d?gradation nationale et le cataclysme ?conomique
dans lesquels se d?bat la Russie depuis l’arriv?e au pouvoir de M.

Boris Eltsine en 1991 n’ont pas de pr?c?dent dans l’histoire du
capitalisme au XXe si?cle. En huit ans, les apparatchiks du pr?sident,
la nouvelle oligarchie et leurs mentors am?ricains ont ruin? le
pays.” Experts have compared modern Russia to Chicago in the 1920’s because
of the extreme crime rate. It is well known that Russian Mafia play a large part
in the running of the country, with influence in the surrounding areas as well,
and as such the people have lost faith in their government. There is not only a
problem with crime however, the economy is much worse. Boris Yeltsin is trying
to strengthen his appeal to voters by giving them what they want, a strong

Russia. Throughout Russia’s history, there has always been a legacy of strength
and power. When the USSR failed and the government became democratic, the people
believed that it would bring them prosperity. However, it brought them
corruption, in the greatest sense of the word. As mentioned above, inner turmoil
and bankruptcy are tearing Russia apart. Unpaid salaries are among the dozens of
hardships the Russian population is facing, but seeing as they are a democratic
nation, the impoverished masses are voters, and will decide Yeltsin’s fate. He
is trying to win over his people by getting Russia involved in international
situations. Take for instance the conflict in Kosovo; there have always been
tensions between Moscow and Yugoslavia, but Yeltsin rallied his people against
the American bombings. Regardless of the tension, the masses are focusing their
anger towards anti-American propaganda because it is all they have. “La
crise des Balkans agit sur l’?volution du paysage politique russe de mani?re
multiforme. Si, jusqu’ici, le th?me du « complot am?ricain contre
la Russie » ne rencontrait qu’un ?cho assez mod?r?, la crise
du Kosovo survient dans un contexte en pleine ?volution.” Moscow
needs to fuel the fire to keep people’s faith. “Pour beaucoup de Russes, la
guerre men?e par l’OTAN confirme la volont? des Am?ricains de
mettre leur pays ? genoux. D’autant qu’ils sont sensibles ? leur
isolement croissant.” The recent conflict in Chechnya is yet another
instance where Russia refuses to let go. They have asked for their independence
on countless occasions since the reign of Peter the Great and have always been
refused. Just recently, there has been some activity around the Russian-Chechnyan
border causing panic throughout the state. Unfortunately though, Moscow has
played the situation to it’s fullest, bombing their own civilian buildings and
placing the blame on Chechnyan terrorists, subsequently winning over the Russian
people. Just like in the Russian Tsarist and Stalinist periods, Yeltsin is using
force to appeal to the Russian public. Instead of giving the small nation their
independence, the Yeltsin government has pushed them over once again, only this
time bombing civilians and creating thousands of casualties. Moscow is
disregarding the suggestion for peace by CIS members and justifies the bombings
for its own gain. It would seem that the CIS only matters when it will profit

Russia. The members of the CIS also have issues with Russia. It is known that

Moscow uses the Commonwealth for its own purpose but its members are not wholly
ignorant. Some countries need Russia, or have been led to believe they do, and
some know they do not need Russia but can’t seem to shake them off. During the

Soviet period many Russians emigrated all over its territory, settling families
and lives. Today that is causing many problems with countries that would choose
to oppose Russia, the Ukraine for instance. There are nearly 15 millions

Russians within Ukraine’s borders, and as such they are a heavy minority. They
represent enough of a pull for the government not to disregard them in matters
of the state. Russia has much say in Ukrainian dealings because of that specific
minority, albeit president Kravchuk’s disapproval. It is known amongst the
ex-Soviet states that the Russians overlook other nationalities with an undue
degree of ethnic superiority, creating tensions. Ukraine has a problem with this
but can say nothing because of the repercussions it would cause between them and

Russia, especially since there is enough tension there already. The Ukraine also
relies heavily on Russian fuel and has strong cultural links so it wouldn’t be
able to find allies elsewhere without being cutoff of a vital supply. In 1995,

Russia threatened to call the Ukraine a bankrupt country and demand their debt
be paid off in Ukraine assets. Moscow is using its imports, exports and past
debts to manipulate other countries. Another country stuck in Russia’s economic
grasp is Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz government believes that to be truly independent
economically, they must depend on Russian support. The president stated,
“If we break these relations, there is a risk that the Kyrgyz will return
to their traditional nomadic life as cattle breeders.” They rely on fuel
material, lubricants and equipment provided by Russia, which, if they were to be
taken away, would greatly affect Kyrgyz agriculture. Also, reforms in the
mid-Asian state also depend on Russia, or so believe the president of Kyrgyz,
“it will be impossible to achieve reforms in Kyrgyzstan without close
cooperation with Russia.” There is a fear throughout many mid-Asian
countries that if they turn their interests to the south or west for economic
purposes, they will lose all support from Russia. This does not leave them much
choice in the matters of their states. They have been dependant on their
northern ally for such a long time that it would appear they know no better than
to agree with whatever decision comes their way. We can see that through
manipulation and the image of power, Russia tends to get its way, all the while
impeding on the sovereignty of its neighboring states. Russia today is not that
different from the Russia back in the 19th century, doing what it can to form a
superpower, at which they are the head country. Even as Russia is in its darkest
economic period they have not let go of their pride, rallying the people to
support the Kremlin’s decisions, as well as manipulation the other countries
into believing Russia is the beginning and the end of eastern European politics.

Many scholars believe that the CIS is in fact Russia is piecing together its
former federation, a fallen power desperate to hold on to everything it has, or
can have for that matter. Russia does not have to be strong to possess power,

Kissinger once wrote that the perception of power is as manipulative as power
itself, something the Kremlin knows well. Current academic works have already
begun replacing the term Commonwealth of Independent States with a much simpler
term, Russia. It will be interesting to see in the coming years where such a
country will be. With the failing economy and internal politics turned inside
out by crime, one would think not to far, but Russia still has enough kick to
get by and maybe what the critics say is true, with the help from the west,

Russia will rebuild its empire to one day stand again.

Bibliography

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