Thursday, 17 April 2014


I've just been reading Yegor Gaidar's book about the last days of the Soviet Union, Collapse of an Empire. Gaidar is discussing why the break-up of the USSR was so much less bloody than the simultaneous dissolution of Yugoslavia.  He believes it was down to the presence of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Secondly, Boris Yeltsin, whatever his other faults, was no Slobodan Milosevic and was careful not to use "Great Russian" nationalist rhetoric to boost his popularity. However, some lesser Russian politicians of the time were less restrained:
The threat that events would unfold in the post-Soviet space as they had in Yugoslavia was real. On August 26, 1991, Pavel Voshchanov , the press secretary to the Russian president, warned that the borders of Russia and the republics (excluding Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) could be “reevaluated” if they did not sign a Union agreement. The statement suggested Russian pretensions to territory in northern Kazakhstan, Crimea, and part of left-bank Ukraine. Voshchanov’s words elicited an angry response from the leaders of Kazakhstan and Ukraine: they saw it as blackmail. Moscow mayor Gavriil Popov made even greater territorial claims on Ukraine on August 27 and 28, 1991. They extended beyond Crimea and part of the left bank to Odessa and the Transdniestr.
These forgotten speeches have a worryingly familiar ring. In his televised Q & A today Putin mentioned "Novorossiya" and talked of Russia being unjustly deprived of its share of strategic Black Sea coastline. Landlocking Ukraine would also handicap the state economically and allow Russia to link up with Transnistria.

Maybe Gaidar was over-optimistic and Russia has indeed found its own Milosevic after a twenty year period of grace. Ominously, Kyiv no longer has nuclear weapons to make Putin think twice about indulging in Greater Russian pretentions.

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