Russia and breakaway states

For the serious discussion of weighty matters and worldly issues. No off-topic posts allowed.

Moderators: Azrael, Moderators General, Prelates

User avatar
Incompetent
Posts: 396
Joined: Mon May 26, 2008 12:08 pm UTC
Location: Brussels

Russia and breakaway states

Postby Incompetent » Tue Nov 16, 2010 9:05 am UTC

There are three breakaway states that are not internationally recognised, but have secured de facto independence in large part due to Russian support: South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria.

What I don't understand is: why are these places such a big deal for Russia? I mean, we're talking about pretty small populations here, less than a million between them, and extremely poor; AFAIK they have no significant natural resources either. In return Russia gets instability on its borders and permanently alienates Moldova and Georgia (admittedly not all that big themselves, but still several times as large as the disputed areas), and it affects Russian credibility in their international diplomacy, eg on the Kosovo dispute, but more generally when talking to countries that have violent separatist movements. Certainly in the case of Abkhazia, Russia is backing a state that is the result of ethnic cleansing (in that the Abkhaz were previously outnumbered by Georgians even within Abkhazia). Does this help in any way to strengthen Russia's sphere influence in countries that might actually matter, such as Ukraine or Central Asia? Or is the point of these places a kind of experiment to see what Russia can and can't get away with?

User avatar
Solt
Posts: 1912
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 5:08 am UTC
Location: California

Re: Russia and breakaway states

Postby Solt » Tue Nov 16, 2010 10:21 am UTC

Incompetent wrote:In return Russia gets instability on its borders


Why do you assume this is bad? Weak neighbors = no weaknesses. And the worst kind of neighbor is one who is stable and scared enough to ally with your biggest enemy, aka the United States. Just like we freaked out when the Russians planted nukes in Cuba, the Russians are in a constant state of paranoia towards us- and rightly so, because we beat them in the land maneuver game by turning huge amounts of their cold war buffer land into our allies. You shouldn't be surprised when Russia screws with Georgia and Poland and Ukraine - all US allies since the fall and thus all targets for Russian attention.

As Germany showed the world, weak neighbors are the key to national security. That's why Iran supports the Taliban and Hezbollah and Hamas (despite not sharing a religion, ideology, or even language with any of those groups), why China supports North Korea and occupies Tibet, why Pakistan supports Kashmiri separatists and Islamic extremists in India, why Russia refused to leave East Germany after the war, etc. All of these examples are destabilizing and in several cases already have backfired, but the consequences are small compared to the potential wars that were averted. The last time Russia had a powerful neighbor, peace did not work and the Germans got very close to Moscow before being pushed back at great cost. The Cold War was all about Russia building an enormous buffer zone for itself to prevent another land invasion, and the US countering Russia's attempts to dominate Eurasia (and subsequently, as the theory goes, the world).

Incompetent wrote:Does this help in any way to strengthen Russia's sphere influence in countries that might actually matter, such as Ukraine or Central Asia?


I'm not sure where these territories you speak of are exactly, but Russia needs buffers against Turkey, Western Europe, and lately China. So yes, supporting movements like this does strengthen their sphere of influence in places that matter. It's just a very cynical definition of "sphere of influence".
"Welding was faster, cheaper and, in theory,
produced a more reliable product. But sailors do
not float on theory, and the welded tankers had a
most annoying habit of splitting in two."
-J.W. Morris

User avatar
Incompetent
Posts: 396
Joined: Mon May 26, 2008 12:08 pm UTC
Location: Brussels

Re: Russia and breakaway states

Postby Incompetent » Tue Nov 16, 2010 12:08 pm UTC

Solt wrote:
Incompetent wrote:In return Russia gets instability on its borders


Why do you assume this is bad? Weak neighbors = no weaknesses. And the worst kind of neighbor is one who is stable and scared enough to ally with your biggest enemy, aka the United States. Just like we freaked out when the Russians planted nukes in Cuba, the Russians are in a constant state of paranoia towards us- and rightly so, because we beat them in the land maneuver game by turning huge amounts of their cold war buffer land into our allies. You shouldn't be surprised when Russia screws with Georgia and Poland and Ukraine - all US allies since the fall and thus all targets for Russian attention.


Well Ukraine and Moldova are still probably closer to Russia politically than to the West, and Russia used to have a lot more influence in Georgia up until the "Rose Revolution". I think even Russia realises that Poland, the Baltics, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria are lost causes from their point-of-view - Russia's power to screw with these countries is very limited because they have firm backing from the rest of NATO and the EU.

In the case of Georgia, Russia does maintain a credible threat to invade (last used in 2008) which it hopes will scare Georgia out of joining NATO. That's certainly worth something, but I can't help thinking Russia would be better off if Georgia was more like Finland (ie cowed into military neutrality, but without any great resentment about this). Russia has a difficult game to play here in any case, because it doesn't want to scare Georgia *into* joining NATO, and certainly can't afford to get to a point where Western powers are ready to intervene on Georgia's behalf. Moldova though doesn't even border Russia, and is strategically fairly insignificant even for Ukraine.

As Germany showed the world, weak neighbors are the key to national security.


Are you thinking of Prussia in the mid-19th century? I think that's the last time Germans obtained national security by having weak neighbours.

That's why Iran supports the Taliban and Hezbollah and Hamas (despite not sharing a religion, ideology, or even language with any of those groups) ... why Pakistan supports Kashmiri separatists and Islamic extremists in India


The calculus here is that it hurts a major rival more than it costs to support. But no major powers apart from Russia itself have much invested in Georgia and Moldova.

why China supports North Korea and occupies Tibet


The occupation of Tibet is a long-term investment that will pay off as the area is settled by Han Chinese. One could argue support for North Korea is to weaken South Korea, but to be honest I don't think South Korea would get any stronger by absorbing the North, not for several decades anyway. More likely is that China wants to avoid being flooded by refugees if North Korea implodes.

User avatar
Zamfir
I built a novelty castle, the irony was lost on some.
Posts: 7604
Joined: Wed Aug 27, 2008 2:43 pm UTC
Location: Nederland

Re: Russia and breakaway states

Postby Zamfir » Tue Nov 16, 2010 12:12 pm UTC

Incompetent wrote:There are three breakaway states that are not internationally recognised, but have secured de facto independence in large part due to Russian support: South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria.

Transnistria is somewhat different from the other two. Transnistria is basically populated by self-identified Russians and Ukrainians, and Russia supports ethnic Russians everywhere. After the break-up of the USSR, many people who saw themselves as Russian found themselves citizens of another country, including millions in the Ukraine alone. On the one hand, Russia genuinely cares about these people and tries to protect their interests. On the other hand, they are useful to Russia because they tend to influence their countries on a more pro-Russian course. That makes Transnistira of some symbolic importance: it's Russia supporting other Russians. But as far as I can tell, Transnistria is more an embarrassment to Russia than something they really support.

Solt wrote:You shouldn't be surprised when Russia screws with Georgia and Poland and Ukraine - all US allies since the fall and thus all targets for Russian attention.

Ukrainian politics in particular is a lot more complicated than "being an ally of the US". A large part of the people is reasonably or actively pro-Russian, and the current president Yanukovich is roughly pro-Russian. He has just this year passed a law to make joining NATO impossible (while keeping collaboration open).

But it is more complicated than that. The former president Yushenko was very pro-West and pro-NATO, but he also pushed hard before his presidency to have Ukrainian forces withdrawn from Iraq. President Kuchma, who was very Russia-friendly, send those troops. Also, Yushenko appointed Yanukovich prime minister with a clear eye to relations with Russia.

So it's probably safer to say that Ukraine is balancing between Nato and the EU (who are not entirely the same side here) on the one hand, and Russia on the other. The EU, US and Russia all have a carrots-and-sticks approach to influence Ukraine in turn.

User avatar
Incompetent
Posts: 396
Joined: Mon May 26, 2008 12:08 pm UTC
Location: Brussels

Re: Russia and breakaway states

Postby Incompetent » Tue Nov 16, 2010 2:24 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:
Incompetent wrote:There are three breakaway states that are not internationally recognised, but have secured de facto independence in large part due to Russian support: South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria.

Transnistria is somewhat different from the other two. Transnistria is basically populated by self-identified Russians and Ukrainians, and Russia supports ethnic Russians everywhere. After the break-up of the USSR, many people who saw themselves as Russian found themselves citizens of another country, including millions in the Ukraine alone. On the one hand, Russia genuinely cares about these people and tries to protect their interests. On the other hand, they are useful to Russia because they tend to influence their countries on a more pro-Russian course. That makes Transnistira of some symbolic importance: it's Russia supporting other Russians. But as far as I can tell, Transnistria is more an embarrassment to Russia than something they really support.


Well the ethnic angle isn't so clear-cut in Transnistria. Ethnic Moldovans are a substantial minority there (forming a majority in large parts of the territory) and ethnic Russians and Ukrainians are a significant minority in the rest of Moldova. Moldova never experienced the kind of population transfers that happened in Bosnia or Abkhazia. What's more, for most of its independence Moldova has been on fairly good terms with Russia and Ukraine except for the Transnistria issue. I suppose Russia's fear in the early 90s was more than Moldova would be annexed by Romania, and that ethnic Russians and Ukrainians would be marginalised in a unified Romania. That threat has receded, but Russia is still stuck with this satellite in a backwater of Europe.

It'll be interesting to see how Estonia and Latvia develop politically. The Russians there really have been mistreated, and I think Estonia and Latvia are contravening the principles of the EU in this regard. But perhaps even these countries will develop to a point where their Russophone minorities feel they have as many rights there as they would in Russia (after all, Russia isn't the freest of countries internally); the economic opportunities of EU citizenship are also a powerful carrot. Russia cares about the Russians there, but does it want them to become fully integrated into countries that are firmly anchored in the Western alliance?

User avatar
Zamfir
I built a novelty castle, the irony was lost on some.
Posts: 7604
Joined: Wed Aug 27, 2008 2:43 pm UTC
Location: Nederland

Re: Russia and breakaway states

Postby Zamfir » Tue Nov 16, 2010 2:39 pm UTC

Incompetent wrote:Well the ethnic angle isn't so clear-cut in Transnistria. Ethnic Moldovans are a substantial minority there (forming a majority in large parts of the territory) and ethnic Russians and Ukrainians are a significant minority in the rest of Moldova. Moldova never experienced the kind of population transfers that happened in Bosnia or Abkhazia. What's more, for most of its independence Moldova has been on fairly good terms with Russia and Ukraine except for the Transnistria issue. I suppose Russia's fear in the early 90s was more than Moldova would be annexed by Romania, and that ethnic Russians and Ukrainians would be marginalised in a unified Romania. That threat has receded, but Russia is still stuck with this satellite in a backwater of Europe.

I seem to remember that Russia didn't really ask for Transnistria, but that the local army just decided on its own to support it. After the collapse of the USSR, command lines in the army where very muddled for a while.

At the same time, Jeltsin and his crew where trying to build up a new Russia, based more on Russian nationalism than before. For which, amongst other things, they needed an army that was loyal to the new country. So they couldn't come down too hard on soldiers who had saved Russians from foreign oppression, etc.

But I doubt there was at any moment much strategic thinking involved.

User avatar
Charlie!
Posts: 2035
Joined: Sat Jan 12, 2008 8:20 pm UTC

Re: Russia and breakaway states

Postby Charlie! » Wed Nov 17, 2010 5:33 am UTC

Solt wrote:As Germany showed the world, weak neighbors are the key to national security.

Good point, but it's more correct to say that they're one way to be secure. I think a J-curve applies here - states that already bad neighbors benefit by destabilizing nearby countries, while states that are good neighbors benefit by making their neighbors more stable. But states in the middle are worse off than either committed bad neighbors or good neighbors. In order to get a country from one side of the J-curve to another you have to either provide a huuuuuge incentive or change the current paradigm.
Some people tell me I laugh too much. To them I say, "ha ha ha!"

Роберт
Posts: 4285
Joined: Wed May 14, 2008 1:56 am UTC

Re: Russia and breakaway states

Postby Роберт » Wed Nov 17, 2010 3:35 pm UTC

Maybe Russia would support Texas if we chose to secede. :P
The Great Hippo wrote:[T]he way we treat suspected terrorists genuinely terrifies me.

User avatar
Zamfir
I built a novelty castle, the irony was lost on some.
Posts: 7604
Joined: Wed Aug 27, 2008 2:43 pm UTC
Location: Nederland

Re: Russia and breakaway states

Postby Zamfir » Wed Nov 17, 2010 4:21 pm UTC

Роберт wrote:Maybe Russia would support Texas if we chose to secede. :P

Well, they supported Cuba when it seceded from the US. But I am not sure Texas can play that whole colonial oppression thing with a straight face.

Sharlos
Posts: 720
Joined: Fri Dec 26, 2008 9:26 am UTC
Location: Straya

Re: Russia and breakaway states

Postby Sharlos » Thu Nov 18, 2010 12:59 am UTC

Zamfir wrote:
Роберт wrote:Maybe Russia would support Texas if we chose to secede. :P

Well, they supported Cuba when it seceded from the US. But I am not sure Texas can play that whole colonial oppression thing with a straight face.

Replace the word colonial with federal and I'm sure many Texans would disagree.

User avatar
Solt
Posts: 1912
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 5:08 am UTC
Location: California

Re: Russia and breakaway states

Postby Solt » Fri Nov 19, 2010 8:59 am UTC

Sharlos wrote:
Zamfir wrote:
Роберт wrote:Maybe Russia would support Texas if we chose to secede. :P

Well, they supported Cuba when it seceded from the US. But I am not sure Texas can play that whole colonial oppression thing with a straight face.

Replace the word colonial with federal and I'm sure many Texans would disagree.


Replace Federal with Mexican and that would complete the circle.

Charlie! wrote:while states that are good neighbors benefit by making their neighbors more stable.


I can't think of many examples of this. There's Canada, of course, but our cultures are so similar we might as well be the same country. If we discount neighboring countries that were colonized by the same European power, I don't think there are any examples of what you are saying. The world revolves around centers of power. Either you are a center of power, or you are under the influence of a center of power, in which case they define your foreign agenda. In those cases where the sphere of influence of the center of power is large enough to intersect with another center's sphere, you have international conflict. Otherwise, you have regional conflict one way or another.

Although I suppose there's something to be said about modern times- ie, the European Union. But it remains to be seen how long they hold together.
"Welding was faster, cheaper and, in theory,

produced a more reliable product. But sailors do

not float on theory, and the welded tankers had a

most annoying habit of splitting in two."

-J.W. Morris


Return to “Serious Business”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 11 guests