Moscow and Political Change in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan 2003-2005

Military intervention

To the respective political change has occurred in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan between 2003 and 2005, Moscow reacted differently from how it did in other instances of such change in 1953, 1956 and 1968. As with Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, East Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia experienced political change that was deemed unacceptable by Moscow; however, in those cases military force was used to prevent political change. In considerable contrast to 1989, when several states experienced political change, Moscow was silent.

            Putin himself may realise that the only way to prevent political change happening is by developing a new sort of Brezhnev Doctrine, whereby Russia is hegemonic towards the post-Soviet states. This attitude had characterised the relationship of Russia with those unfortunate states whose sovereignty was thus qualified.[1] The post-Soviet states could act as they wished but their ability to experience political change would be constrained by Russia’s military forces. Putin’s response has not been the threat or use of force towards Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, however this neo-Brezhnev doctrine would have prevented political change happening in them. 

            Pre-emptive strikes beyond Russia’s territorial borders have been discussed in the aftermath of Beslan;[2] however, none have been carried out. The difficulty with such action is that there would have to be some sort of agreement with other great powers such as China and the U.S.A. so that they would not be offended by such a doctrine. Although this strategy may create the stability that Putin craves, it might actually transpire that there might be a two-pronged conflict within the state where Russia has intervened and the other with one, or many, of the other great powers. It seems unlikely that the U.S.A. would not respond to the use of force on a lesser power that is experiencing political change. Equally, it would be useful for Russia to ally with another great power in order to claim that the decision to intervene was multi-lateral. In this regard, Richard Spencer has suggested that recent war games with China have been played out to practise a common approach to prevent political change within the post-Soviet states. [3]

            Another tactic to prevent political change would be to join forces with other post-Soviet states that fear the idea of such developments taking place within their own borders or of those other such similar states. Possibly even those states which have undergone political change may now wish to retain power and seek to join such an alliance.

            A more extreme idea would be for Russia to extend its territory beyond its borders in order to prevent political change within them. ‘Putin’s law’ could thus be  implemented in order to prevent this happening. This would have to be achieved by negotiation or indeed pre-emptive occupation. In other words, Putin ought to stop saying “[w]e cannot go back to the Russian Empire. Only an idiot can imagine we’re striving for that”.[4] Here one feels that Putin perhaps ought to follow the idiot’s advice and actually strive to thus put the clock back in order to prevent political change.

            The problem, as Tsygankov points out, is that “the more susceptible Russia becomes to the arguments of [Aleksandr] Dugin and other expansionists, the more likely it will face a confrontation with the West”.[5] In a similar vein, Vladimir Shlapentokh has remarked that “the Ukrainian events confirmed Putin, despite his rhetoric, always retreats from any serious action that might jeopardize his relations with the West and particularly the United States”.[6] However, if it could be explained to the other great powers that it was in their interest, then it would be possible to achieve this more brutal course of action.

[1] Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society-A study of Order in World Politics, third edition (Houndmills, Palgrave, 2002), p 209.

[2] Pavel K. Baev, “Russia Insists Upon Preventive Strikes: The Possible Options” RUSI Newsbrief, vol. 24, no.10 (October 2004), pp 112-4

[3] Richard Spencer, “Former red armies in war games challenge to America”, The Daily Telegraph (19/08/2005).

[4] Jonathan Steele, “Putin still bitter over orange revolution”, The Guardian (6 September 2005).

[5] Tsygankov, “Mastering space in Eurasia: Russia’s geopolitical thinking after the Soviet break-up”, p 125.

[6]  Vladimir Shlapentokh, “Two simplified pictures of Putin’s Russia, both wrong”, p 69.