Nicola Melloni, Paris, November 2007
The region after the collapse of Soviet Union
After the Soviet Union collapse.
Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 after an attempted putsch by orthodox Communist that tried to rest;ore the pre-perestroika period. Fifteen sovereign republics emerged from the collapse of the USSR: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, the three Baltic Republics (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia), the three Caucasian Republics (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan) and the Central Asia Republics (K).
However, the path of transition has been troublesome. Economic transition has been difficult everywhere in the FSU, as the transformation of the command economy into market economy showed to be not as easy as expected. In the case of Russia, GDP fell by almost 50% in the first seven years of transition, while inflation skyrocketed to an astonishing four digit figure in 1992. Industrial recession was deeper than during Nazi invasion. Similar problems happened in Ukraine, Moldova and the Caucasian Republics.
The situation was somehow different in other republics. Baltic Republics suffered of initial problems, not differently from other Central and Eastern European countries but recovered quickly and recently joined the European Union. Countries of Central Asia and Belarus opted for an authoritarian path that blocked political and – partially – economic reforms, at the same time impeding the dramatic recession experienced in Russia.
Peace and Wars in the FSU
The beakdown of the Soviet Union has vastly been peaceful. In fact, Russia – the dominant subject in the Soviet Union – promoted the independence of the other republics and, thus, the melt down of the USSR has been largely consensual. The only open dispute on borders was registered between Armenia and Azerbaijan, particularly on the enclave of Nagorno Karabak, an Armenian-populated region inside Azerbaijan. The conflict has not yet been solved, yet in 1994 a cease-fire has been signed.
The Caucasus has been the fulcrum of the post-Soviet conflicts in the region. As soon as Soviet Union collapsed, Chechnya, a small republic part of the Russian Federation, has declared its own independence. Such independence has never been sanctioned by Russia or by other International subjects, yet Russia initially lost the control over the territory. Russian troops occupied Chechnya in 1994, starting the first Chechen war, lasted until 1996 and concluded with a no substantial change and no real settlement of the dispute. In 1999 Putin launched the second Chechen war, yet guerrilla and terrorism remains big issue for Russia.
Similarly, in Georgia two autonomous republics – South Ossetia and Abkhazia – declared themselves independent after the break-up of the Soviet Union. The republics are not internationally recognised, yet they are effectively autonomous with Georgia accusing Russia to back-up independence’s plans.
Finally, in Central Asia, the situation has been quite complex. Tajikistan has suffered a devastating civil war from 1992 to 1997, when a cease-fire was reached. Its borders with Afghanistan are in great danger and Russian troops control them. Uzbekistan has its own internal problems, especially in Fergana Valley, where Islamic opposition to the dictatorship of President Karimov is very stong. Supposed acts of terrorism are often accompanied by hard repression from government troops.
Recent International Development
Tension in the region has grown in the last decade or so. First of all, Russian foreign policy under Putin’s presidency has been much less acquiescent than under Yeltsin. Russia has strongly opposed to Nato enlargement eastwards.
The Baltic Republics, in fact, are Nato members, while also Georgia is applying for membership. Russia has tried to re-acquire stronger ties with former Soviet Republics.
However, pro-democratic and, above all, pro-Western revolutions have blossomed in the last years. Georgia has been the first republic openly turning its back to Russia and seeking a new alliance with the US. Ukraine and Kirgizistan tried to emulate the Georgian example but with little success. Ukraine is now in a very confused situation. Pro-Western Orange revolution happened in December 2004 and permitted the election of President Yushenko. However, the coalition soon collapsed and the country has been substantially government-less for 3 years, with the East of the country representing a strong-hold of pro-Russian parties, while the West is the political base of pro-Western.
Russia recently had severe tension with Estonia, accused – similarly to the other Baltic Republics – to discriminate Russian citizens.
Central Asia and in particular Uzbekistan briefly opened its territory to American troops during the Afghanistan war, yet Russia, afraid of find itself under American siege has successfully gained back the support of President Karimov.
Nowadays Russian relations with the United States are as tense as during the Cold War, as a consequence of US strategy to install missile defence on the territory of the countries formerly members of the Warsaw Pact. All together the situation in the whole are can be considered very tense, in particular in the Caucasus zone and in Central Asia – which represent zones of strategic importance also for pipelines and gas/oil fields.