Understanding The Russian Sphere of Influence Politics
The aim of this chapter is to bring out the elements behind Russia’s quest to maintain a sphere of influence around itself. In doing this, one should not just look at present Russian politics and recent attempts by Russia to restore its former sphere of influence. One has to look briefly into the history of Russia from the time of the Tsars and during the Communist regime. The Tsars had always desired to create a sphere of influence which would act as a belt of protection for Russia. One has to look at Russia’s geography to understand this key element in Russian foreign policymaking throughout the centuries.
In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and Russia lost various regions which were the ex-Soviet Republics. Since then, Russia has retreated progressively. NATO expanded eastward in Europe since 1994 causing Russia to be suspicious and resentful. After the September 11 attacks, the USA established military bases in Central Asian countries to support its military operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and initially Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his support, though he would resent long-term American military presence in what Russia perceives its sphere of influence. In the Far East, Russia faces a rapidly rising China as a potential superpower. So, it is understandable that Russian foreign policymakers have to counterbalance all these factors. Russia is not just a European power but also an Asian power. All these factors contribute to the multivector characteristic in Russian foreign policymaking. One must not forget that Russia also has its economic interests in the Central Asian region and not just military and political interests. The setting-up of the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) show how Russia is trying to adapt to its loss of empire. One must not forget that the collapse of the Soviet Union took place twenty years ago and that Russia is still going through what is called its imperial syndrome.
This chapter has the aim of demonstrating the change and continuity in Russian foreign policy through its history to the present day.
2.1 – The Tsarist roots
When Russia began to expand as an empire, the Tsars always had the intention to use to newly conquered lands as belts of protection around Russia. This can be traced back to the time of Ivan III, also known as Ivan the Great. He started by what historian call the “collecting of the Russian lands” which was followed by wars with Poland in the West (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 18). Ivan IV, known as Ivan the Terrible, conquered lands from the Tatars and Russia reached the Caspian Sea (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 19). In 1613, Mikhail Romanov was elected Tsar, hence starting the 304-year Romanov dynasty. Under his reign and his son’s reign, Russia fought eight wars with Poland and it retook Kiev, which had the capital city of the first Russian state, the Kievan Rus (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 19). So, in this time frame, one can see Muscovy expanding its territory and sphere of influence.
The ascension of Peter I, known as Peter the Great and his subsequent reign (1689-1725) had a lasting effect on Russian foreign policy. He is known for his secularization and modernization of the Russian Empire along European lines (Hosking, pg 76). He too focused on expanding Russian territory and had one of his first successes when he captured the fort of Azov from the Turks, thus giving Russia access to the Black Sea (Hosking, pg 76). He then proceeded to war with Sweden and the victories he attained there such as the capture of the river Neva in 1703, Narva and Dorpat in 1704, gave Russia access to the Baltic (Freeze, pg 114). The Treaty of Nystad with Sweden in 1721 crowned Russia’s achievements in the Baltic and Sweden lost its place as a European great power to Russia (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 20). With these conquests, Peter the Great brought Russia closer to Europe as he had always desired and Russian foreign policy took a new dimension from then on.
In 1689, there was the Nerchinsk Treaty between the Russian Empire and China where the two powers agreed to divide their spheres of influence which led to China keeping Mongolia under its dominion and Russia keeping land north of the Amur river (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 20). After the death of Peter the Great, there was the Kyakhta where Russia and China agreed to set up formal diplomatic relations and paved the way for trade between the two powers (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 20).
Under Catherine the Great, Russia continued to expand its territory and this is seen in the partitions of Poland which brought Belarus (White Russia), Lithuania and Western Ukraine under the Russian realm (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 20). Russia’s military forays southwards resulted in two wars with Turkey and these culminated in the treaties of Kutchuk Kainardji (1774) and the Treaty of Jassy (1792) which gave Russia control of the north Black sea coastline from Azov to Odessa (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 20).
After the victory against Napoleon in 1815 and the Congress, Russia’s Tsar Alexander I was able to demonstrate Russian power to Europe (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 21) and Russia added Finland and lands in the south and Central Asia to its dominion. Nicholas I’s reign (1825-1855) saw Russia turning its attention on the Ottoman Empire which was referred to as the “sick man of Europe” and this is seen in the Russian ambition to take Constantinople and get naval access to the Mediterranean Sea and the base at Sevastopol (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 21). However, one can see the role of ideology behind Russia’s expansionism such using the protection of Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire to justify its wars with Turkey, which one of them resulted in the independence of Greece (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 21).
In the second half of the 19th century, Russia began looking eastwards again and started to violate the Treaty of Nerchinsk by penetrating deeper into China’s territory. In 1860, Vladivostok was founded and in 1860, the two powers signed the Treaty of Peking where Russia’s new gains in the Amur region (legalized since 1858) were consolidated and China and Russia agreed on the new border along the Ussuri river (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 24).
In Central Asia, Russia took Tashkent in Uzbekistan in 1865 and Merv in Turkmenistan in 1884 (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 24). To reassure Britain that it was not going to pursue its conquests south to India, Russia signed an agreement with Britain that it was going to limit itself to northern borders of Afghanistan (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 24).
One must not exclude the ideology of Pan-Slavism from Russian foreign policymaking during the time of the Tsars which had considered Moscow as the “Third Rome” and the Tsar as the protector of all Orthodox Christians (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 25). This led to tensions with the Ottoman Empire resulting in a war in 1878.
In the early twentieth century, Russia had tension with Japan over territories in the Far East and this culminated in a Russo-Japanese war in 1904-1905, which to Russia’s humiliation, Japan won (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 27). So, Russia’s ambitions in the Far East were limited to the northern part of Manchuria, the northern half of Sakhalin island and had to accept Korea’s incorporation in the Japanese sphere of influence (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 27).
What was the motivation behind the Tsar’s aim of expanding their realm? Robert H. Donaldson and Joseph L. Nogee give a variety of reasons. The geography of Eurasia may be one of the explanations for Tsarist Russia to acquire all those land to create a protective barrier around itself. Russia also wanted ice-free harbours which led to its ambitions to take harbours in the Black Sea and the Baltic as well as Pusan in modern South Korea culminating in the war with Japan in 1904-1905 (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 29). The autocratic ideology of the Tsarist system is also listed as a reason. The Tsars expressed their autocratic character by pushing for conquering of new lands and military expeditions (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 30). Even Henry Kissinger, in his book, Diplomacy, agrees with the view that Tsarist autocracy led Russia to behave in that way in the international relations of the time (Kissinger, pg 140)
2.2 – Continuity under the USSR
The continuity with the Tsars’ thinking was most clear under Joseph Stalin’s rule. In August 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed an agreement known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact where they agreed to share Eastern Europe between their spheres of influence. Through the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Russia regained those lands such as Eastern Poland, the Baltic states, Bessarabia and northern Bukovina (Kenez, pg 135). The motivation to expand Russia’s territory could not be clearer. In October1944, there was the Percentage Agreement between British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to divide spheres of influences of their states in Eastern Europe (Dunbabin, pg 87). The element of continuity with the Tsar’s thinking of expansionism is clear.
After the Second World War, the USSR did not make it a secret that it wanted to keep Eastern Europe under its orbit as well as export its Communist ideology throughout the world. The USSR was using the banner of Communism and proletarian internationalism to spread its influence around the globe. The West responded by the enactment of the Truman Doctrine which had the intention of containment (Best, Hanhimaki, Maiolo, Schulze, pg 220). In June 1947, the European Recovery Program, better known as the Marshall Plan was launched in order to help Europe recover and stem the tide of Communism (Best, Hanhimaki, Maiolo, Schulze, pg 222). This was part of the containment policy. On the 4th of April 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was set up to challenge Soviet hegemony (Best, Hanhimaki, Maiolo, Schulze, pg 223-224). The Soviet response was to create the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance, COMECON in 1949 to create sociaist planned economies in Eastern Europe (Best, Hanhimaki, Maiolo, Schulze, pg 219). In 1948, the USSR expelled Yugoslavia of Jozip Broz Tito because Tito did not want to have Stalin dictating to him how to govern the country (Best, Hanhimaki, Maiolo, Schulze, pg 219).
In May 1955, the USSR set up the Warsaw Pact as a response to NATO as Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev said “we wanted to make an impression on the West” (Dunbabin, pg 221). In 1956, Hungary under Imre Nagy rebelled because it did not want to remain under Soviet domination and left the Warsaw and the Soviet’s response was to send tanks to crush the uprising (McCauley, pg 340). In 1968, Czechoslavakia, under the leadership of Alexander Dubcek, attempted to create ‘socialism with a human face’, unlike the rigid Soviet communism which is known as the Prague Spring. Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was alarmed by this since he feared it could spread and create a domino effect and the USSR would lose its sphere of influence in East-Central Europe. The USSR tried to exert pressure on Dubcek (Dunbabin, pg 568) but when it saw that it was not enough, it launched a military invasion on 20th August 1968 to crush the Prague Spring and remove Dubcek from power (Dunbabin, pg 569). This showed that the Soviet Union feared that different interpretations of Marxism among its satellites would lead to collapse of Communism and lose its strategic sphere of influence. Due to the upheavals that took place, the Brezhnev leadership came up with the Brezhnev Doctrine which claimed that it was the sole right of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact to take action against socialist countries which deviated from Soviet Communism (Best, Hanhimaki, Maiolo, Schulze, pg 274). The message the USSR sent to the rest of the world was that it will not tolerate any changes to the political-economic system it had created in East Europe, its sphere of influence. This was because it felt highly threatened by those changes. The West gave its response in the Helsinki Final Act in 1975 where it accepted the Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe but the USSR agreed to accept the human rights basket, which would have serious consequences for the USSR in the 1980’s (Dunbabin, pg 571).
2.3 – Post-Communist Russia and Sphere of Influence Thinking in Current Russian Foreign Policy
At the collapse of the Soviet Union, many former Soviet Republics which were also part of the Tsarist Empire became independent. Russia had lost those lands which had provided a belt of protection for Russia for centuries. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991and up to the late 1990’s, the newly constituted Russia began to use the term “near abroad” for its former Soviet republics (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 163). In this part, the setting up of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC), Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and Russia’s participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and their usefulness to Russia in maintaining its sphere of influence will be analyzed. This part aims to put under focus Russia’s aims and aspirations behind the setup of these organisations. The interests Russia has in keeping Central Asian states, Ukraine, Belarus and other ex-Soviet states will be analyzed. Russia has and still claims that it uses multilateralism to achieve its aims of maintaining its sphere of influence and checking other powers such as China in the East. To analyze this in more detail, the focus will be on Russia’s behavior both in the institutions it is part of and leads and its behavior towards the smaller ex-Soviet republics. Russia’s activities in the CSTO and SCO will also be analyzed as well as its successes and failures in preserving its sphere of influence.
2.3.1 – What are Russia’s interests and motivations, and how does it view itself and the countries surrounding it?
The best way to start the subject is to look into Russia’s interests. Historically, the ex-Soviet republics were part of the USSR and before the October Revolution of 1917. It is not restricted to this reason though. Russia has economic interests as well as competing new powers for influence. This is most felt in the Central Asian region. For Russian political analyst Dmitri Trenin, this is sphere of interest rather than sphere of influence, as he points out in his article in The Washington Quarterly. Trenin outlines three types of interests that Russia has the ex-Soviet states. The first includes the military and security reasons, secondly, Russia’s economic interests and thirdly, the cultural aspect. Regarding Russia’s security and military interests, Trenin mentions the CSTO as a way for Russia to maintain its influence and dominance in most of the ex-Soviet republics and also to combat Islamic extremist movements (The Washington Quarterly, October 2009). Trenin goes on to refer to the fact Russia would like the CSTO to on the same level with NATO and that this would create the new European security architecture thus leading to the legitimization of the primacy of Russia in its former Imperial and Soviet subjects (The Washington Quarterly, October 2009). Trenin maintains that Russia’s intention is halt US and NATO encroachment in its perceived zone of responsibility and he refers to the August 2008 war with Georgia. By taking a heavy-handed attitude towards Georgia, Trenin suggests, Russia was sending a clear message to NATO that it would accept anymore intrusion in the ex-Soviet space (The Washington Quarterly, October 2009). So, the real reason behind the war was Mikhail Saakashvili’s explicit intention to get NATO membership for Georgia. Russia also thinks that the USA is using democracy encouragement in order to draw the ex-Soviet states away from Russia’s influence (The Washington Quarterly, October 2009). The second reason, the economic interests of Russia, also cannot be ignored. Russia has millions of foreign workers who come from the CIS member states, a factor which gives Russia an upper hand in dealing with its neighbours (The Washington Quarterly, October 2009). Another important economic factor is energy. The ex-Soviet states around the Caspian Sea are rich in energy resources and Russian energy companies such as Gazprom, the Russian state-owned gas corporation, would like to be the ones that have control over these resources especially oil and natural gas (The Washington Quarterly, October 2009). Russia has also worked towards economic integration in Eurasia and this is seen in the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) and Russia has made no secret of its wish to have a customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus (The Washington Quarterly, October 2009). So Russia also uses economic means to preserve its influence and its interests. In the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, Russia has forked out billions in funds to help the economies of the former Soviet Republics to recover (The Washington Quarterly). Thirdly, there is the cultural aspect. Dmitri Trenin makes a reference towards the presence of millions of Russian inhabitants in post-Soviet countries and how the Kremlin tries to use the case of Russian minorities for its political advantage. This has been listed as one of the objectives of Russian foreign policy in the Russian Foreign Policy Concept of 2008 signed by President Dmitri Medvedev (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, 12th July 2008). This objective of Russia protecting ethnic Russians in the neighboring countries has also one been one of the first objectives of Vladimir Putin since he first came to power as Russian President in 2000, as outlined by Ingmar Oldberg in his article for the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (The Swedish Institute of International Affairs, 2010). Russia has been taking advantage of its cultural predominance to use the Russian minorities in the neighboring countries to preserve its influence and has used many methods to try to achieve its objective such as the media, issuing of passports and backing pro-Russian political parties in these states (The Swedish Institute of International Affairs, 2010). One has to appreciate the fact that Russian culture, especially the language is a very strong factor.
2.3.2 – Organisations which Russia uses as part of its objective of preserving its sphere of influence
In this section, the focus is on organisations such as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The aim of this part of the chapter is to give a short history of each of these organisations and more importantly, Russia’s role in them and what Russia hopes to achieve by being active in these organisations. Is Russia using these organisations as a new way to portray itself as upholding the principles of multilateralism while at the same times keeping the post-Soviet republics under its influence? Does Russia behave as an equal partner or is it the dominant member due to its military strength? The best way to answer these questions is to analyse these organisations and Russia’s role in them.
126.96.36.199 – Commonwealth of Independent States
The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was born out of the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. After the Soviet Union collapsed, 15 newly independent states emerged. Russia wanted to use the CIS in order for it to be able to maintain its influence in the newly independent states (Nogee and Donaldson, pg 165). It wanted to create The Baltic states kept away from joining and Georgia left the organisation after its August 2008 war with Russia. Ukraine, which in the early 1990’s was under the leadership of Leonid Kravchuk did not want much integration in the CIS in order to preserve Ukraine’s independence (Donaldson and Nogee, pg 166). As a sign of continuity with the Tsarist and Soviet foreign policy thinking, Russia placed huge importance to the CIS as way of protecting itself with friendly countries, and this was mentioned in the 1993 Russian Foreign Policy Concept (Wilson Rowe and Torjesen, pg 154). With the establishment of the CIS, Russia was aiming for “a common economic space, a common market, co-ordinated customs policies, cooperation in the environmental protection, developing communication and transport systems and combating organized crime” (Wilson Rowe and Torjesen, pg 154). Much of these ambitions aims were not achieved and in 2005, President Vladimir Putin himself complained that the CIS did not achieve what Russia envisioned a decade earlier (Wilson Rowe and Torjesen, pg 154). Stina Torjesen, in a contribution to the book ‘The Multilateral Dimension of Russian Foreign Policy’, lists some reasons why Russia did not achieve as much as it hoped for in the 1990’s regarding the CIS and CIS integration. Torjesen mentions reasons such as that coordination was not executed well, that when it came to implementing policies, Russia was either slow or didn’t implement them at all, causing the other partners to be irritated, Russia in the 1990’s was going through economic hardship which led to difficulty in implementing proposals and that Russia’s behavior was still zero-sum instead of being a multilateral partner (Wilson Rowe and Torjesen, pg 155). Russia still sought to be the dominating party and sought primacy over other partners. So Russia deserves part of the blame for the failure to achieve the earlier objectives behind the creation of the CIS. Lilia Shevtsova, in her book ‘Lonely Power’, believes that Russia does not treat its neighbours as equals and cares about its primacy (Shevtsova, pg 90). Shevtsova makes a reference to a speech by President Dmitry Medvedev at the Council of Foreign Relations where the Russian President stated that Russia had a sphere of “privileged interests” (Shevtsova, pg 89).
There were attempts by some post-Soviet republics to try to lessen their dependence on Russia and this is seen in organisations they set up such as GU(U)AM (Mankoff, pg 247). This consisted of Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan (which left the organisation), Azerbaijan and Moldova. GUAM as organisation was first set up in October 1997 (Tsygankov, pg 126). Uzbekistan left the organisation in May 2005 (Wilson Rowe and Torjesen, pg 173). After the summit in Kiev on 23rd May 2006, GUAM had a new name: Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development – GUAM (Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development – GUAM).
The August 2008 war with Georgia also spoke volumes about Russia’s efforts to preserve its sphere of influence. Moreover in May 2009, Russia sent in extra 1,800 troops into Abkhazia and South Ossetia which inflamed suspicions in the West that Russia was up to its tricks again, that pursuing its domination of its neighbours as well as punishing Georgia for the pro-Western path it had taken (The Jamestown Foundation, 6th May 2009). After all, President Medvedev had made no secret of Russia wanting to be responsible for what he described as Russia’s ‘privileged’ sphere of influence (The New York Times, 31st August 2008). US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US President Barack Obama did not agree with Dmitry Medvedev’s position (OpenDemocracy, 20th April 2009).
Russia’s cutting of the gas supply due to a crisis with Ukraine was interpreted as Russia using its energy resources to punish those countries which took positions against Russia such as Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, claims which Russia denied and Russia counter-attacked by claiming it was a quarrel over payments (Valdai Club, 13th January 2009).
Lately, Russia has had problems over gas with Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko but analysts claim that Russia uses its position of energy supplier to bend its neighbours to its will. This was the case with Belarus in June 2010 since Russia had been very irritated with Lukashenko’s lack of recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states and retaliated by banning milk from Belarus (The Economist, 24th June 2010).
188.8.131.52 – Collective Security Treaty Organisation
The Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) is the military organisation Russia uses in order to maintain its influence in the post-Soviet states. One has to remember that out of all the former Soviet states, Russia is the most militarily and economically powerful and these factors do give it primacy in the CSTO. From the beginning, Russia intended that the CSTO will be used to create protection and security for Russia by having an organisation which included the former Soviet states (Wilson Rowe and Torjesen, pg 182).
Before the CSTO was established in 2002, there was an agreement, the Collective Security Treaty (CST), signed in May 1992 at Tashkent by Russia, Armenia and the former Central Asian Soviet republics but Turkmenistan remained out (Wilson Rowe and Torjesen, pg 183). After the fall of the USSR, Russia and the former Soviet states began discussing how to have a single military space under the CIS (Wilson Rowe and Torjesen, pg 183). So the CST, and later the CSTO, was to work under the CIS. The objective of a creating one military structure was not achieved because each state chose to have its national army but the CST helped to bring the new states’ armies to cooperate when a threat emerged (Wilson Rowe and Torjesen, pg 183). Throughout the 1990’s, there were discussions on what type of military organisation the CST members’ national armies were going to set up (Wilson Rowe and Torjesen, pg 183). The discussions were between whether there should be a decision-making structure similar to the one of NATO, which the majority of CST members wanted, or having a hierarchical structure, as Russia and Uzbekistan wanted (Wilson Rowe and Torjesen, pg 183-184). In the end a mixture of both was chosen. One can remark that the fact that Russia wanted a hierarchical structure tells much about what its role in the CST was going to be. It sought to be the leader and not an equal with the other partners. By the mid-1990’s, the CST had been successful in dealing with many challenges and Russia, through its military advantage, played a central role in helping Central Asian states to safeguard their borders and training their armies (Wilson Rowe and Torjesen, pg 184). But there was still no proper organisation of a supranational nature and this was seen in the civil war in Tajikistan in 1992, when the CST members did not work together and Russia and Uzbekistan helped the Tajik government (Wilson Rowe and Torjesen, pg 184). In 1993, peacekeeping troops from CST and CIS states Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan did come to Tajikistan’ aid, but Russia was the dominant partner and its actions, such as supporting militarily the Tajik government of the day, were not multilateral (Wilson Rowe and Torjesen, pg 185). In this incident, one can see Russia acting as the dominant partner and this is something which the other states took note of. So Russia had some part of the blame for the failure to develop a fully-fledged multilateral military organisation. Its actions contradicted its objective of collective action. The maintenance of its sphere of influence was what mattered most.
However, in the late 1990’s, there was military cooperation between the CST members which was led by Russia such as military exercises in 1999 and 2000 (Wilson Rowe and Torjesen, pg 185). In October 2000, the CST members proceeded to cooperate on the issue of terrorism and this culminated in an agreement in Bishkek between Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to create an anti-terrorist center where they could share intelligence on terrorists (Wilson Rowe and Torjesen, pg 185). On May 25th 2001, cooperation increased and this led to the creation of the Rapid Deployment Forces to deal with security in the region (Eurasianet, 25th May 2001). This increase in cooperation led to the creation of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in May 2002 with Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Armenia being the members (Wilson Rowe and Torjesen, pg 185). In October 2002, the Charter of the CSTO was signed and it came into effect from the 18th September 2003 (CSTO Official Website). In 2003, Russia began to improve on the already existing facilities at the airbase at Kant in Kyrgyzstan, and in 2006 added more personnel at the base (Mankoff, pg 268). After the 2005 Tulip revolution, the USA had to pay $200,000,000 yearly to keep its airbase at Manas while Russia did not have pay any rent, though it did provide military hardware to Kyrgyzstan (Mankoff, pg 268).
In August 2008, after the war with Georgia, Russia asked the CSTO members to recognize South Ossetia (The Times, 30th August 2008) after China and four Central Asian countries had refused to recognize South Ossetia. This is another proof of how Russia wants to use the CSTO to be on par with NATO and trying to stop NATO from encroaching in its neighbourhood.
In 2009, the Kyrgyz government announced to the USA that it was going to close down Manas airbase and this was soon after Russia promised more than $2 billion in aid to Kyrgyzstan on condition that the Kyrgyz government tells the US to leave the Manas Airbase (San Francisco Chronicle, 22nd February 2009). The Russia aim to keep Kyrgyzstan under its sphere of influence could not be clearer.
On February 4th 2009, at a CSTO summit in Moscow, Russia and the other member states set up the Collective Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF) and it must be pointed out that Russia was once again the dominant player because it had the greater military power and it provided all the weapons, as Aleksei Malashenko from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Moscow) argued (Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 4th February 2009). This shows again how Russia uses the CSTO for its central objective of maintaining its sphere of influence. It claims that the CSTO is there to fight terrorism but Russia uses the war on terrorism to make the CSTO one of its foreign policy tools. In fact, one can see this when in the same summit, Uzbekistan demanded special concessions for itself as a condition to join the CSTO (RIA Novosti, 4th February 2009). In May 2010, Belarus decided to contribute over 2,000 personnel to the CRRF after its ratification of the Moscow agreement (RIA Novosti, 26th May 2010). Since then, the CRRF members have practiced military exercises in October 2010 (RIA Novosti, 22nd October 2010).
However, there were some disappointments and the latest one has been during the political upheaval in Kyrgyzstan when President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was overthrown. Russia did not send peacekeeping troops as Medvedev said that Russia and the CSTO would not participate in Kyrgyzstan’s domestic unrest (Global Post, 15th June 2010). Russia caused disappointment by its behavior because it showed a lack of consistency and did not act with its CSTO partners to send a peacekeeping mission to Kyrgyzstan. This shows that Russia uses organisations such as the CSTO to give an image that it is working multilaterally with its partners, but in reality it does the opposite.
184.108.40.206 – Using economic means to protect interests and maintain sphere of influence – The Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC)
Russia does not only create military organisations to preserve its sphere of influence, but it also uses economic means. Since the collapse of the USSR, Russia has tried hard to create customs’ union and foster economic integration in the CIS and recently it seems to have had some successes. Russia wants to follow the example of European integration and apply it to the CIS. The Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) is Russia’s tool to achieve this objective.
Some of the objectives behind creating the CIS were to create a common economic space and a common market