Return of The Evil Empire

A wary nostalgia: Nearly ten years ago, the Soviet Union dissolved, and former Soviet republics looked West, yearning to share in the prosperity of capitalism. But now, after years of frustration and failed economies, many of them are contemplating a return to the old union.
From the May 1999 Trumpet Print Edition

Mr. Gorbachev, tear this wall down,” hammered President Ronald Reagan. The Berlin Wall, separating East from West, did come crashing down in 1989. With the collapse of the wall came the demise of the Soviet Union and a new era of hope. The end of the USSR also signaled the end of the Cold War. Emerging victorious, the United States assumed the role as the world’s only superpower.

The U.S. has also elected itself policeman for the world. After the Reagan era, the Bush administration focused on a New World Order. The United Nations became more respected and authoritarian in resolving global conflicts. Without communist expansion warring against democratic growth in the developing world, Western nations could focus on maintaining world peace. No longer were the missiles of the Soviet Union aimed at the United States; we reciprocated by standing down our level of alert.

In recent years, however, escalating regional conflict and civil strife have necessitated increased Western military intervention around the world.

It is this increased Western influence that might prod nations, which once languished behind the Iron Curtain, to form an alliance in opposition to the West. As has been the case historically, Russia is behind the growing anti-West emergence.

NATO Strikes in Yugoslavia

The damage inflicted by nato air strikes against Serbian forces has far-reaching implications. Russia has vigorously opposed the use of force to curtail President Milosevic’s advances in Kosovo. Once nato forces began their bombing campaign, Russia quickly moved to sever contact with nato nations. Russia views nato’s move as a direct challenge to their national interests and security. In response, nine warships from the Black Sea Fleet were dispatched for military exercises in close proximity to nato forces operating in the Adriatic against Yugoslavia. This marked a return to Cold War tactics of harassment, intimidation and spying.

Though largely believed to be symbolic, the mobilization of Russian forces is raising many questions. The decrepit condition of the Soviet military machine seems to pose little danger to the technologically advanced Western militaries. But the sheer number of weapons and troops still under the command of Russia and its allies forms a formidable force.

Nato air strikes in Yugoslavia are galvanizing the former nations of the Soviet Union as they reconsider security interests of their own. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have been admitted to nato. The remaining former republics now question their own security concerns in light of nato aggression against their neighbors and allies. Alone, they cannot resist nato’s force; but historically, when aligned against the West, they were able to stave them off.

At the conclusion of World War II, the Soviets relished the defeat of their German adversaries. (There is a long history of bloodshed between these nations.) As the Soviet Union turned its focus against the United States, Germany quietly rebuilt. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed, the unthinkable had taken place—Germany had unified and has since ascended to power once again. Now, as a member of nato, Germany controls the European Union. They also comprise the real leadership behind the attacks against Serbian forces in Yugoslavia. For the Russians, it appears history is repeating itself—and they are not prepared to stand idly by and suffer the consequences.

Western Resentment

History has proven that a love-hate relationship exists between the former Soviets and Western nations. The Soviets aligned themselves with Britain and the United States to fight Nazi Germany, but aggressively turned against them in the Cold War. As that war came to an end, relations between East and West warmed. But the pendulum is now swinging back toward suspicion, resentment and contempt.

Rising Russian crime, corruption, and drug trafficking are all blamed on capitalism. Some fear Russia becoming a failed state ruled by anarchy. There appears to be little or no authority in Moscow to control their dissolving federation. Paranoia among leaders and the people makes the prospect of tight central security less undesirable.

To complicate matters further, Russia has largely been abandoned financially by G7 nations and the imf. Pledges of future loans now come with demands of significant reforms. Barring financial aid from the West, the Russians have little motivation to adopt a more capitalistic society. Present reforms have resulted in economic chaos. But should Western intervention cease, Russia will destabilize even further.

For the Germans, an unstable Russia is not a good prospect. Germany needs stability to their East as they continue to unite Europe. With economic and political instability from the Baltics to the Balkans, Germany is forced to depend on the U.S. to help settle issues in Europe—a position they want to avoid.

Anti-Western sentiments are fueling intense nationalism throughout Russia. This in turn could lead to ultra-nationalist leadership and isolationism much like the Soviet era. Domineering personalities such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Gennady Zyuganov of the Communist party are already propagating anti-Western sentiment to a growing majority of Russians. As their popularity rises, so does talk of re-unification.

The more moderate President Boris Yeltsin feels pressure to fight nato. In a televised interview, he warned, “I told nato, the Americans, the Germans, don’t push us towards military action. Otherwise there will be a European war for sure—and possibly world war.”

At the prospect of nato ground forces occupying Yugoslavia, Russian military advisers are demanding military intervention on behalf of the Serbs. Military pressure for intervention and failing political policies are distancing Yeltsin from the people. Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, former head of the kgb, was elected with the hope that he would stabilize Moscow. He too has aspirations of rebuilding the Soviet empire.

President Yeltsin may be the last moderate, pro-Western leader of Russia. If a more leftist ruler is placed in office, a stronger Russia will draw other former republics into the new empire. That appears to be the missing element in the new union: Who will lead the former republics back to the union?

A Revived Union?

Once dissolved, the member-nations of the former Soviet Union moved to embrace democracy and capitalism. But their economies have floundered and impoverished the people. The glamour of the West faded quickly among these struggling nations. Nostalgia for the old Union began to surge.

Belarus was the first republic to engage in a new partnership with Russia. Kazakhstan and Ukraine are divided about whether to join or not. Armenia is being courted by Russia as they are aided in their struggle against Azerbaijan. Georgia has intimated it would like to become part of nato, but to date has been refused.

The Ukraine is faced with potentially the most difficult decision. Rich in natural resources and arable land, this strategic country entices both Western powers and Russia. The Ukrainians are struggling with an identity crisis. The majority of its citizens sympathize with leftist philosophy and are loyal to their Russian history. But the enticement of Western lifestyle also clutched many Ukrainians as they embraced capitalism. Now corruption and crime have overwhelmed them. Nationalists and free-marketeers are shifting again to the left. If these once-opposing political entities can unite, they will put Ukraine on a fast track back to Russian alliance. Perhaps of greatest concern for Ukrainians is their security. Watching the U.S. and Europe intervene militarily in the region makes them nervous. The Ukraine resided under the protection of the Soviet nuclear umbrella just ten years ago. Today, they don’t enjoy that same comfort unless they commit to the developing union of former Soviet republics.

Estonia is another critical nation to watch. It was only eight years ago that Estonia won its independence from Russia. Since that conflict, they have sought membership in the European Union, nato and the World Trade Organization. To date, their efforts have been unsuccessful. Their inclusion in these Western alliances would destabilize the Baltic region. Russia feels that it must maintain control over the Baltics to defend itself. Western nations realize this and have denied Estonia admission to avoid conflict with Russia. But the Estonians have vowed to go down fighting Russia rather than be bullied back into a union with them.

Now that nato has accepted Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, Russia is feeling pressure to align itself with former members of the USSR for protection. The inclusion of these former Warsaw Pact nations has moved nato’s border more than 400 miles closer to Russia.

Not all nations prospered under the Soviet Union. In fact, though they enjoyed military security, their economies and lifestyles were severely hampered by communist philosophy. Returning to those conditions is hard to contemplate. A weakening Russia must rebuild its empire if it is to stop nato expansion. How the Russians deal with former Soviet republics that refuse to voluntarily join their new union is yet to be seen.

The Outcome?

Only God can predict with any certainty the final outcome of these issues. Regional conflicts are dividing alliances and forging new ones around the world. As the United States steps up

intervention in these conflicts, it is increasingly finding itself hated by all nations. Hatred for the United States is binding many nations in strategic alliances. One proven alliance capable of deterring the United States was the Soviet Union. Will regional conflicts draw the former Soviet republics together as before? Only time will tell, but the signs are rather ominous that these nations are shifting to the left once again.