The 2nd Kadir Has University International Relations Conference on The Post-Soviet Space after 25 years of Independence: Understanding Political and Systemic Dynamics and Risks
The 2nd Kadir Has University International Relations Conference
The Post-Soviet Space after 25 years of Independence: Understanding Political and Systemic Dynamics and Risks
Istanbul, 13-14 October 2016
"Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and co-patriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself."
President Vladimir Putin,
Annual Address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, 25 April 2015
“I do not need to tell you that our relations today are much worse than they were a decade ago. Indeed, they are probably the worst they have been since before the end of the Cold War. Mutual trust has been dissipated on both sides. Confrontation has replaced cooperation.”
Primakov Lecture at the Gorchakov Fund in Moscow, 4 February 2016
In 1991, the world as we knew it at that time radically changed. Through a series of fatal blows in the form of declarations of independence by successive Soviet Republics, in part as a result of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika policy which he rapidly lost control of, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. In its wake, fifteen newly independent states emerged with the Russian Federation, a nevertheless huge rump Soviet Union, coming to terms with the realities of the new world order, and the challenges of governance and globalization.
Twenty-five years on, the legacy of this post-Cold War, post-Soviet order is mitigated at best. Though we are living in the era of ‘a World Transformed’ -to use the title of the book by George H. Bush and Brent Scowcroft - or more correctly a world in transformation, the causes of the fall of the Soviet Union still reverberate today.
The twin impact of engagement and interdependence in the form of globalization with the confluence of democracy, human rights, and the attraction of the European welfare state model contributed substantially to its demise. Yet, a quarter century later, democracy or the process of democratization is in retreat in large swaths of the post-Soviet space, with Russia leading the field, possessing governance models that are more authoritarian than democratic. According to Lilia Shevtsova, the authoritarian resurgence in Russia has come with “the return of an anti-Western and revanchist Russia to the global”. A cursory look at the Freedom House ‘Freedom of the World 2016’ index, most countries in the post-Soviet space are not considered to be free or are partly free at best, except for the three Baltic States. According to the World Bank’s annual survey on the ease of doing business and Transparency International’s annual corruption perception index, the post-Soviet states do not fare well either, although the ones with greater interaction with the European Union are on average ranked higher than the rest of their peers.
The post-Soviet space today also represents a major quandary for international politics given its geographic vastness as it is simultaneously European, Asian, and Middle Eastern. The fifteen former Soviet republics are a disparate and diverse group of states, with varied income levels, different ethnic and religious compositions, and contradictory attitudes toward their Soviet past and toward contemporary Russia. Their worldview is in part shaped by the Russian Federation’s perception of the post-Soviet space as a “zone of privileged interests” or its “Near Abroad”, which the West, in particular, as well as other powers such as China are not ready to recognize Moscow’s exclusivity claims over it.
The politics of energy and energy security, too, in part shape western attitudes as do security considerations. The United States’ and China’s different Silk Road visions imply widely different political interests as well as major investment projects in the post-Soviet Central Asia.
This international conference aimed to explore the domestic political dynamics; the energy dimension in the post-Soviet geography; the security context in particular with regard to Russia’s relations with the West; and how Russia’s neighbors perceive the emerging post-Soviet space. The objective thus was to assess the developments and changes of the last 25 years and explore what the future holds for this vast geography over the next 25 years.
Press Coverage of the Event