In Chinese and Russian academic circles, views advocating such an alliance have existed for a long time, but they are not mainstream. The governments of both countries have always adhered to the policy of strategic partnership rather than alliance, and the issue of the alliance is not on the agenda of China-Russia dialogue.
However, at the plenary meeting of the Valdai Club, which was held in October 2020, President Putin said that theoretically the possibility of a China-Russia alliance is not ruled out, although it’s unnecessary right now. It received positive, albeit implicit response from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, which was intensified by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, saying that there was no restricted area for bilateral strategic cooperation, rather than repeating the usual rhetoric of non-alignment. This is a delicate change in the official statements of the two countries, and thus made the issue of the China-Russia alliance relevant.
A Brief History of the China-Russia Alliance
In history, China has formed alliances with Russia more than with any other countries. The two countries formed alliances three times, respectively, during the Qing Dynasty, the Republic of China, and the People’s Republic of China.
In June of 1896, China and Russia signed the Li-Lobanov Treaty in Moscow, also known as the Sino-Russian Secret Treaty. This was the first official alliance in the history of Sino-Russian relations. The Treaty was suggested by Russia in defence against Japan for a period of fifteen years. From Russia’s perspective, the main purpose of the Treaty was to make an inroad into northeastern China to gain a competitive edge against Japan in China and the Far East. Following the Chinese defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894, China was bullied into ceding the Liaoning peninsula, Taiwan, and the Penghu (Pescadores) Islands to Japan, in addition to paying huge sums in reparations. In 1895, Russia united with France and Germany to force Japan to return to China the Liaodong peninsula, which had been ceded to Japan via the Treaty of Shimonoseki. This action led China to the hope and expectation that Russia would help China to resist Japan.
This alliance was only illusory. In 1898, Russia forced the Qing government to lease Port Arthur. In 1900, following the Boxer Rebellion, Russia sent soldiers to occupy all of Manchuria (Northeast China) and even participated in the attack on Beijing. The Sino-Russian alliance was over.
According to the Sino-Russian Secret Treaty, Russia obtained rights to construct the China Eastern Railway, a railway through Northeast China to Russia’s Vladivostok. It was presumed that the construction of the China Eastern Railway would allow Russia to send soldiers and material aid to China when necessary. Once the railway was completed, however, this capability was never utilized. In fact, the railway was a source of conflict between the two countries. China and Russia ceaselessly disputed over ownership and rights to the China Eastern Railway, eventually leading to the Sino-Soviet Conflict of 1929, the largest armed conflict between the two countries in all history. The issue of the China Eastern Railway lasted for half a century, until 1950, when the Soviet Union returned the railway to China.
On August 14, 1945, the Chinese Nationalist government and the Soviet Union signed the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance in Moscow. This was the second official alliance between the two countries, valid for a period of 30 years. This alliance was based upon the mutual war against Japan, but the next day after the Treaty was signed, Japan announced capitulation. Although this Treaty was titled as one of friendship and alliance, according to Chiang Kai-shek, the president of the Republic of China at the time, this Treaty was neither one of friendship nor alliance. The Soviet Union signed the Treaty in order to ensure the independence of Mongolia from China in addition to once again gaining special rights in Manchuria. The goal of the Chinese government at the time was to prevent the Soviet Union from remaining in Manchuria once Japan’s Kwantung Army was defeated. Furthermore, it hoped that the Soviet Union would support the Nationalist Party in its war against the Chinese Communist Party. Through this alliance, Russia received official Chinese recognition of Mongolia’s independence, joint ownership and operation of the China Eastern Railway, the right to use Dalian port and a tariff exemption, in addition to allowing the lease of Port Arthur as a military port.
The second Sino-Russian alliance was short-lived. In 1949, after the creation of the People’s Republic of China, the Soviet Union established diplomatic relations with the new Chinese government. It broke off relations with Chiang Kai-shek’s government, annulling the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance in 1950.
In February of 1950, the Soviet Union and China signed the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance. This was the third and, to the present day, last official Sino-Russian alliance. The Treaty was to extend for a period of thirty years. According to the Treaty, neither country would enter an alliance against the other, would participate in any activities against the other country, and if either was attacked by Japan, the other would use all its efforts to supply military and other aid. According to the agreement, the Soviet Union promised to turn over all rights and property of the China Eastern Railway to China without compensation, to withdraw from its naval base in Port Arthur, and even to transfer all Soviet property in Dalian to China. In addition, the Soviet Union would supply China with a loan of USD 300 million.
This alliance was significantly different from previous Sino-Russian alliances. It was a comprehensive alliance that touched on political, economic, security, diplomatic, and ideological interests, and it brought huge benefits to China. Although this alliance lasted longer than the previous ones, it was still unable to be carried out from start to finish. As the alliance reached its ten-year mark, cracks in the relationship began to appear. In the early 1960s, the relationship between the two countries publicly ruptured, and by the end of the 1960s, China and the Soviet Union had become enemies. The alliance existed in name only. In 1969, tension between China and the Soviet Union erupted into a military conflict in Zhenbao Island, Heilongjiang province, in the Tielieketi region, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The danger of a large-scale war hung over both countries. China and the Soviet Union each became the other’s most dangerous enemy, even more dangerous than the targets against whom the original alliance was supposed to defend. The alliance was completely meaningless, and the two countries entered a long-term period of mutual isolation. In 1980, when the term of the alliance was reached, it was not extended.
From the above-illustrated examples, we could see, though different in times and certain context, the three alliances shared some similarities in terms of their destiny. All three were short-lived, with the longest only lasting about ten years and the shortest ending almost as soon as it began. All three alliances began with many hopes and ended on bad terms before they had run out. The cause of the disintegration of these alliances was not because the outside threats had disappeared, but due to issues in bilateral relations. All three brought bilateral relations to a higher point for a short time, after which they fell to an even lower level than before the alliance had been formed.
Advantages and Disadvantages of an Alliance
Under the condition that the Chinese government insists on the policy of non-alliance, the proposition for an alliance is marginal in the Chinese academic circle. Nevertheless, it still has some influence.
According to the views of alliance theory, the alliance between China and Russia is in both countries’ interests. Neither China nor Russia could join the western camp. The United States could not accept either as an ally, which blocked the way for China and Russia to enter the international coalition dominated by the U.S. At the same time, with the deterioration of Sino-U.S. and Russia-U.S. relations, both China and Russia are facing more and more serious strategic pressure and security threats. In this context, the demand for an alliance has become more and more important for China and Russia. They need to form an alliance with countries of similar strategic interests, especially powerful ones, to ease international pressure.
They believe that the China-Russia alliance will not substantially change the nature of great power relations, nor aggravate the structural contradictions between their relations with the United States, nor is it likely to create confrontation between China and Russia and the United States.
They argue that the alliance is not a new Cold War, but behaviour in line with the trend. It has no necessary connection with the Cold War mentality.
Since China’s military strength does not exceed that of Russia, the Sino-Russian alliance will not be an alliance of unequal partners, and neither side will be suppressed. However, objectively, the comprehensive power balance will be tilted towards China.
The Sino-Russian alliance will be an alliance of allies, not of friends. It will be based on common interests, not affection. Therefore, “trust” is not a problem, as long as the common interests exist, the alliance can continue.
Finally, the advocates of alliance believe that China should give up its non-alignment policy because it is not a consistent policy of China all the time, nor is it a policy adopted by most countries in the world.
The above mentioned undoubtedly points to the favourable conditions and positive effects of the alliance. However, the question is that the rationality and possibility of the alliance have not been fully proved. More importantly, there is a lack of investigation on the possible negative effects and side effects that the alliance may produce. It is difficult to make a comprehensive assessment of a policy by highlighting only its potential positive effects and ignoring the negative ones.
The alliance between China and Russia can lift the theoretical level of bilateral relations. Still, it is unlikely to significantly improve its actual level and will not promote bilateral cooperation in various fields. A strategic partnership is already a high position, which has no restrictions on the cooperation between the two countries. If the potential for such collaboration between the two countries has not yet been fully realized, then the alliance is not the key to unlock this path. Therefore, the alliance will have little impact on China-Russia cooperation in practical areas.
In the past years, China and Russia give each other support to the extent that possible by their domestic policies in their conflicts with the other major powers, such as in the Diaoyu islands dispute between China and Japan, China and the United States military confrontation in the South China Sea and Taiwan strait crisis, the Russia-Georgia war, Crimea issues. The alliance will not make the two countries take a completely different policy on similar issues. That is to say, the alliance will not help significantly change both countries’ positions in similar situations.
Alliance and strategic partner are quite different statuses and have very different psychological expectations and requirements for them. Being allies, the two countries will see each other with different visions and demands and set a higher standard for their relations. It is simplistic to think that the alliance will just function in the security sphere and will have no impact on the other bilateral relations areas. Although the alliance is mainly a strategic security concept, it will also create new political, diplomatic, economic, and other requirements for China-Russia relations.
As the standards and expectations rise, it is easier for disappointments and dissatisfaction to appear in the bilateral cooperation, and their gradual accumulation will eventually erode the relationship. Therefore, the alliance is a double-edged sword which, on the one hand, is a way to deepen the bilateral relations. Still, on the other, it could also be a way to hurt the bilateral relations in the pessimistic scenario. What result it will produce depends on the specific situation and conditions.
The alliance between China and Russia will profoundly impact international politics and great power relations. It would be rash to assume that it will not substantially change world politics. The pros and cons of such an effect, however, can be debated. The alliance between China and Russia will undoubtedly stimulate the formation of two camps and promote international politics’ development towards two systems. Simultaneously, both China and Russia are big countries, which is very different from the alliance between a big country and a small country. It will definitely affect the two countries’ foreign policies, even their development strategy and direction, as well as their relations with other big countries. While improving the two countries’ strategic capabilities, it will also put certain restrictions on their space of strategic manoeuvre, which is undesirable for them.
Alliance may create benefits, but not without costs and risks, and it may bring adverse side effects.
For China and Russia, the alliance is mortgaging trust and the long-term future of the relationship between them. According to alliance theory, there are two major worries about alliance: one is the fear of being abandoned by allies when in a crisis situation; the other is the fear of being dragged down by allies to undesired war. The China-Russia alliance would also face these tests. An alliance is a military bloc, which requires the two countries to form a united front in military security and support each other in case one side is attacked. It is safe to say that neither China nor Russia is ready for this. It is rash to bet on the assumption that the other side will not fight a war, or that a small war will not require the support of the other side. This not only means not being prepared to perform the alliance treaty when need to but also risks default of the Treaty. In fact, one side in a war, no matter big or small, will demand the support of the other side. Without such political preparation, the foundation of the Sino-Russian alliance will be unreliable and fragile, and it will inevitably end sadly, destroying the mutual trust between China and Russia that accumulated in decades. To rebuild it won’t be easy.
The Flexible Strategic Partnership Model is Still Preferred
In order to enter into an alliance, the decisive factor is whether China and Russia will change their current policy and shift bilateral relations to suit the alliance. The transition from non-alignment policy to alignment is easy to do in theory, but in practice is much more complicated. Such change requires careful consideration of various factors and a careful weighing of the pros and cons.
So far, there is no sign that China is preparing to ally with Russia. From Russia’s side, although President Putin has softened his position on this issue in theory, it is not enough to prove that it has become Russia’s policy, and it is not clear whether Russia wants to align itself with China. In the Russian academic circles, those who advocate an alliance with China are not mainstream. Many people worry that an alliance with China would make Russia a “junior partner” of China, and fear that Russia could be drawn into a possible confrontation between China and the United States. They prefer a policy of “sitting on top of the mountain to watch the tigers fight”.
Taking all these factors into consideration, strategic partnership is still the optimal form for China and Russia. Although the level of the strategic partnership is not as high as an alliance, it is more in line with the logic of development of China-Russia relations, closer to its current level and state, and more suitable for the domestic political ecology of the two countries. It is readily accepted and supported by the elites and public of different views inside the two countries. It is more inclusive and can accommodate problems and contradictions in bilateral relations to a greater extent so that it is less likely to be politicized or emotional. Therefore, the strategic partnership model has more robust survival flexibility than alliance and can be applied to different domestic and international environments to be maintained over a long period. In contrast, it is not easy for China and Russia to maintain alliance for a long time.
Simply put, Sino-Russian relations have a very complex past, and trust is both a precious and valuable asset. Only by ensuring the continuous accumulation of mutual trust and not interrupting this process again can we ensure the long-term stability of China-Russia relations. The strategic partnership model is the best fit for this goal.
Although the strategic partnership has several advantages, the question now is whether or not such a partnership may become relevant due to deteriorating Sino-U.S. and Russia-U.S. relations. In the case of a worsening security situation, should China and Russia seek an alliance?
For Russia and especially for China, an alliance would mean breaking the long-held principle of non-alignment. In the abstract sense, non-alignment is of value meaning.
But in real international politics, it has both the value meaning and the tool attributes. One of the purposes of non-alignment policy is not to engage in confrontation. However, an alliance is not always about confrontation, and self-defence may also be the goal. That is to say, alignment or non-alignment is not a priori right or wrong, just or unjust, but depends on particular situations and purposes. Since international relations are far from their ideal state, its instrumental nature in international politics is inevitable, so it is a policy option for countries, rather than a fixed dogma. Therefore, theoretically, the principle of non-alignment is not an insurmountable obstacle.
Although China and Russia have the opportunity to form an alliance, from the perspective of the possible effects, that may not be the most favourable option for China-Russian relations.
The most essential function of an alliance for China and Russia is, first of all, to ensure the support of the other side in the event of war, and second of all, to neutralize the security threats presented by the United States. In the former case, it is hard to imagine either side will join the other side fighting war with third countries, though the odds of war between great powers are not high. The latter is the normal function of the alliances. However, with the alliance being formed, this function of checks and balance has reached its limits.
The United States is worried about the possibility of an alliance between China and Russia.Now, since such a partnership has come to light, the worry has become a reality and thus disappeared.
In this regard, drawing the bow without shooting is an even more powerful and effective way to counterbalance the security threats. That is to say, not entering into an alliance but keeping the door to one. This format possesses great expansionary possibilities and allows China and Russia to have broader freedom of strategic manoeuvre. The strategic partnership model could have this kind of effects. The China-Russian strategic partnership includes security and military cooperation, and now it only needs to strengthen it. The main difference between it and the alliance is that there is no compulsive obligation of military support for the other side in case of war. Still, there are no restrictions on not providing such support.
China and Russia had a practice of military support without a formal alliance. In July of 1937, the War of Resistance against Japan officially broke out in China. In the second year, China and the Soviet Union signed the Sino-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact and the Sino-Soviet Commercial Pact. Following this, the Soviet Union supplied China with a loan worth 250 million U.S. dollars to purchase weapons from the Soviet Union. As a result, China bought large amounts of tanks, planes, artillery, firearms, and other materials from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union even dispatched a Soviet volunteer Air Force group to aid China. Over 1000 Soviet pilots came as volunteers to fight against the Japanese on Chinese soil directly. Military aid to China from the Soviet Union continued until April 1941 when the Soviet Union and Japan signed a neutrality pact.
It is equally important that, while creating needed strategic security functions, the strategic partnership model can avoid a series of adverse effects that may result from an alliance, and it does not have to cross the political principle of non-alignment.
An alliance is a possible option, but the last resort. The possible condition for the Sino-Russian alliance is that the United States pose a serious direct security threat to China and Russia at the same time, and military confrontation may occur, making security the overriding strategic need for both China and Russia.
In the context of current China-Russia-U.S. relations, once China and Russia align, it means that the United States is an open enemy. Although the threat of the United States can be alleviated through an alliance, the fact that a great power becomes an enemy itself constitutes huge strategic pressure. This is just like the case of the triangle of China — U.S. — USSR during the Cold War. The triangle reduced the security threat from the Soviet Union to China. Still, it did not solve China’s security problems, because it did not eliminate the threat itself, but merely increased its ability to deal with it. This threat was indeed removed only after normal relations between China and the Soviet Union were restored. The same was true of the Soviet Union. The strategic confrontation between China and the Soviet Union ended only when the two countries regained friendship.
From this point of view, for China and Russia, a normal relationship with the United States is the ultimate way to eliminate the strategic pressure and threat. Undoubtedly, both China and Russia wish cooperative relations with the United States. It’s in their interests. But it depends on the intentions of the U.S. as well. Without mutual positive interaction, it’s impossible to foster cooperative relations. Now the ball is on the side of the U.S. Surely the U.S. thinks it is the other way.
The conclusion is simple. China and Russia should maintain a strategic partnership, take full use of the possibilities it contains, and leave the door to alliance open. The two countries should not set limits on their strategic choices. Under the condition that international situation continues to deteriorate, China and Russia’s strategic and military security threats are likely to increase. At a certain critical point, the alliance may become a practical need for China and Russia.
From our partner RIAC
Russia lacks sufficient number of migrants to fulfill its ambitious development plans
Despite various official efforts, including regular payment of maternal capital to stimulate birth rates and regulating migration policy to boost population, Russia is reportedly experiencing decreasing population. According to the Federal State Statistics Service, Russia’s population currently stands at approximately 144 million, down from 148.3 million.
Experts at the Higher School of Economics believe that regulating the legal status of migrants, majority of them arriving from the Commonwealth of Independent States or the former Soviet republics, could be useful or resourceful for developing the economy, especially on various infrastructure projects planned for country. These huge human resources could be used in the vast agricultural fields to boost domestic agricultural production. On the contrary, the Federal Migration Service plans to deport all illegal migrants from Russia.
Within the long-term sustainable development program, Russia has multibillion dollar plans to address its infrastructure deficit especially in the provinces, and undertake megaprojects across its vast territory, and migrant labor could be useful here. The government can ensure that steady improvements are consistently made with the strategy of legalizing (regulating legal status) and redeploying the available foreign labor, majority from the former Soviet republics rather than deporting back to their countries of origin.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has been credited for transforming the city into a very neat and smart modern one, thanks partly to foreign labor – invaluable reliable asset – performing excellently in maintaining cleanliness and on the large-scale construction sites, and so also in various micro-regions on the edge or outskirts of Moscow.
With its accumulated experience, the Moscow City Hall has now started hosting the Smart Cities Moscow, international forum dedicated to the development of smart cities and for discussing about changes in development strategies, infrastructure challenges and adaptation of the urban environment to the realities of the new normal society.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia lacks sufficient number of migrants to fulfill its ambitious development plans. He further acknowledged that the number of migrants in Russia has reduced significantly, and now their numbers are not sufficient to implement ambitious projects in the country.
“I can only speak about the real state of affairs, which suggests that, in fact, we have very few migrants remaining over the past year. Actually, we have a severe dearth of these migrants to implement our ambitious plans,” the Kremlin spokesman pointed out.
In particular, it concerns projects in agricultural and construction sectors. “We need to build more than we are building now. It should be more tangible, and this requires working hands. There is certainly a shortage in migrants. Now there are few of them due to the pandemic,” Peskov said.
Early April, an official from the Russian Interior Ministry told TASS News Agency that the number of illegal migrants working in Russia decreased by 40% in 2020 if compared to the previous year. It also stated that 5.5 million foreign citizens were registered staying in Russia last year, while the average figure previously ranged between nine and eleven million.
On March 30, 2021, President Vladimir Putin chaired the tenth meeting of the Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations via videoconference, noted that tackling the tasks facing the country needs not only an effective economy but also competent management. For a huge multinational state such as Russia, it is fundamentally, and even crucially important, to ensure public solidarity and a feeling of involvement in the life, and responsibility for its present and future.
At this moment, over 80 percent of Russian citizens have a positive view on interethnic relations, and it is important in harmonizing interethnic relations in the country, Putin noted during the meeting, and added “Russia has a unique and original heritage of its peoples. It is part of our common wealth, it should be accessible to every resident of our country, every citizen, everyone who lives on this land. Of course, we will need to review the proposal to extend the terms for temporary stay of minors of foreign citizens in the Russian Federation.”
President Vladimir Putin has already approved a list of instructions aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship in Russia based on the proposals drafted by the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.
“Within the framework of the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025, the Presidential Executive Office of the Russian Federation shall organize work aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship of the Russian Federation,” an official statement posted to Kremlin website.
In addition, the president ordered the Government, the Interior and Foreign Ministries, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Justice Ministry alongside the Presidential Executive Office to make amendments to the plan of action for 2019-2021, aimed at implementing the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.
Nobody Wants a War in Donbass
Any escalation is unique in its own way. Right now there’s a combination of unfavorable trends on both sides, which are leading to an escalation of the conflict. This combination creates additional risks and threats that weren’t there before.
On the Ukrainian side, the problem is that the president is losing his political position and becoming a hostage of right-wing and nationalist forces. Many of the reform initiatives that he came to power with have stalled. Political sentiments are changing within his faction. They’re saying that with his recent steps, in particular the language law and the closure of television stations that Kyiv dislikes, he’s starting to stray towards the agenda of his predecessor, Poroshenko. And this means a weakening of his position. Probably, he’s already thinking about re-election and how he will look during the campaign. Here, the trend is unfavorable.
On the other hand, there’s the arrival of Biden, who will always be more attentive to Ukraine than Trump. There’s an expectation that the U.S. will be more consistent and decisive in its support for the Ukrainian side in the event of a conflict. This invigorates the forces that are looking for an escalation.
The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh also played a role. They said there was only a political path to resolving the conflict, but in Karabakh [the Azerbaijanis] used force and made real progress. This motivates the people who think that military force can resolve a conflict. Moreover, Ukraine is carrying out defense cooperation with Turkey, so there may be hopes that the balance of forces will shift in Kyiv’s favor.
There’s also a radicalization of the political leadership of the DNR and LNR. They say that [full-scale] war is, if not inevitable, than very likely—and Russia must intervene. The idea that the DNR and LNR should join Russia is gaining popularity once again. This is facilitated by Russia’s actions. In the last two years, the mechanisms for granting Russian citizenship to residents of the LNR and DNR have changed. Hundreds of thousands of LNR and DNR residents are already citizens of the Russian Federation, and Russia has—or at the very least should have—some obligations towards its citizens. This gives hope to [the residents] of the LNR and DNR that if an escalation begins, Russia won’t remain on the sidelines and we will see large-scale intervention. Without Russia, the conflict will not develop in the favor of the republics.
As for Russia, our relations with the West continue to deteriorate. There’s Biden’s statement about Putin being a killer, and relations with the European Union. We are witnessing an accumulation of destabilizing trends.
I don’t think anyone wants a real, big war, since the costs of such a conflict will exceed the political dividends. It’s difficult to predict what such a conflict might lead to, given that the stakes are very high. But an unintended escalation could occur.
Hopefully, all of those involved have enough wisdom, determination, and tolerance to find a positive solution. So far, we are far from a serious conflict, but we’re closer than at the beginning of April 2020 or 2019. Unfortunately, we’re headed downhill, and it’s difficult to say how long it will go on.
To prevent a [full-scale] war from starting, the situation in Donbass needs to be stabilized. That’s the first task. In recent weeks, the number of ceasefire violations has been increasing, and the number of victims is growing. We need to return to the issues of the withdrawal of heavy weapons, the OSCE mission, and monitoring the ceasefire.
The second task is to discuss issues of political regulation. The main uncertainty is how flexible all the parties can be. The Minsk agreements were signed a long time ago, [but] it’s difficult to implement them in full, there needs to be a demonstrated willingness not to revise them, but to somehow bring them up to date. How ready are the parties for this? So far, we aren’t seeing much of this, but without it we will not advance any further.
The third issue is that it’s impossible to resolve the Donbass problem separately from the problem of European security as a whole. If we limit ourselves to how we fought in Donbass, Kyiv will always be afraid that Russia will build up its strength and an intervention will begin. And in Russia there will always be the fear that NATO infrastructure will be developed near Voronezh and Belgorod. We have to deal not only with this issue, but also think about how to create the entire architecture of European security. And it isn’t a question of experts lacking imagination and qualifications, but of statesmen lacking the political will to seriously deal with these issues. Because if you reduce everything to the requirements of the formal implementation of the Minsk agreements, this is what we’ve been fighting about for seven years already.
I think that Ukraine will now try to increase the political pressure on Moscow and get away from the issue of the Minsk agreements. And going forward a lot depends on what the position of the West and U.S. will be. To what extent and in what format will they provide support in the event of an escalation? This is still an open question. And, I think, even Biden doesn’t know the answer to it.
From our partner RIAC
Updating the USSR: A Test for Freedom
Thirty years ago, on March 17, 1991, the only all-Union referendum in the history of the USSR took place. One question was put to a vote: “Do you consider it necessary to preserve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics, in which the rights and freedoms of a person of any nationality will be fully guaranteed?” Almost 77 percent of those who voted said “yes” to the preservation of the USSR in an updated form. The authorities of Armenia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Estonia refused to hold the referendum on their territory. By that time, the legislative and executive bodies and institutions in these republics were already controlled by secessionist forces, which did not hide their intentions to leave the USSR.
The March 17 referendum at that time was the only convincing attempt to appeal to public opinion on the most important issue of the political life of a huge country. However, the results did not change anything — by December 8 of the same year, the leaders of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine decided to dissolve the USSR. The referendum itself became the beginning of the end of a unique state — an experiment in the vast expanses of Eurasia. By that time, the republican elites were already ready to take power and wealth into their own hands; the events of August 1991 spurred this readiness — in Turkmenistan, where almost 100 percent of the population voted to preserve the USSR, on August 22, 1991, all enterprises were placed under republican control.
All the republics of the USSR met the new year in 1992 as newly independent states. For some of them, this status was a long-awaited event, for which they had fought. Others were, according to former Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Apas Jumagulov, “thrown out of the union, cut off as an unnecessary part of the body.” Many economic ties broke off immediately, while others collapsed gradually; the rest survived and were even strengthened. In politics, everyone was left to their own problems. Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Tajikistan plunged into bloody political and interethnic conflicts during their first years of independence.
The path of the countries that emerged from the ruins of the USSR over the years was the road to gaining their own subjectivity in international politics. With great difficulty and despite all odds, Armenia and Moldova are coping with this task. The majority — Russia, Azerbaijan and all the countries of Central Asia — were able to solve the problem more or less successfully. Georgia and two Slavic republics — Belarus and Ukraine, were hanging in the “limbo” between external management and full-fledged statehood. The three Baltic republics quickly transferred their sovereignty to the European Union and NATO. In their independent development, they had to make, in fact, the only decision, which, moreover, was due to historical reasons and external circumstances. This decision was made and now the fate of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia cannot be perceived outside the context of Russia-West interaction.
For the rest, the direct link between success in creating their own statehood and the scale of interaction with the West (Europe and the United States) is quite obvious. This historical fact reveals a relationship between the ability of small and medium states to ensure their sovereignty and the interests of the great powers in their neighbourhood. Such powers were Russia and the European states, united into the European Union simultaneously with the collapse of the USSR. Also, an important role was played by the United States, which always sought to limit Russian opportunities and supported the newly independent states. At the same time, an attempt to choose in favour of closer relations with the West to the detriment of Russian interests in all cases, without exception, led to a very shaky statehood and the loss of territory.
The dramatic fate of Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine shows that the strong collective institutions of the West are capable of exerting a stabilising effect only on those states that directly became part of them.
In all other cases, no matter how complete absorption becomes possible, an orientation towards these institutions only leads to the use of small countries in a diplomatic game with bigger partners.
Therefore, the experience of the development of such major players as Azerbaijan or Uzbekistan is indicative — they were able to confidently form their own statehood, without finding themselves in a situation of choosing between conflicting poles of power. Their main resource turned out to be a rather fair demographic situation. But not only this — the population of Ukraine has also been and remains large by European standards. Kazakhstan is a success by this indicator; equal to the average European country or small Asian states.
Therefore, the ability of most of the countries of the former USSR to build relatively independent and stable statehood played no less important role. In many ways, this ability was established during the years of the Soviet Union’s existence. Founded on December 30, 1922, it was not just a continuation of the Russian Empire, which had collapsed five years earlier. Its main distinguishing feature was its unique model of state administration, based on the full power of one political party. As long as the unique position of the Communist Party remained in the Soviet state, the experiment could exist. With the abolition of Article 6 of the Constitution of the USSR, its days were numbered regardless of the desire of the population or the real readiness of the elites to take full responsibility for what was happening.
The USSR model of state structure, new by historical standards, created the conditions for a rather unique experiment, within the framework of which union republics were created, none of which, except for Russia, Georgia and Armenia, had the experience of centralised state administration within the territorial boundaries that they acquired within the framework of the USSR. At least the peoples inhabiting them can boast of a significant experience of statehood as such. Thus, most of the countries of Central Asia trace their ancestry back to great empires or urban civilizations of past centuries.
The Baltic republics were always on the sidelines — their independent statehood arose during the collapse of the Russian Empire and existed as such for almost 20 years before being incorporated into the USSR in 1940. Russia has returned to its historical state of being a major European power or empire of the 19th century, with the development of a multinational and multi-faith society central to its development objectives. In fact, Russia has not lost anything really necessary for its survival in international politics.
The peculiar structure of the USSR formalised the situation in which the former outskirts of the Russian Empire ceased to be part of the Russian state, although Moscow served as the centre of the union. Russia among them was in the most ambiguous position — it did not have its own most important institutions of Soviet statehood — the party organisation and the republican State Security Committee. Russian nationalism was subjected to the most severe and consistent persecution by the Soviet authorities.
The vast majority of republics within the USSR, for the first time, received the experience of building their own state and their national elite.
The backbone of the ruling class was the Soviet and party nomenklatura, which all took power, with few exceptions, after 1991. Even in Tajikistan, where the first years of independence were overshadowed by the civil war, it was this part of society that was eventually able to establish control over the situation. In other Central Asian countries, elites formed on the basis of the state tradition established during the Soviet era, gradually supplemented by representatives of a new generation that grew professionally after the collapse of the USSR.
Thirty years is a sufficient period to assess the results of the independent development of the countries that emerged from the republics of the former USSR. Now the period of their growing up can be considered complete; ahead is an independent future. Russia is increasingly feeling independent and not particularly obligated to its neighbours. In any event, Moscow will continue to follow a moral imperative of responsibility for maintaining peace and strictly ensure that its neighbours correlate their actions with Russian security interests.
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