by our Eurasia affairs correspondent (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 9, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1432)
Muslim states and many Islamic movements fail to distinguish between the erstwhile USSR and today’s Russia due to the deep-seated association of Russia with the Soviet Union. Similarly, many Muslims have not taken into account that today’s Russia does not seek to be a global power because it has accepted the dominant Western global order.
Many knowledgeable observers were surprised at the limited coverage given by the Western corporate media to the October 4 announcement by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. He said he wanted to create a Eurasian Union made up of ex-Soviet republics after his anticipated return to the presidency in March 2012. The primary reason why Putin’s announcement received little attention from the Western corporate media and other centres of soft power was because Western power structures have correctly understood the role of contemporary Russia. Dmitri Trenin had articulated as early as 2009 in the Washington Quarterly the most accurate Western assessment of contemporary Russia within the current global power pyramid. Trenin wrote: “Russia was not to be integrated into the core West, but managed by it… Putin aimed at integration with it [West]. Unlike [Boris] Yeltsin, Putin put a price on his country’s cooperation with the United States. Washington would have to recognize Moscow’s primacy in the CIS [Commonwealh of Independent States, the Central Asian Republics that were part of the Soviet Union before its breakup].”
Unlike the Western neo-colonial powers, the immediate and distant Muslim neighbours of Russia still build their relationship with Moscow based on the old, now-defunct notions of the Cold War era. Muslim states and many Islamic movements fail to distinguish between the erstwhile USSR and today’s Russia due to the deep-seated association of Russia with the Soviet Union. Similarly, many Muslims have not taken into account that today’s Russia does not seek to be a global power because it has accepted the dominant Western global order. This has created a political and intellectual identity crisis with an ingrained inferiority complex within the Russian political and intellectual elite.
Putin’s statements at the Valdai Discussion Club in September clearly demonstrated that Russia is an integral part of the US designed global order. The only demand Russia made of the US and its allies was that the region of the ex-USSR be recognized as Russia’s sphere of interest. Judging from the weak Western reaction toward Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, it seems that the West has accepted this demand. The Western powers know that Russia lacks ideological and socio-political substance to go against the US established oppressive conventional power culture of the contemporary world. This is not the case with Muslim countries and many Islamic movements that still perceive Russia as an independent power bloc.
The above does not mean that the West agrees with everything Russia wants to achieve in the region. One of the primary issues of disagreement is that Russia sees Iran as a tactical steppingstone to guard its area of interests from Western intrusion. Russia wants to use Iran as the stick against the West and present itself as the carrot. The West wants the overthrow of the Islamic government in Iran and wants Russia’s help to isolate it and not bring it into any security or economic arrangements within the region.
Attempts by Russia to create a Eurasian Union is unlikely to meet any serious resistance from the autocratic regimes ruling the Muslim territories of the former Soviet Union. Russia has strong economic, political and military leverage over the illegitimate and unpopular rulers of these countries. However, the people there, who have experienced and remember clearly the decades of Russian imperial rule under the mask of communism that ended a mere 20 years ago, will view the new Russian project with great suspicion and caution.
Ironically Putin’s idea of a Eurasian Union will most probably indirectly increase the influence of the US in the region that Russia views as its privileged sphere of interest. To the overwhelming majority of people that lived under Russian dominance, the US is a better option than Russia. This is the complex reality of Muslim societies of the former Soviet Union. Russia to the Muslims of the ex-Soviet Union is what the US and Britain are to the Iranian social psyche. Muslims of the ex-USSR have not yet experienced full scale US imperialism due to their recent geopolitical history. To most Muslims of the ex-USSR, Russian imperialism was much more brutal because it was less sophisticated. Therefore, many political organizations and segments of the society will ally themselves with the US in order to counter Russian influence. The US will gain a tactical advantage in the region because it will not need to persuade the locals to resist certain Russian policies.
Overall a Eurasian Union is not a bad idea. In fact Crescent International studied this possibility (see the 3-2010 edition, Iran-Russia relations in historical perspective). However, this scenario is a viable option only if Muslims correctly evaluate Russia’s role within the contemporary global power pyramid and the Muslim countries of the former USSR acquire representative governments based on the aspirations of the people and not function to serve only the interests of the ruling clans.