By Paul Goble
One reason the USSR fell apart is that by 1991 ethnic Russians who often were the glue holding the USSR together had declined to half of the population. Were a new Soviet Union created, they would be a clear minority; and the president of USSR 2.0 would be an Asian, not a Russian, according to a Moscow-based Azerbaijani commentator.
In such a country, Mekhman Gafarly writes on the Kolokolrussia.ru portal, the Russians would be at risk of “being converted into a poor national minority and could be dissolved among the rapidly growing Muslim population of the former Soviet republics” (kolokolrussia.ru/russkiy-mir/v-sssr-20-prezidentom-stanet-aziat).
Not only would that constitute a threat to Russia and Russians as they are currently understood, but it would recreate in an intensified way many of the pressures and conflict that tore the USSR apart, with the addition that in such a situation, the ethnic Russians would have the first and greatest interest in leaving.
Because that is so, Gafarly says, Russia should aim to become a fortress on its own after having absorbed “’Russian Ukraine,’ Belarus, the Baltic countries, Kazakhstan and also the Russian part of the Arctic … rather than waste enormous sums on the Eurasian Economic Union” whose members will be a burden on Russia rather than a resource.
At the present time, he continues, “many residents of the economically badly off countries of the CIS – Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Moldova and others, the populations of which have been impoverished since the acquisition of independence play great hopes on ‘Putin’s’ Eurasian Economic Union.”
“They want,” Gafarly says, “Russian President Vladimir Putin to restore the USSR and Soviet power so that they can again live well and in stability.” That is why, he argued, “Putin in [these CIS countries] enjoys even greater popularity than he does in his motherland.” But the reason these countries want a revived USSR is precisely why Russians should oppose it.
According to the Azerbaijani-Russian commentator, “the USSR initially was an anti-Russian project,” in which “more than 80 percent of the Russian elite was destroyed” and the country was carved up into various republics, an action that ultimately led to the end of the Soviet Union because better off Russia no longer wanted to carry the poorer ones as it had.
That is why the countries of Central Asia were the greatest opponents of the disintegration of the USSR, Gafarly says.
While the disintegration of the USSR was “a catastrophe for Russia from a military, geopolitical and humanitarian point of view, on the demographic and social-economic plane … it was only a good thing,” if one looks beyond the immediate problems of transition on view in the 1990s.
“When people talk about the restoration of the USSR in its former territories, several questions immediately arise … First, does Russia have the resource for this? … Second, does Russia need a USSR 2.0? … [And] third, in what position would the Russian population find itself in the event of the restoration of a union state?”
Even if everyone agreed voluntarily to reunite “under one roof,” he argues, “what would result would be an enormous and poor country.” Only four have economies that could make a contribution – Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan – and not all of those would want to. Russia and Russians would thus be left to pay for it, something beyond their means.
Moreover, there are a variety of problems that have emerged or intensified since 1991, and “it would be impossible to unite the countries of the Trans-Caucasus into a ‘new’ union.” Azerbaijan and Armenia are at war over Karabakh, and the Armenian population inside Georgia wants autonomy.
Yet another reason which makes a USSR 2.0 “unacceptable for Russia” is the demographic situation in which “the size of the Christian population and above all its two main ethnoses, the Russians and the Ukrainians is catastrophically contracting while the Muslim population is rapidly growing.”
Even if by some miracle Russia could stabilize its population at its current level, something few demographers think possible, by 2059, the Uzbeks by themselves would outnumber the ethnic Russians. “That is, a half century from now, the president of USSR 2.0 could be an Uzbek.”
Given all that, Gafarly says, Russians should be far more selective in which places they take in rather than assuming it would be a good thing to take back everything. First of all, Russia should unite in the Eurasian Economic Community only those republics whose economies are doing well and who won’t need Russian subsidies.
Second, he argues, Russians should select the areas they want to take back also on the basis of security needs. That means retaking the Russian parts of Ukraine plus Belarus and the Baltic countries which are “a window on Europe.” Despite the West’s support for the Balts now, Gafarly continues, it will trade them away to Russia as tensions increase.
And third and related to these security concerns, Russians should focus on Kazakhstan which can provide a buffer against Islamist extremism and the Arctic which can provide an almost limitless set of natural resources for Russia to develop in the future while denying them to other countries.
Moreover, “in order to preserve the Russian ethnos,” Gafarly says, “Russia must be transformed into an economically prosperous ‘fortress’ with tough migration laws which will close the doors of our country to migrants from the far abroad, especially from China, India, Vietnam and other Asian states.”