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  The „Humanitarian Dimension“ of the Russian foreign policy towards Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and the Baltic States

2009 12 14

Presentation of the international study The Humanitarian Dimension of the Russian foreign policy towards Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and the Baltic States took place in Vilnius on 13 November 2009. It was the first survey of the above character executed by applying the method of comparative analysis and by analyzing the impact of humanitarian aspects of the Russian foreign policy on former Soviet Union states which have already become members of the Euro-Atlantic community (the Baltic States) or seek membership in the Alliance (Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine).

This Project was aimed at increasing the awareness of policy-makers in CIS and the Baltic States and at highlighting the necessity to better coordinate the national policies and actions concerning Russia‘s policy on its compatriots living abroad.

The main conclusions of the study were presented in the five chapters of the survey: practical Russia‘s experience in the sphere of human rights; Russia‘s policy on its compatriots living abroad; consular issues, partnership in the sphere of culture and science and the Russian mass media in the above countries. The survey involved scientists of six countries: the Centre for East European Policy Studies (Latvia), the Centre for Geopolitical Studies (Lithuania), the International Centre for Defense Studies (Estonia), Foreign Policy Association (Moldova), the International Centre for Geopolitical Studies (Georgia),  the School for Policy Analysis at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (Ukraine).

The summary of the ideas expressed during the presentation provided for the identification of relevant conceptual aspects.

First of all, Russia‘s humanitarian policy towards the compatriots or the Russian speaking population is part of the common Moscow‘s foreign policy. According to authors of the survey, today Russia tries to increase competition with the West for the influence in various regions and spheres, and Russia‘s compatriots is a very convenient tool for expanding this influence. The concept „the Russian World“ (pусский мир)  emerged specifically in the above context; its aim is to help the Russians (the ethnic Russians or the ones perceiving themselves as the Russians) to retain the ties with their historic homeland (actual extension of the Russian geographical boundaries), to encourage their return (earlier the country adopted the national program for a voluntary return of compatriots to the Russian Federation; today the idea of the „Russian Card“ is under consideration) and/or direction of the investment to Russia.

According to experts, the three main tools within the Russian humanitarian policy in the countries concerned are: language, evaluation of history and religion.

Considering that language is one of the key pillars contributing to the ethnic identity, architects of the „Russian World“ pursue the strategy the main idea of which is: „to speak Russian – think in Russian – and act as a Russian“.  In other words, according to Gatis Pelnen, a representative from Latvia, when a person speaks certain language, he/she gets interested in the country of the language, has fellow-feelings towards this country; and at a particular moment he/she starts to positively evaluate the policy (position) of that country. By promoting the Russian language and culture, Moscow first of all acts through the media (in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and the Baltic States): the Russian TV is especially popular in all the countries, whereas the 1st Channel (PBK) has nearly become a symbol of Russia‘s domination in TV. We must not forget also that the Russian music is very popular among the citizens of the above countries (it is not accidental that performances of the Russian groups, e.g. Liube, which sings quite many patriotic songs, as well as concerts of individual singers, are very popular), as well as Russian movies, which could be referred to as open propaganda (e.g. the recently demonstrated Russian version of Taras Bulba). The Kremlin surely does not save money for the information policy; on the contrary, it allocates more funds for its development. For instance, in December 2005 the English version of the Russian national TV channel „Russia Today“ was launched.

Evaluation of history (especially the history of the World War II and the soviet period) from the position acceptable for the Russian authorities is an exceptional aspect of the humanitarian policy of the country. It is true to say that in Russia this issue is closely related to the old and interrelated problems on the legitimacy of the country‘s political regime and the vague Russian identity. Therefore, the decision of the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev on the establishment of a special commission to resist „the attempts to falsify history with a view to damaging Russia‘s interests“ has to be evaluated within this specific context.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, authorities of the Russian Federation and the Russian nation occurred in a very problematic situation concerning the historic identity. At the beginning the attempts were made to dissociate from the „non-democratic“ past, but for the majority of the Russian society this was unacceptable. When Vladimir Putin took the office, the works for „creation“ of the historic continuity commenced. Instead of defending the objective historical truth, the Kremlin develops its own truth by satisfying the ambitions of the majority of the Russian population, and, consequently, can always expect its support. The more compatriots and citizens of other countries believe in the Russian version of history, the better. As it was said before: “He who thinks in Russian, acts as a Russian“.

The recent visit to Ukraine of Patriarch Kiril of Moscow and All Russia demonstrated that a religious instrument can play a huge role in Russia‘s humanitarian foreign policy. In general religion in Russia has always been related to power and state (the mental continuity of the Byzantine tradition: „Moscow-the Third Roma“, or the saying „To God, to Czar and to  the Homeland“ etc.). Besides, Kiril, the new patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church reminds more a minister of religion rather than a spiritual pastor, actively reasoning about globalization, clash of civilizations and other political issues. Thus, he arrived to Ukraine, where the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church is enormous or even equal to that of the orthodox church of the Kiev patriarchate. The visit was aimed at „the unification of the orthodox and other nations not to be destroyed by any politics“. Actually, this implied the following: „Ukrainians, stop listening to your authorities, they are profane…You are our brothers. You can do without European Union and NATO!“  It has to be noted that in societies with complex political and social economic situation the trust in the national powers is minimal, and people look for a more serious moral authority (support). Religion is one of such forces. Thus, since orthodoxy is a prevailing belief in the post-soviet space, and its center is Moscow, it becomes a serious instrument in the hands of the Kremlin.

Beside the main tools, Russia applied secondary measures in its humanitarian policy. For instance, the historically developed (not without Moscow‘s help) situation of separatism in Abkhazia and South Ossetia allowed Moscow to issue the Russian passports to citizens of these countries and to consider this factor later as a pretext for the use of the military force.

Today the same situation is in Trans-Dniester and, partially, in Ukraine (the Crimean Peninsula), whereas D.Medvedev has already signed the Law on a possible use of the Russian military forces abroad which provides for a legal background for the expansion of Russia‘s imperial power. Besides, the Black Sea Fleet is located in Ukraine. It is both a military and a propaganda instrument to constrain Kiev, i.e. it allows Moscow to further repeat that Sevastopol is a city of „the Russian military glory“ and that history of Russia and history of Ukraine is interrelated.

Several words should also be said about possible counter-measures against the active (sometimes aggressive) Russian humanitarian policy in the former Soviet Union countries (authors of the survey were less concerned about this aspect). The main problem is that for these countries it is very difficult to compete with Moscow, since a) their financial opportunities are worse in comparison to Russia; b) Russia „plays an unfair game“, i.e. in case of inefficient humanitarian policy it could initiate economic or even military actions. Moreover, various prohibitions (e.g. the ban of certain TV channels in Russian language, let alone the worship of such historical figures as Stepan Bandera) and demonstrative (dictated by the historical injustice) campaigns (e.g. removal of the Bronze soldier in Estonia on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the end of the World War II) would not give the expected result; on the contrary, they would make the situation even more complicated, since give an additional basis for criticism.

Possible solutions:

First of all, it is necessary to enhance the national civil identity by not separating (subconsciously) the Russian minorities from the main nation (for the newly established states it is especially difficult, since they do not have historical statehood traditions). Secondly, it is instrumental to define the reason why certain Russians are not loyal to the state in which they reside: is this predetermined by the family traditions, school, Russia‘s propaganda, difficult economic situation, or by an inadequate position of local authorities toward the Russians etc.? Thirdly, it is necessary to carry out an in-depth analysis of the psychological nature of Russians residing outside the country. The practical experience shows that, for instance, mentality of a Russian living in Lithuania is similar to the mentality of a Russian residing in Russia (but at the same time it is slightly different).  It is interesting to observe that after the fall of the USSR, the Russians outside Russia were more loyal to Russia than Russians residing in the country. On the other hand, life in different political, economic and cultural space changes thinking of people. The situation could be explained as follows: „At home among strangers, a stranger at home“, and this is a perfect opportunity to encourage the Russians to take your side by allowing them to feel a full-fledged members of the society in which they live. The fourth and very important moment is that policy (information and other policies) toward the Russians should be of higher quality. Today the national policy of the former USSR countries is more negative than positive: it is defensive rather than integration-driven. To become effective, it should be more balanced (e.g. movies and broadcasts on Stalin‘s crimes should highlight that Russians have also suffered from these crimes; when evaluating the history of the soviet occupation, it is necessary to clearly delimit it from the deed of the soviet soldiers fighting against Nazism etc.). The fifth moment is that in the struggle against Russia‘s propaganda, former USSR countries need financial, technical and professional EU support. The EU has to realize that Moscow‘s humanitarian policy is a tool and expression of its „hard policy“.

In summary the following aspects have to be highlighted. First of all, Russia is very active within the humanitarian dimension of the post-soviet space; it enhances such factors as the Russian language, „own“ history and the orthodox religion. It is also necessary to note that during the recent years the Russian propaganda technologies have improved significantly and they have to be evaluated seriously. Secondly, former USSR countries have to work more efficiently with the Russian minorities in order to facilitate their civil integration.  Finally, the EU should also contribute to the above processes, because soon the Russian minorities in Europe might become a similar (or even the same) problem as Muslims.

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