Thursday, December 12, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Imperial Integration Plans are ‘Insanity,’ Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 12 – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans to re-integrate the former Soviet space not only will fail because integration presupposes “a unity of culture, economics and culture rather than seeking to seize the most territory” but will undermine the possibilities for Russia’s own development, according to Vladislav Inozemtsev.

            In an article in today’s “Vedomosti,” the economist and director of the Center for Research on Post-Industrial Society, says that most discussions of immigration in Russia fail to consider the political subtext which informs the Kremlin’s support for increased immigration (

            “Today,” he writes, “the foreign policy of Russia is set by Vladimir Putin, and he is firmly convinced on the one hand that ‘the disintegration of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century’ and on the other that ‘the Soviet Union was Russia only calling itself by another name.’”

            These ideas underlie Putin’s efforts to promote a Customs Union and Eurasian Economic Community, Inozemtsev says, and they also help to explain why he welcomes the influx of workers from those countries into the Russian Federation, apparently believing that their arrival will help re-link these countries together.

            That last part of “’the Putin plan’” is being “successfully realized.”  In the mid-1990s, up to 65 percent of gastarbeiters in Russia came from Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, but now “more than 60 percent come from Central Asian states – and their share will grow” if Moscow moves against Ukraine and its rapprochement with Europe.

            More generally, Inozemtsev says, the Putin plan has led to the growth in the number of gastarbeiters from the former Soviet republics from 2-2.5 million a decade ago to 12-13 million now. This trend, he continues, is being treated increasingly skeptically even in Minsk and Astana, and he asks “why is this so?”

            The reason, he says, is found in changes in the world which “the Russian political elite does not want or cannot take into consideration.”  Empires no longer work, and “global leadership in the 20th century was seized by a country which launched the anti-imperial movement ... but became at the start of the 20th century the most multi-cultural society in human history.”

            Moreover, and in parallel with this shift, was another. In the 19th century, “the basic migration flow was directed from the center to the periphery” and thus helped spread the metropolitan culture to the rest.  With the collapse of empires and globalization, the flow has been reversed: “the periphery has become more mobile than the metropolitan center.”

            And that in turn means, Inozemtsev argues, that “integration into the developed world has been transformed from a collective process into an individual one.”

            With this shift, “the periphery began to degrade because it is much simpler to leave from an increasingly poor country than to try to change it.” And the former metropolitan centers, “by becoming magnets” for the people of these countries, “have lost the chance to restore political dominance over them.”

            Most world leaders understand this, but Moscow is clearly an exception.  “Anyone who visits the Kremlin is infected by the virus of imperial thinking, but it is impossible nonetheless not to see that empires in their traditional form in our time do not exist and cannot exist,” however much some might like it.

            According to Inozemtsev, from this it follows that “to open the doors to migrants from peripheral countries will not restore the empire but destroy the metropolitan center,” as has often happened in the past. And that is true even if Putin “does not want to see” that “integration is different from expansion.”

            The Kremlin leaders “’imperial integration’ is obvious nonsense,” the economist continues. The Union established by the Treaty of Rome is different from the empire built by Rome two thousand years ago.” Integration now “presupposes a unity of culture, economics and values and not the seizing the largest possible territory.”

                It should be clear, he argues, that “immigration from the countries of the eastern and southern parts of the post-Soviet space will not be able to solve any of the problems confronting Russia.”  Unfortunately, Putin and his regime do not understand this, although ever more Russians do.

            “Not understanding the difference between the construction of an empire and free integration, not being able to modernize the country by means of increasing economic effectiveness and fearing the loss of support from the Europeanizing middle class of the major cities, this group is now prepared to sacrifice the country in order to remain in power.”

            Once that is recognized, Inozemtsev concludes, it becomes obvious that it is Putin and his regime “rather than the unhappy exiles from the Central Asian republics who overwhelmingly are simply trying to lift themselves out of poverty, which is responsible for the intensification of the problems of [Russia].”

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