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Transition to the Nation States


The USSR was an unusual empire: in its policies toward the non-Russian republics the emphasis was on socioeconomic and cultural development rather than crude exploitation of the resources and populations of the ethnic fringes. In the postwar period ethnic elites evolved into organized groups with their own identity and interests. They became the prime movers of the Soviet disintegration.  

Mikhail Saakashvili

The period from 1991 to 2005 may be interpreted as the transition from empire to new nation states. During that period Russia used its traditional "imperial" approach in dealing with the former sister republics. It supported the economies of its former "colonies" in return for political loyalty and hopes of reintegration.

However, during the transitional period national identity in the new states was being formed on the principle "we are not them" (i.e., not Russia or Russians) and on distancing from the former imperial centre. The process of nation building in the republics soon brought to the fore pro-Western and nationalist forces. Leaders of the new generation of politicians, such as Mikhail Saakashvili in Georgia or Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine, used nationalism and Western support to stage "orange revolutions" and to remove from power "pro-Russian" clans.

Viktor Yushchenko

The generation change has affected Russia's own attitude toward these countries. Putin's generation of Russian politicians is less sentimental about Soviet "shared legacy." The emphasis now is on promoting Russia's economic interests. Subsidies and barter in relations with the former union republics are replaced by market relations. Under Putin, the relations between Russia and its former sister republics are being gradually transformed into normal ties between nation states. 

As Russia emerges from the shadows of its imperial predecessor it is learning to keep in check its "neo-imperialist" instincts as it moves into the "post-imperial" stage in its relations with the new independent states. Russia has sufficient resources to compete successfully for the influence in the near abroad with other global players, such the United States, European Union, and China. Ultimately, Russia's successful modernization will be the most reliable basis for its continued economic and cultural influence in the region.   

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Post-Soviet Geopolitics

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