A lot of experts believe that Russia may exist only as an empire
The USSR collapsed 13 years ago and gave way to the Commonwealth of Independent States. Russia's relations with republics of the former Soviet Union are becoming more complicated. Russia is at cold war with Georgia, not to mention the current situation with Ukraine, as Russia tries to impose a president of its own there. The Kremlin officials consider the former Soviet republics “the zone of special interests,” whereas they do not seem to be concerned about the republics. Should Russia participate in the political life of its geographic and historic neighbors? Should this influence be imperial?
Anatoly Chubais, the notorious Russian reformer, the current head of the energy giant RAO UES of Russia, is certain that Russia must become a liberal empire. The liberal empire does not imply conquering any other states, breaking territorial integrity principles or interfering into political matters of other countries. Anatoly Chubais believes that Russia, as a liberal empire, could expand its business in foreign states. Russia would also support democratic freedoms within the framework of the liberal empire and assist in the development of the Russian language and culture.
Some experts believe that Russia is still an empire. If Russia's collapse continues, it would turn the country into the conglomerate of spaces in geopolitical terms. “Russia can't be a medieval geopolitical empire, it should be the empire of the XXI century, the type of power that the USA is currently exercising,” Alexander Prokhanov, editor-in-chief of the Zavtra newspaper believes.
Film director Nikita Mikhalkov is sure that Russia should participate in all important events happening in the world, especially when it comes to border territories, Georgia and Ukraine, for example. “We do not have a right to restrict their independence. The imperial ambition should not be mixed up with the active foreign policy,” Mikhalkov said.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal and Democratic Party of Russia does not even question the importance of Russia's imperialism: “Russia can be only an empire in terms of the state structure and its territorial administration. One should introduce a new notion for the country – a 'democratic empire.' Russia is a giant country that occupies two continents. It needs the imperial administration style regardless of the regime – whether it is the tsarist, the Soviet or the new democratic regime. Russia's territory, its history and its nations dictate this issue. Russia will continue collapsing within the scope of the democratic republic. The empire will help the country keep its territory and guarantee hundreds of years of existence to it. A parliamentary republic would be best, of course, it can be good only for a small country with mild climate, like in Europe.”
Yuri Jibladze, the president of the center for development of democracy and human rights believes that all empires crash sooner or later. “Empires fall apart and make people suffer. It would be enough to recollect what happened in USSR-controlled territories – Mozambique or Angola, for example. Armed clashes occurred everywhere. One may say that the British empire brought only good to its colonies, although the people, who lived in those countries, would disagree.”
The Russian-speaking population in other states had to face a lot of problems after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Russia, however, can be considered an empire on account of its dominating geopolitical position in Eurasia. That is why the West will continue exerting its destructive influence on Russia. Russia was developing and growing when it was conquering other territories. Needless to say that it would be absurd for Russia to raise claims to Finland or Poland nowadays just because of the fact that they used to be a part of the empire. Russia does not have the influence it used to have before. That is why a lot of experts think that retrieving the Russian empire makes no sense.
The West has been blaming Russia for the imperial policy on the territory of the former Soviet Union. Russian people, however, do not pay any attention to those accusations, opinion polls say. A group of researchers conducted a poll in October of 2004. It became known as a result of the poll that only seven percent of Russians agreed upon the saying that Russia was running imperial policy in foreign countries, threatening other states' sovereignty. The vast majority of Russians are certain that Russia's role on the post-Soviet space in positive. Over 40 percent of Russian citizens think that Russia maintains law and order on the territory of the former USSR without interfering into other states' internal affairs.
The poll was conducted during the pre-election campaign in Ukraine. It is noteworthy that almost 70 percent of Russians do not perceive Ukraine as a foreign state. Seventy-nine percent of Russians believe that Russians, Ukrainians and Belarussians represent three branches of one single Slavic nation. That is why Russians believe that the Russian government does not interfere in Ukrainian internal matters.
Sociologists say that 71 percent of Russians regretted the break-up of the USSR in November of 2004, while 65 percent believed that the USSR collapsed solely because of the Soviet administration. That is why a lot of respondents approve Moscow's aspiration to cooperate with former Soviet republics as a step to retrieve the USSR.