March 25, 2005

Sphere of Imagination

The Russian sphere of influence has suffered another blow. With each of the pro-democracy revolutions in former Soviet republics, these countries turn to the West for emulation and support. It is happening again in Kyrgyzstan.

Some of my readers and fellow bloggers might think this is a bad thing. (At least they have in the past.) I don't think it is. It may create tensions between Moscow and Washington, but at the end of the day, Moscow needs Washington a whole lot more than Washington needs Moscow. United States ranks 1st by the volume of accumulated foreign direct investments into the Russian economy.

Russia needs to realise that it is not a world power. During the waning years of the Cold War, the West had a hard time realising that the emperor (or the General Secretary) had no clothes. Even though the Russian Federation (meaning Russia and the 20 other "republics" which it controls, some willingly and others by force) covers ⅛ of the planet's land mass and is the 7th most populous country, its economy in 2000 was 16th in the world. This put it between the Netherlands and Argentina. Way behind South Korea and Mexico.

They may be angry that the Ukraine and Georgia have turned their backs, but honestly, what do the Russians have to offer? Why would Kyrgyzstan want to overthrow a Moscow-supported former Communist and still look to its former overlords as principal allies? It does not even have a border with Russia. Not even close. From Bishkek, located in the far north of the country, the closest major Russian city is 839 miles away.

The idea that there are Eastern and Western spheres of influence is fading fast. This does not mean that an imperial America is running the world. For example, the pro-American new president of the Ukraine is withdrawing troops from Iraq. These are not puppet regimes.

There are always going to be those who want avoid democracy, whether they are relics of Communism, military dictatorships, or neo-Islamists. But more and more of the world is realising that they can choose how and by whom they will be governed. Kyrgyzstan may be the key that unlocks democracy in the other Central Asia republics. All of them have had rigged elections and each is ruled by a strongman with a fondness for nepotism. Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan, Rahmonov in Tajikistan, Niyazov in Turkmenistan, and Karimov in Uzbekistan will all be longing over their shoulders.

Posted by david at March 25, 2005 11:30 AM