News / Europe

    Is 'Soviet Union Light' the Future of Putin's Russia?

    Russia's President Vladimir Putin (2nd L) and his Tajik counterpart Imomali Rakhmon (L) meet with servicemen as they visit a Russian military base in Dushanbe, October 5, 2012.
    Russia's President Vladimir Putin (2nd L) and his Tajik counterpart Imomali Rakhmon (L) meet with servicemen as they visit a Russian military base in Dushanbe, October 5, 2012.
    James Brooke
    Russian President Vladimir Putin once described the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” Two decades later, he is laboring to create what some critics call a "Soviet Union Light."

    On a visit Friday to the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan, President Putin oversaw the signing of a 30-year extension of Russia's lease on three military bases there, home to 7,000 troops and Russia’s largest military deployment outside its borders.
     
    In return for the lease extension, Russia promised to give Tajik migrants work permits valid for up to three years. Every year, one million Tajiks working in Russia send home $3 billion, crucial aid for their impoverished nation.

    As the base deal was being signed, warplanes from Russia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan - all former Soviet republics - began 10 days of joint air-defense drills, codenamed “Clear Sky.”

    Meanwhile, back home in Moscow, members of Russia’s Duma were celebrating Monday’s electoral defeat of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvhili. The new prime minister of Georgia is to be Bidzina Ivanishvili, an oligarch who made his billions in Moscow in the 1990s.

    Alexander Rondeli, president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, said in Tbilisi that Russian officials believe time is on their side. Moscow ruled Georgia for almost two centuries, including the 70 years it was part of the Soviet Union, and wants to restore the ties that were broken during the two countries brief war in 2008.

    “Russians wants to restore diplomatic relations,” Rondeli said. “Russians want Georgia to accept reality, as they say, and to accept this Russian advancement into the Caucasus.”

    Putin's dream

    One year ago, presidential candidate Vladimir Putin announced a goal of creating a Eurasian Union by 2015. Lawrence Sheets, South Caucasus project director for the International Crisis Group, said one big step toward that goal is winning back Georgia.

    Sheets, speaking in his office in Tbilisi, said President Putin is trying to reassert Russia's influence abroad, to establish "some sort of rump Soviet Union, if you like, [and] also to put pressure on Georgia, so that Georgia comes back to the fold.”
     
    Indeed, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said on Friday that he will work to bring Georgia back into the Confederation of Independent States, a loose federation of nine of the 15 former Soviet republics.

    Georgia, NATO "red line"

    In Tbilisi, however, Prime Minister-apparent Ivanishvili, met with NATO’s top official for the South Caucasus and pledged his government will go forward with Georgia’s application to join the NATO alliance.

    For Putin, NATO membership for Georgia would be crossing an unacceptable "red line."

    Russia’s president envisages a federation of sovereign states, with everyone's foreign, defense and economic policies guided by the Kremlin. A common-currency project had been proposed, but that was shelved after the eurozone problems erupted.

    Lilit Gevorgyan, analyst for Russia and the former Soviet Union at HIS Global, watches Putin’s progress from her office in London.

    “Russia wants to become a global power broker," she said, "and it also wants to spread its ... political and economic influence, and it just makes logical sense for Putin to, first of all, reinstall [Moscow's] political and economic influence over the former Soviet countries.”

    Winning over Ukraine
     
    Putin’s first move came in January, when Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan joined a Moscow-dominated Customs Union. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are expected to join that group soon, but the big stumbling block has been Ukraine - the second largest member of the old USSR by population.

    The Kremlin thought Ukraine was in the bag when Viktor Yanukovych was elected president there in January 2010. Yanukovych quickly extended Russia's lease on its Sevastopol naval base in Crimea by 25 years. Since then, however, he has tried to balance Moscow’s demands with Kyiv’s desire to join the European Union.

    Over the last 18 months, a succession of Russian envoys dispatched to Ukraine to win further agreements have returned home empty-handed.

    “There is an exaggeration of the ability of Putin, of the Russian government, to bring changes in other former Soviet states,” said analyst Gevorgyan. “They may have wishes. They may try to do something. But I do not see them having the power to actually bring to the helm of government their own guy.”

    The 2015 deadline

    Why did Putin say he wanted a Eurasian Union in place by 2015?

    By then, some Moscow analysts predict the United States will be fully out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Washington will refocus its attention on Russia.

    Of course, if Mitt Romney wins next month’s U.S. presidential election, that day could come sooner. The Republican candidate has singled out Russia as America’s “number one geopolitical foe.”

    You May Like

    Saudi Arabia’s New Female Politicians in the Other Room 

    Many in Saudi Arabia say elected representatives should share unsegregated spaces; according to a recent survey, more than half the Saudi population, both men and women, prefer to work in a segregated place

    Russia Not ‘Apologetic’ for Syria Airstrikes

    With Moscow criticized for targeting armed opponents of President Assad, Russia’s UN envoy says his country ‘acting in a very transparent manner’

    Pakistan Warns of Islamic State's Growing Reach

    Aftab Sultan, General Director General of Intelligence Bureau (IB), briefed Senate Committee in closed hearing, saying that IS-linked groups have been expanding in Pakistan

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Dr. Malek Towghi (Baluch) from: USA
    October 08, 2012 2:42 AM
    A "EURASIA" or a "Eurasian Confederation" that includes all the former Soviet Union lands could be a blessing for the civilized world; it will check the onslaught of Islamic fanaticism and obscurantism. A revival of the Cold War anti-Russia chauvinistic & jingoistic mentality in the West particularly in my country, the USA, will be a disaster for humanity at large. That is why I will continue to pray for the re-election of Barack Obama.

    by: Fong from: St. Louis
    October 06, 2012 6:57 PM
    Watch out. Polar bear is coming back.

    by: Worry from: U.S.
    October 06, 2012 1:25 PM
    With Vladimir Putin pushing for a tenure comparable to that of the late General Secretary Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev, the comparisons are inevitable. Also, Mr. Putin's unapologetic view that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a terrible thing merely confirms the obvious. Anyone who thought that Vladimir Putin was different, despite his subsequent words and actions, has been shown to have been very foolish. The man is what he is, and has done his best to cobble back together to the extent possible a contracted and weaker form of the Soviet Union in all but name.

    by: Robert from: New York
    October 06, 2012 12:28 PM
    'Soviet Union Light'? Surely, the author meant 'Soviet Union lite."
    In Response

    by: Dmitry from: Petersburg
    October 08, 2012 7:18 AM
    I don't know what author meant or Putin meant, but I mean - "USSR-2.0". We'll be back!

    by: Nikos Retsos from: Chicago, USA
    October 06, 2012 11:17 AM
    Soviet Union Light? Not really. Soviet Union Compact? Probably so. In other words, Soviet Union locally expanded - no more distanced allies like Soviet Union's Angola, and Cuba. Putin has struggled to make do with European allies controlled by the U.S., and pre-conditions they demand for any issue on the table hat he thinks are designed to weaken Russia and benefit the West.
    That is why he referred to Europeans as "U.S. vassals" on his speech to the European Conference in Davos, Switzerland, in 2008. He finds the former USSR republics easier to do with, and no one stands behind them and tells them how to deal with Russia. Plus, Central Asia is undeveloped and ready for exploitation by Russian companies; the U.S. effort to expand in Central Asia fizzled in Afghanistan, and India and China are investing there too. Pristine landscape, easy terms, corrupt regimes to ink easy deals, and markets and population exploding!

    Soviet Union Light? No, Soviet Union smart - not authoritarian! Expansion and influence by investments and market control - as China has done in SE Asia. Expansion by invasions, wars, and by installed puppet regimes is becoming a thing of the past. Nikos Retsos, retired professor

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.