LETTER FROM THE STEPPE
Russiaâ€™s will-be and would-be powers: out of Central Asia
By CHARLES VAN DER LEEUWÂ (TCA)
ALMATY -- Will Central Asia face attempts by the continuation of the powers-that-used-to-be in the Russian Federation? Such have been rather void-looking speculations filtered by mass media in the west following Russiaâ€™s little-surprising presidential polls, bringing Vladimir Putin back into his Kremlin armchair. The answer is likely to be that Russiaâ€™s policy towards its former partner republics to the south is going to stay the way it has been ever since the break-up of the USSR: a mix between concern and sheer indifference.
Winning an election with close to 64 per cent of the votes looks a lot better than the 97 per cent pocketed shortly before by Putinâ€™s Turkmen peer. Authorising opposition protests in the aftermath of the election, with confrontations with law and order forces limited to skirmishes of almost European civilisation levels looks even better â€“ certainly in comparison to the slaughters seen on similar occasions deeper into Asia.
It is true that Russia and its former fellow-members of the proletarian brotherhood of nations have certain things in common. One of those things appears to lie at the very bottom of the post-election unrest rippling through Russia. â€śThe main accusation made by the general public against the ruling party and other parliamentary parties is that no such mechanisms have been set in place over the past 20 years,â€ť a comment by RosBusinessConsultingâ€™s newswire in the aftermath of the polls reads. â€śThe ruling party has been in political isolation since the late 1990s, while parliamentary opposition parties have been forced to claim the position of the second ruling party, which was a lost cause right from the start. The roots of such a deplorable situation of the parliamentary opposition parties lie in the excessive personification of their leadership.â€ť
When Lenin came to power in late 1917 it was less due to the shoot-outs through which he made his way to the Winter Palace than due to a slogan with which he could just as easily have done it through more peaceful polls, which consisted of two straightforward words: bread and peace. In the midst of continuing warfare and famine, this and little else is what people wanted. Personality cults dominating the Red Lords from the beginning were taken for granted in the process.
In pretty much the same manner, Putinâ€™s â€śstabilisingâ€ť regime put an end to the wild times under his predecessor â€“ much to the relief of the general public. â€śRussians in the 2000s entered into an unspoken agreement with the Kremlin to exchange active engagement in shaping the countryâ€™ political agenda for material comforts,â€ť a background article by RIA Novosti following the elections reads â€“ to continue further below: â€śAfter the frequently inebriated Yeltsin, the inauguration of the teetotaler, straight-speaking Putin as president in May 2000 was welcomed by the vast majority of Russians. Putin was also lauded at home for returning a sense of national pride to a former superpower traumatized by Yeltsin-era poverty and impotence in the international arena. His ratings soaring, Putin faced almost no opposition when he successfully ran for re-election in 2004, with the leaders of major opposition parties all deciding a challenge was senseless. Putin was re-elected with a landslide, gaining almost 72 percent of the vote.â€ť
It looks as though the pendulum has slowed down at present. And the big question remains: will the pendulum swing?
In that case, Central Asian republics with their similar, even more conceited personality cults in political echelons have the tough choice between following pace or being left on their own â€“ except in cases where there are minerals to exploit in which Russiaâ€™s attitude has never been much different from that displayed by western multinationals to begin with.