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WASHINGTON – A comment by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Russia was attempting to “re-Sovietize” the regional countries into a Russian-initiated customs-free Eurasian Union must have hit a nerve, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
In comments before the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, in early December, Clinton said that the Russian establishment of a Eurasian Union was a masked effort to regain Moscow’s control over the former Soviet Republics and that the United States will be looking at ways to slow down that process, or prevent it.
Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly reacted “caustically” to Clinton’s comments. He said that these former Soviet republics share commonalities such as language and an interconnected transportation and energy infrastructure, making such integration a natural follow up.
Putin equated his efforts toward the countries principally in Central Asia with the economic and political integration that is under way among countries of the European Union.
Clinton’s comments also prompted criticism from the Russian Duma, or parliament, Speaker Sergei Naryshkin said that Clinton’s comments were unacceptable and constituted U.S. interference in the Eurasian integration process.
He accused Clinton of attempting to maintain what he called a U.S.-dominated unipolar world, considering that the Eurasian Union could become a major global power.
Analysts see a further Russian motive of developing this union in an effort to lessen the U.S. role in the region.
The Eurasian Union, in fact, is Putin’s initiative to unite certain countries in Europe with those in the Central Asian region, with the idea of even further expansion later. For years, the U.S. has sought to extend its influence in the region.
Such an effort initially was permitted under then-Russian President Boris Yeltsen. After Putin succeeded him, however, the U.S. initiative began to falter, due to his warning that the region constituted Russia’s sphere of influence.
However, he backed away somewhat when the U.S. entered Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, which also constitutes a potential threat to Russia due to its close association with Islamist militants in the Muslim-dominated North Caucasus region of southern Russia.
U.S. officials have claimed that Putin, a former member of the then-Soviet KGB intelligence service, has designs to create a post-Soviet union that approximates what constituted the Soviet Union itself.
It would help consolidate Moscow’s leadership position with those countries which would constitute such a post-Soviet union, since it would take advantage of a Soviet-era common transportation and energy infrastructure which would have the effect of magnifying economic and political dependence on Russia, according to Dumitru Minzarari of the think-tank Jamestown Foundation.
“In the developing economies of the CIS countries,” Minzarari said, “natural gas plays the role of a public good with pronounced social welfare effects. When delivered at low prices – as Russia is willing to offer in exchange for often painful concessions from its importers – natural gas has the potential to significantly affect the political capital of the national leaders.”
He pointed out that Russia also represents a huge market with lower standards for produced goods, making them more accessible in these post-Soviet countries.
“With so much economic and political influence, Russia will then be able to promote its preferred candidates in national elections along its periphery – and will basically own the national governments,” Minzarari said. “Such an outcome would also trigger a diffusion into neighboring countries of Russia’s political system, which is a form of ‘smart authoritarianism’ mimicking democratic institutions and processes.”
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