Talking about Russian imperialism
Miguel Angel Velasco cmf
Master in Development S. and Diplomacy. UNITAR
In these days of May, I am attending the I Review Forum of the Global Agreement on Migration adopted in Marakech (13 July 2018). Among the delegations present is rightfully the delegation of the Russian Federation. As of today, Wednesday, its interventions have surprised me because it has accused the European Union and the United States of Neocolonialism. I was not surprised by the accusation, which in some respects is reasonable; what surprised me was that it came precisely from the Russian Federation. It would be necessary to lead by example, and, of course, this is not the case in the Russian Federation, not by far.
The UN-New York. Trusteeship Council Hall
Let’s make a little history and examine some maps of this twentieth century; it is unnecessary to go further back for a small opinion article; although we all know the long and complex formation of the nation-states we now know in Europe. The borders have changed a lot, especially in the central part of Europe; the Great Central European Plain, without clear geographical boundaries, except for the Rhine and Danube rivers, has been one of the leading causes. Germany had to wait for Chancellor Bismark to unite the diversity of territories that had been independent for centuries. Without defined boundaries to the east and West, Poland came to disappear as a political unit. Russia, always in fear of being conquered, tried to keep Moscow as far away as possible from the independent states of western Europe. But, let us return to the 20th century.
In map one, we can see the configuration of Europe before the Great War or the First World War (1914 – 1918). There are present in the European territory: the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the German Empire (1871), unified Italy (1870), and France and England with their empires outside Europe. It is a Europe full of empires on the verge of disappearing after the two World Wars, but not all of them disappeared.
The First World War and the Russian Revolution of 1917 reorganized the map of Europe, dismembering the Austro-Hungary and Ottoman Empires. The Russian Empire lost part of its western territories; Germany was reconfigured and cut back. The negotiations of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) created the League of Nations and redistributed the territories of Europe belonging to the former empires; something similar was done with the possessions of these empires outside Europe. The big winners were France and England, which took great care to ensure and enhance their presence inside and outside Europe. In the map of Europe resulting from the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles, we see that most of the nation-states we know today are present, although some borders are not the same.
The Second World War will bring about a new redistribution of European borders and, moreover, the disappearance of the French and English Empires. A particular body of the United Nations, the “Trusteeship Council,” will accompany the process of the birth of the new nation-states. A decolonization process was carried out very reluctantly by the two metropolises and primarily driven by the United States. But something else has changed in Europe: what Winston Churchill called the “Iron Curtain” has appeared. While England and, above all, the United States sought the creation of democratic and independent countries in their “zone of influence,” the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics created “dominated satellite republics.”
The Soviet Union managed to extend its borders even beyond the borders of the Russian Empire during the time of the Tsars, before World War I. The Potsdam negotiations and the Potsdam Agreements were the results of this process. The Potsdam negotiations and agreements, which concluded the partition after World War II, created two zones of influence: Eastern and Western Europe. In Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union recreated the Russian Empire; in Western Europe, the history of democratic nation-states began again. It was the beginning of an era known as the “Cold War” which ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union exercised its role as a classic empire in Europe and Central Asia; but it also exercised its economic, military, and atomic power worldwide. The fall of the Berlin Wall filled with hope for the countries of the West, the citizens of the extinct USSR, and the countries dominated, until then, by the USSR Empire. In reality, what happened after 1989, with the decomposition of the USSR and the birth of independent states in Europe and Central Asia, is very similar to what happened at the end of the two world wars with the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, German, French and English Empires. The only one that managed to pull itself together until 1989 was the Russian Empire. The desire for independence and freedom of some countries that sought to recover, at least, the status achieved after the First World War. After what the peoples of these countries have experienced, it is not surprising that, on the one hand, they seek a protective rapprochement with the European West (EU) and fear the reactions of the “bear” that represents the Russian Federation.
The current leaders of the Russian Federation, with cynicism and hypocrisy, dare to criticize Western Imperialism, while Vladimir Putin is trying to rebuild an empire in the “old style”. But without renouncing to go ahead with the attempt of indirect world domination through, as in the times of the USSR, nuclear weapons, arms sales, and the dispatch of “advisors”. Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation is trying to rebuild the Empire in the traditional way, without ceasing to exercise with force the Neocolonialism of which it accuses the European Union and the United States.
By this, I do not mean that Western Neocolonialism, especially in the case of some powers, is not a reality or, at least, a constant temptation. On the contrary, what I find unacceptable is that Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation accuses others of imperialism when it is exercising it in all the possible meanings of the expression Empire. I wonder what Vladimir Putin would say if, in these years, Austria, Turkey or Poland had started the “conquest” of territories that belonged to their empires, with the idea of better defending their capitals and the “heart” of their nation-states.
Let the configuration, better or worse, of nation-states, give the configuration, in freedom, of zones of collaboration, of confederations or federations. It is not the time to rebuild empires, much less at the cost of massacres, but to build supranational spaces of collaboration.
Miguel Ángel Velasco cmf