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Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, many former
communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe have distanced
themselves from Russia with a series of military, political and
economic reforms. But Russia itself is still struggling to lead an
effective military alliance, to modernize its resource-driven economy,
and to liberalize its authoritarian political system.
collapse of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 signaled not only the
end of communism in Europe, but also of Moscow's control of the former
Eastern Bloc. Several nations in the region have since entered the
European Union and traded their membership in the Soviet-led Warsaw
Pact for NATO. Independent Russian military analyst Alexander
Konovalov says new NATO members sought protection against Moscow.
says the Soviet Union imposed its political will many times, and
although they would never openly admit it, the main reason those
countries joined NATO is historic fear of Russia and the Soviet Union
as powers that could impose something they do not want.
has sought to organize a new defense alliance, the Collective Security
Treaty Organization, which includes five other former Soviet
republics. But in moves widely seen as snubs against Moscow, Belarus
boycotted an alliance summit in June and Uzbekistan has refused to sign
a key agreement on a rapid reaction force. Konovalov says Russia has
also lost the initiative in another security group, the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization, or SCO.
Konovalov says many countries
are seeking to join the SCO and they are currently being granted
observer status, but the organization is not successful because it was
organized by Russia, but because China is a member. He notes that SCO
is an Asian, not Soviet organization.
Konovalov says the
collapse of the Berlin Wall exposed Russia to market forces and
revealed that its Soviet-era command economy was not competitive.
Today, Russian leaders frequently talk about economic diversification,
but the country continues to import the majority of its finished
products and to export mostly oil, gas and other natural resources.
This makes Russia heavily dependent on global price fluctuations. The
RIA Novosti News Agency quotes Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin as saying
the value of Russian exports would drop by $190 billion this year due
to reduced worldwide demand.
The President of Moscow's New
Eurasia Foundation, Andrei Kortunov, says the abundance of natural
resources in Russia means there is little incentive for economic
reforms. He says Russia also lacks another incentive that provided a
big boost to former Soviet satellite countries.
"They wanted to
join the European Union, and that was the key factor that defined their
economic transformation policies," said Kortunov. "Russia doesn't have
such incentive. Russia is not likely to join the European Union
anytime soon. Therefore, there is no supergoal that Russia might
Kortunov says the Soviet-era social contract between
ordinary Russians and the state continues by inertia. That contract,
he says, presumes many ordinary Russians still expect the state to be
responsible for their well-being.
"Under Mr. Putin, we had a
restoration of the old social contract," he said. "On the one hand, the
state provides citizens with growing real incomes, and at the same
time, citizens - the population - are ready to provide their political
loyalty to the state."
This inertia, says Kortunov, prevents
many Russians from seeing the connection between their economic
interests and the liberty to pursue them on their own.
Lipman at the Moscow Carnegie Center agrees, but notes Russia has made
considerable progress since the demise of the Soviet Union.
freedom of travel, there is a freedom to engage in entrepreneurship -
if we compare this to the USSR, where private property and drawing
profits were a crime," said Lipman. "This is a huge, huge difference,
and for many people this opens new avenues to fulfill themselves. Not
without limitations, not without reservations, but still a huge
Lipman says some older Russians have nostalgia for
the superpower status they enjoyed under the Soviet Union. As for the
young, she says they have difficulty imagining the constraints of life
in the totalitarian Soviet police state.
"It is indeed very hard
to imagine, unless you lived in those days, how your very natural
things were denied to you, like playing the music that you like, dress
the way you like, enjoy yourself the way you like as a young person,"
Lipman says Russia today is a country in search of an
identity; an identity that collapsed along with the Berlin Wall. She
adds that many Russians have mixed feelings about that historic day,
which Eastern Europeans used to revive their status as independent
nations. Russians, however, appear torn between their Soviet and
Czarist past; between communism and capitalism, and also between
authoritarian and democratic rule.