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May 8, 2005
Come Home To Oppression, What's Old Is What's New

Vladimir Putin made an offer to the former Soviet republics to return to the Commonwealth of Independent States, the confederation that took the place of the USSR when the Communists lost control of Russia and its republics gained their independence. Putin used the celebration of its victory over Nazi Germany to argue for greater collaboration between Russia and its neighbors, but the lessons of the sixty years since V-E Day shows these nascent democracies the wisdom of keeping Moscow at arm's length:

Russian President Vladimir Putin told leaders of the troubled Commonwealth of Independent States on Sunday that their grouping of ex-Soviet republics remained relevant today and urged them to defend its existence.

At a summit held the day before commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, Putin said the grouping of 12 out of the 15 former Soviet republics had a key role in combatting the spread of terrorism, extremism and xenophobia and fostering peace. ...

Putin himself in March questioned the body's usefulness, saying it had been created for a "civilized divorce" of Soviet republics, unlike the
European Union, which worked to pull its members closer together.

But on Sunday he said that six decades after the end of what Russia terms the Great Patriotic War, the fraternity the peoples of the Soviet Union felt as they fought in World War II was still palpable today. Maintaining "historical unity" was a good basis for stable development of the countries, he said.

In a reflection of the disputes between the member countries, two of the leaders, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev, were not attending.

The CIS never amounted to anything much more than a face-saving way for Russia to comply with the historical march of freedom for the non-Russian republics after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. The CIS allowed Russia to influence the development of its border states and adjust to the notion of eventual self-determination. In some of those republics, that day has not yet come, especially Turkmenistan, where Stalinist strong-man rule still governs. In others, notably Georgia, Ukraine, and the Baltic states, self-determination not only has become complete but the new democracies that have taken power have turned towards Europe and away from Moscow for influence.

Putin wants to reverse that latter trend. He tried to support fraudulent elections in Ukraine to keep his allies in power, and rumor has it that Russia's security services may have had a hand in the dioxin poisoning of the eventual winner, Viktor Yushchenko. Georgia refused to attend his V-E celebrations, protesting against the ongoing Russian military presence in the country against the new government's wishes. Both countries have joined Moldova in seeking NATO membership, which gives them a military alliance with Europe and the US instead of relying on Russia for their security.

Perhaps Moscow's call for unity among formerly occupied territories will find a sympathetic ear among some of them. The dictators of the region will need Putin's support, as they know now that the US will support democratization rather than the so-called stability of totalitarianism. Those flirting with self-determination may find Russian partnership attractive for economic reasons, or simply as a sort of Stockholm Syndrome after so many decades under the Soviet thumb. In the long run, however, Putin's call for the breakaway republics to willingly return to Russian domination will prove as anachronistic as calls for the restoration of the monarchy after the end of the USSR.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 8, 2005 9:17 AM

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