Thursday, February 25, 2016

Kremlin Views Border Regions as ‘Source of Invented Threats, not Resource for Development,’ Makarychev Says

Paul Goble
Staunton, February 25 – Andrey Makarychev, a Russian specialist on international affairs now teaching at the University of Tartu in Estonia, says that one of the major problems for Russia is that the Kremlin views the border regions of the country “as a source of invented threats” to its rule “rather than as a resource for development.”

He tells the Karelian portal today that such a perspective limits Russia’s ability to modernize but limiting modernization is exactly what the Kremlin wants. As Vladimir Putin says, “Russia will not exchange sovereignty even for a higher quality of life” (

What the Russian leadership does not understand, Makarychev continues, is that “borders are not going away but changing. Gradually and painfully borders of national jurisdictions are withering away. But other borders connected with identity, ethnicity, religion and economics are reforming.”

“Some of the Russian regions are trying to find in this new world flexible and soft borders,” the Tartu scholar says, as when for example “at a symbolic level when they associate themselves with Finno-Ugric, Islamic or Turkic worlds.”  Russia can only benefit from this, but the Kremlin is afraid of that trend.

Despite that, Makarychev says, the study of borders in Russia and neighboring countries has intensified “especially after Crimea and ‘Novorossiya.’ For Estonia, both these tragic developments are viewed as important warnings of concern not only for Ukraine but for all of Europe.”

But if research is up, progress in promoting transborder arrangements between Russia and its neighbors has slowed or even reversed, he suggests. There is no discussion any more about Kaliningrad, little effort on the Russian side about promoting Narva-Ivangorod cooperation, and Estonia’s relations with Pskov oblast are extremely problematic.

Moscow’s shift in focus to the Far East and Asia, Makarychev continues, is unlikelyto give anything “geopolitically or economically” to the country. And whether the current powers that be in Russia admit it or not, “Europe, including its northern segment, constantly will be one of the key regions for Russia.”

The problem there, he says, is that “Moscow views the neighboring Nordic countries through the prism of military strategy without understanding that, for example, debates about the potential membership in NATO of Finland and Sweden have been provoked by Russia’s policies toward Ukraine.”

“Under those conditions, there is hardly likely to be progress.” That applies to Karelia as well, a region special less geopolitically than geo-culturally.  But that remains a figure of speech given that Karelia is not able to achieve raise its status via either of the two ways others have – Chechnya by the threat of force and Tatarstan by its resources (both economic and ethno-cultural).

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