In addition to encouraging "alliances of modernization" with the United States and the European Union, the document also presages a fairly assertive Russian foreign policy in the former Soviet space. Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the influential "Russia In Global Affairs," noted this in a recent commentary published in "The Moscow Times":
So what is going on here? Moscow is seeking to forge closer ties with the West while at the same time extending its influence in places like Ukraine, Georgia, and the Baltic states. Is the West -- and particularly the United States -- on board with this?
Writing in Gazeta.ru, political analyst Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center seems to think so. A key signal, Ryabov writes, was the mute response from the United States following Moscow's recent agreements with Ukraine:
Ryabov argues that the Kremlin is hoping to use the changing geopolitical environment to do two things: secure the long-term stability of the existing political status quo in Russia and then spread that model of "managed democracy" as much as possible in the former Soviet area:
He compares the situation with the way the United States and Great Britain dealt with the petrol states of the Middle East in the 1970s and 1980s:
If we use historic parallels, which are always conditional...this situation is somewhat similar to agreements in the 1960s and 1970s between the U.S. and Great Britain, on one hand, and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, on the other. In exchange for reliable deliveries of oil to the West and firm opposition to attempts at Soviet political and ideological penetration into this strategically important region of the world, the Arab sheiks received cart blanche to retain their medieval domestic political orders.
Ryabov also sees the Kharkiv agreements as a model for the future spread of Russian influence:
The U.S. administration, from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on down have persistently argued that they would never agree to granting Moscow an exclusive sphere of influence in the former Soviet space.
But the arrangement Ryabov describes (and I consider him to be one of the smartest political analysts in Moscow), looks a lot like a budding de facto sphere of influence to me. The question is less whether the West will give the green light and more whether Russia can pull this off.
The strengthening of a pro-Moscow "managed democracy" certainly appears to be what is happening in Ukraine since Viktor Yanukovych came to power. Questions remain, however, whether Ukrainian society -- roughly half of which wants to see the country integrated into the West -- will tolerate it indefinitely.
And Georgia, where anti-Moscow sentiments run high in both the elite and in society, will be even less likely to tolerate such an arrangement (even as President Mikhail Saakashvili and his inner circle appear to be moving closer and closer to their own form of managed democracy every day).
Elsewhere, countries like Armenia and Azerbaijan -- both managed democracies -- have throughout the post-Soviet period sought to position themselves squarely between Moscow and Washington, and will likely continue to do so.
As assertive as Russia becomes in its neighborhood, the West will always be there as an alternative. And even as the high intensity struggle for influence that characterized the past decade in places like Ukraine and Georgia recedes with the reset, it will likely be replaced by a more low-intensity competition.
And as Ryabov points out, the model that Russia is hoping to spread in the region as the source of its dominance is inherently unstable:
I'll be traveling to Georgia next week and, among other things, plan to blog from there about how these issues look from Tbilisi's perspective. Stay tuned.
-- Brian Whitmore