The collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago brought freedom to millions of people. But Kremlin chief Putin speaks of a “tragedy”. Is he planning a rebirth of the great power?
Moscow – Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin mourns the lost great power status shortly before the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the superstate Soviet Union.
Russia lost 40 percent of its historical territory at the time, he complains in a new documentary on Russian state television. On December 25, the Soviet flag was hoisted at the Kremlin. President Mikhail Gorbachev resigned after failed attempts at reform. December 26, 1991 is officially considered the end of the Soviet Union, the first communist state to exist for around 70 years.
Putin calls the end a “tragedy”
69-year-old Putin speaks of a “tragedy” on the anniversary of the TV documentary. “A large part of what we have achieved in 1,000 years was lost,” he says, referring to the Russian empire, from which the Soviet Union and its 15 republics emerged five years later after the October Revolution of 1917.
The Kremlin chief says that Russia, as a superpower in raw materials, threatened to collapse after the end of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). But in his more than 20 years in power, Putin has not only done everything to hold together the largest country in the world in terms of area. He also massively restricted the freedoms gained under Gorbachev.
A poll by the state polling institute Wziom on the 30th anniversary of the end of the USSR shows that people remember above all social security, stability and the great power status under communism. The dark sides, however – such as the shortage economy with empty shelves and long queues as well as political persecution – are forgotten by many.
Putin once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”. Especially since the annexation of the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014, he has been suspected of wanting to restore the old empire. The US foreign affairs politician Victoria Nuland recently said at a Senate hearing in Washington that there were fears that Putin’s legacy might try to “rebuild the Soviet Union”.
Nuland mainly referred to the Russian troop deployment near the Ukrainian border. For months, the US and NATO have been accusing Russia of planning an attack on Ukraine. Moscow definitely rejects this. But the West is generally concerned about developments in the post-Soviet space – including the situation in Belarus. There the crisis surrounding the ruler Alexander Lukashenko has not been resolved. The sanctions of the West are driving the ex-Soviet republic into the arms of Russia.
Despite the increasing economic and financial dependence on Russia, Lukashenko emphasizes that Belarus will remain independent. But a union state of both countries, which for a long time only existed on paper, is increasingly taking shape. According to Lukashenko, it was about two independent states that existed on a common economic basis, had a foreign and defense policy and “in fact a single army”. Some in Belarus fear that Russia might soon swallow Belarus.
The Russian-Belarusian union state is only one project in Putin’s kit. For years the Kremlin boss has been trying to fill the Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Union with life. Several former Soviet republics are members there – as well as in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) founded after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Real content or even competition for the EU is not in sight here.
Russia criticizes Kiev’s plans
Moscow likes to emphasize that no one intends to rebuild a Soviet Union. At the same time, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrej Rudenko accuses the West of wanting to disrupt integration processes in the territory of the former Soviet Union. There is a “striving of the West to transform the post-Soviet area into a zone of constant conflict and tension”. For example, Russia is bothered by efforts in the ex-Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine to join the EU and NATO.
On the 30th anniversary of the end of the Soviet Union, there are plenty of conferences and publications on the causes and aftermath of the collapse of the empire. The encrusted planned economy and a lack of economic reforms, low oil and gas prices and high military spending had ruined the country. The reformer Gorbachev tried to preserve the country with his policy of perestroika (transformation). But the Nobel Peace Prize laureate had to watch as one republic after the other declared independence after the Baltic states.
“The results of perestroika cannot be reduced to the collapse of the Soviet Union,” he said shortly before the anniversary of the Russian news agency Interfax. Many problems have built up over the decades. “We only reacted late. This was associated with economic difficulties.”
Putin is fighting for great power status
Under Putin, Russia has been fighting for the status of a great power for years. But critics see the Kremlin chief too caught up in the past – and unwilling to face major future tasks such as protecting the climate. The raw material power continues to rely primarily on income from the sale of oil, gas and coal. The British expert Barry Buzan writes in an article for the Moscow magazine “Russia in Global Politics” that the country has failed to renew itself.
Russia is economically weak compared to its large neighbor China – and today, as in the past, it can only defend its status as a highly armed nuclear power, says Buzan. The gigantic empire has “significant potential” as an aggressor, for example in the cyber world, but no longer has any economic and ideological instruments of influence. That, recommends Buzan, should give the country some thought three decades after the end of the Soviet Union.
Copyright 2021, dpa (www.dpa.de). All rights reserved