Soviet Union: Slavic Re-Union?

By Tair Tairov

Juridically, the Russian parliament did a very clever thing today: they denounced the Treaty of Union that the republics signed in 1922 to form the USSR. The commonwealth has definitely been endorsed. So from today there is no Soviet Union, legally, and no foreign ministry.

On the whole, the Commonwealth is a good idea; it will give the republics a chance to be equal. But the way it was done was not so nice. It was organized only by Slavic people, which caused concern to non-Slavs. Georgia will not join, but Armenia probably will. Kazakhstan already has declared that it will join. Most Central Asian republics will have to join; they are still in a colonial status-vulnerable economically and occupied by Russian troops.

In this case they will join but this is a big lesson to them, and they will surely think of more independence for the future.

For the settlement of internal problems, the commonwealth is better than Gorbachev's proposed Union of Sovereign States, which envisaged the presence of a strong centre. A common-wealth gives more sense of equality and partnership.

As for controlling violence between former republics, that is a different matter. The central army or Russian troops would not participate, so the republics themselves will have to work out a mechanism to handle their disputes-such as perhaps an inter-republican conflict resolution centre.

The Military

EACH REPUBLIC probably will have its own army. As of now, the republics have decided to have their own national guards, but they are not likely to be full-scale armies. The Central Asians, perhaps Transcaucasians, will have some kind of infantry, but not strategic arms or all the hardware of an independent army. In addition, all the members of the commonwealth are likely to belong to one central army Yeltsin has stressed the intention to stabilize the geostrategical situation.

Ukraine, however, will have a real army. When they were alarmed about the territorial claims coming from Moscow, they said they intended to have an army of almost half a million, but an army that large causes concern in the commonwealth and in Europe. That would be far larger than Germany's army. They cannot afford it economically, and politically it makes no sense. With the commonwealth in place, Ukraine can be expected to reduce it to 100000 or so.

The Economies of the Republics

MOST RUSSIAN Leaders, including Yeltsin, are not prepared to give true political freedom to the non-Slavic republics, and we already can see a kind of a blackmail against them. Non-Slavic republics are dependent for supplies of oil, household goods, food, and everything. There are bilateral agreements to provide basic goods this winter, and probably the commonwealth will provide a kind of a joint economic area. The ruble will still be the international currency of the commonwealth but the republics are almost certain to introduce their own currencies. Ukraine, Armenia, and Uzbekistan have already discussed it and are going ahead with their own currencies.

Nationalism

WE ARE FACING a tremendous growth of nationalism and chauvinism. It is very unfortunate. we are witnessing an active Nazi party, which publishes chauvinist, right-wing type material in almost all newspapers, without any comment, without any condemnation. This is tolerated just for the sake of a free press. The nationalist movement publishes big advertisements and political statements: "We will use force to keep the Russian empire, to keep the territorial integrity of Russia! We will not let the republics leave the union!" This is a tremendous danger.

Yeltsin is the person to be blamed for this. There is no doubt about it. He is overplaying this nationalist card. It has helped him to survive, to consolidate his own power and comfort the army. He made a good agreement with the army. He increased the salary of the army. The army, the security services, and Pamyat are quite happy with this. Pamyat says that Yeltsin is the best president we have ever had. For now it is an advantage to him, but in the long run it is a danger. It will create animosity, discrimination, and a kind of apartheid among people. If you're not Slavic, not Russian, you won't have a chance.

To a certain extent the commonwealth may have reduced the danger of a right-wing coup because right-wingers now realize that their argument has been taken up by Yeltsin: "We want a Central Slavic State, Russia." He talks about the greatness of Russia. That is understandable. National feelings arc natural and should not be condemned, but they should not be overplayed. And it is difficult to limit nationalism.

The commonwealth idea is still unpopular still among the extreme chauvinists, who believe that it may give much more freedom to the former republics. Surprisingly and paradoxically, extreme, right wing chauvinists support Gorbachev because they want a strong centre. But the moderate right (and they are the majority) support Yeltsin.

In the past, NATO and the United States hoped for the breakdown of the Soviet Union. But when it actually started disintegrating, NATO said: No, don't do that! It's dangerous because of proliferation and losing control of nuclear weapons. But in fact, everything is under control. The central command has total command over all sorts of nuclear weapons. That has been firmly stated here in Moscow many times and has been confirmed by Ukrainians and Belorussians. Ukraine and Belarus have stated that they want to be nuclear-weapon-free.

There are other worries, of course. The economic problem is not easy to solve. The three Slavic big brothers cannot be trusted. The development of the commonwealth may be unbalanced. Another worry is that, although there is democracy in Moscow and Ukraine, there is no democracy in other places: Central Asia, Transcaucasus, Georgia- there is a genocidal war there against the Ossetians.

There may be no peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, there is not likely to be war in Central Asia, or Russia and Ukraine, no.

And in case of complete economic disaster, a right-wing coup could happen. This is less likely now because the army will be completely in the hands of Yeltsin. Riots and public disorder will happen, but probably not a coup. Yeltsin is a constitutionally elected, legitimate leader who can control the situation.Tair Tairov is director of the Civic Peace Coalition in Moscow.

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1992

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1992, page 15. Some rights reserved.

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