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89 ChAPTeR FIVe Russia and the new “tRansitional euRoPe” Arkady Moshes Many experts have described the political development of Ukraine, Belarus , and Moldova—the nations in the western part of the post-Soviet area—during the past two decades as the emergence of a “strategically unviable no man’s land between a united West and an increasingly hostile Russia.”1 They argue this point of view by saying that, on the one hand, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova have no visible prospects of joining the European Union and NATO, but on the other hand, Russia has not gained full control over developments in the region. Moscow can block what in its point of view are completely unacceptable foreign policy decisions by the region’s governments, but it cannot completely dominate them, draw them back into a reintegration process, or secure international recognition of its exclusive sphere of influence in the region. This accurately describes the situation, but the problem with this approach is that it follows nineteenth- and twentieth-century thinking, which saw the fate of disputed territories determined by the balance of power between the great powers. In today’s world, however, even small countries can be significant actors on the international stage and have the right and possibility of choice. These possibilities are even greater when individual countries’ actions are placed in a regional context. Such was the case in the 1990s, for example, in Central Europe and the Baltic states, and today we are starting to see a similar process taking shape to the west of the Russian-Ukrainian and Russian-Belarusan borders. RUSSIA in 2020 90 90 What is emerging is an informal grouping based on a European selfidentity , as opposed to Russia’s self-identity in its “Eurasian” and “EuroPacific ” variants, and also on the perception of Russia as a challenge to these countries’ sovereignty. More recently, an awareness has also begun to emerge of common economic interests as energy-dependent and energytransit countries, as opposed to Russia’s interests as an energy producer and exporter. It would make sense to call this region “interim Europe,” or the “new Eastern Europe.” These terms are debatable, of course, but they reflect the main aspects of, first, an emerging commonness in which a European or “quasi-European” identity is gradually replacing the post-Soviet element in their identities, and second, their interim geopolitical situation, separate from both Russia and the West. At the same time, a new possibility is taking shape now that lets us stop looking at Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, whether separately or together , solely as an area of geopolitical competition between Russia and the West, and see them instead as a triangle in which the regional actors are independent, though not yet strongly defined, entities. Russia’s current policy pursues clear goals (maintaining its sphere of influence), but it has relatively limited means with which to achieve its aims. The West, on the contrary, has big economic levers at its disposal, but it has not put together a strategic vision of its goals. In this situation, the region’s future depends more on the choice that its countries themselves make, and on their ruling elites’ ability to allocate effectively the resources they are offered. The methodological framework described above forms the basis for the attempt that this chapter makes to forecast developments in Russia’s relations with the “interim European” countries through to 2020. A scenario of inertia or “soft” disintegration seems the most likely prospect . This course was set by the fundamental and in many ways irreversible changes that took place during the period 1991–2010, and which are analyzed below. This scenario would see Russia’s influence in the region gradually decline over the medium and long terms. Of course, this could be a wavelike process (with possible periods of rapprochement), but on the strategic scale, interaction would become less intensive. It would not be possible to break free of the path-dependency paradigm. From Russia’s point of view, “soft” disintegration is not the worst option. It makes it possible to maintain a natural level of mutually advantageous 91 MOSHeS economic cooperation and avoid having inevitable private differences grow into open and general conflict with the region’s countries and the European Union. Russia would find itself in a more difficult predicament if centrifugal development accelerates, rather than following its current inertia, but this would require the combination of several different conditions, which is unlikely. The optimum scenario would be one of...


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