Post-Soviet Foreign Policy Foundations: State Interests vs. Identities


Post-Soviet Foreign Policy Foundations: State Interests vs. Identities

Эксперты МГИМО: Шишкина Ольга Владимировна, к.полит.н.

Olga Shishkina, senior lecturer of the Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia, argues that ‘similar social and economic conditions and even common challenges’ of the post-Soviet republics did not bring them to similar foreign policies.

Foreign policy was not an easy task for the newly independent post-Soviet republics. 15 new states had to find a suitable combination of political and economic development ideas, define what they are and reach a domestic agreement on their interests abroad. Most republics had no clear understanding as to what their foreign policy should look like and fell short of specialists with foreign policy experience.

Russia: Continuity and Succession

For Russia, state identification was painful, but it went smoother than in the other 14 republics. In terms of international law, Russia was the only successor of the Soviet Union, still a nuclear power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. In Russian foreign policy thinking, the ‘romanticism’ of the early 1990s was soon replaced by what was called a more ‘pragmatic’ approach to international relations. After a couple of years, enthusiasm for liberal economic and democratic political ideas was worn off by a tough experience of shock-therapy economic reforms, chaotic governance, and threat of the country’s dissolution.

By 2007, Russia had come back with their own understanding of the newly declared democratic values merged with the tradition of Soviet foreign policy. The combination of a new economic weight, especially prominent in energy issues, the Soviet legacy in the way of thinking, and the international demand for alternative solutions to the world crises transformed the country into one of the significant international players.

The Baltics: ‘Go West’

The three Baltic states separated from the Soviet Union with the slogans of resuming their national sovereignty lost in 1939. The well-preserved Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian ethnic-national identities were turned into state identities despite a considerable share of Russian-speaking minorities (varying even today from 37% in Latvia and 30% in Estonia to 8% in Lithuania).

The most-Western post-Soviet republics weighed identities, interests and development paths and chose to carry out western-recommended economic and political reforms. Baltic national states with mostly alienated Russian-speaking non-citizens joined the EU and NATO in 2004. The two structures were thought to be the best way to reach foreign policy interests, ensure sustainable economic growth and security (thought to be endangered by Russia).

Western CIS: Reconciling Identities and Tackling Energy Deficit

To define state identity and compromise the existing multiple national identities was much harder for Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine. The republics tended to define not what they were, but what they were not. Fears of losing political, economic and even cultural independence to Russia influenced these countries’ foreign policy considerably. Limited, if any, statehood experience within the borders acquired after the collapse of the Soviet Union added to the turmoil and the inability to reach national agreement on domestic and foreign interests. High industrial dependence on Russian energy resources made domestic debate over foreign policy interests even bitter.

The countries took different paths out of similar conditions. Foreign policies vary today from the EU-aspiring Moldova and, until recently, ‘multi-vector’ Ukraine to the Eurasian integration co-founder Belarus. In practice, Moldova is dragged back from the European integration course by the ‘frozen conflict’ in Transnistria and a drastic economic situation, while Belarus is sometimes being skeptic about its Eurasian integration course fearing the dominance of Russia. Ukrainian foreign policy proved to be most contentious due to mutually exclusive regional interests and weak governance. The ‘Multi-vector foreign policy’ looked mostly like a political project to justify the constant swaying of the course with no interests fully achieved.

South Caucasus: Conflicts Define

The national sovereignty of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia was also resumed with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The statehood, however, was challenged by ethnic-territorial conflicts. Nationalistic regimes of the early 1990s failed to solve them, lost original attraction and gave way to moderate approaches offered by the former Soviet nomenclature leaders. Liberal economic and democratic transformation ideas were modified to existing traditions and practices.

Conflict settlement has strongly influenced the state-building process and still defines the foreign policy of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. External forces are mostly judged by their possible support in conflict resolution. Apart from this factor, energy-rich Azerbaijan is economically self-sufficient enough to pursue a multi-vector foreign policy, while Armenia is too dependent on Russia as its main military and economic partner. Georgia’s 2003–2013 Western-inspired state reform project had mixed economic results and negative consequences for both frozen conflicts and seems to be under revision by the new leaders.

Central Asia: Finding Own Path

Of all the post-Soviet states, the five Central Asian republics faced the most severe challenges in the early 1990s. Regional threats reduced their development options to Islamic fundamentalist or centralized secular governance. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have never fully embarked on the democratic transformation path. Ethnic-national and clan tensions, border clashes, water and energy disputes supplemented by transnational threats like religious extremism, drug and arms trafficking, and adjacency to the highly unstable Afghanistan left not much room for political and economic reform.

Common threats, however, did not bring even energy-rich Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to similar foreign policies. Kazakhstan chose to promote regional integration with an intention to join the world economy gradually. Turkmenistan declared itself neutral and limited its communication with the world to gas trade. Uzbekistan went a winding road in foreign policy priorities and decided on the ‘wait-and-see’ strategy towards intra-regional institutions and careful economic cooperation with the external powers. Economic devastation and domestic instability make Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan vulnerable and dependent on external aid that they mostly receive from Russia.

* *

Similar social and economic conditions and even common challenges within the four post-Soviet subregions did not bring the post-Soviet republics to similar foreign policies. This specific area of state policy was very sensitive to identity issues and was used as a tool to define and strengthen state identity. The presence of the former centre of the empire, Russia, close to the borders of the newly independent states made their foreign policies dependent on attitudes to common history no less than on possible cooperation benefits. National interests seen through the prism of identity repeatedly contradicted national interests seen through the prism of economic profit.

Точка зрения авторов, комментарии которых публикуются в рубрике
«Говорят эксперты МГИМО», может не совпадать с мнением редакции портала.

Источник: Портал МГИМО
Коммерческое использование данной информации запрещено.
При перепечатке ссылка на Портал МГИМО обязательна.
Распечатать страницу