Thirty Years after the USSR

Thirty years on, the residents of the individual republics are seen to be better off in some measures than they were at independence. All 15 Republics have seen life expectancy improve since 1991. 

by Victor Cherubim 

It has been 30 years ago since the Soviet Union dissolved in the wake of a bangled reform by Soviet leaders on 26 December 1991. The Soviet Union was created by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. It did not happen overnight. It was no surprise. The collapse of the 15 republics which made up the Soviet Union faced both internal and external pressures. Back in the USSR, they endeavoured to establish political structures and reform economic systems, which failed. They faced unresolved territorial questions, socio-economic crisis and particularly ambiguity about which direction to take in the future.

I don’t want to discuss the causes of the breakup in a short write-up, other than to state there was an unwieldly empire, a permanent food shortage, the official exchange rate was 78 Kopeks, whilst the Black Market rate was 48.70 Roubles to the US Greenback. Unlike a revolution, the outlying Soviet Empire was eager for reform brewing over a long time. Soviet General Secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev stepped down and Boris Yeltsin became President of a newly independent Russia. The breakup of this colossus was already a question of time.

President Putin’s Russia

Fast forward to President Putin who has stated: “the breakup of historic Russia (Imperial Russia) has lost 40 % of its territory built over a millennium (1000 years) and lost its largest production capacity.” He has had an ambition to build Russia to its pristine days. But his dream has been blocked, not necessarily by Alexei Navalny, Russian Opposition Party called, “The Future of Russia”. He has been cornered by punitive economic sanctions by the West.

Vladimir Putin according to western reports, is a ruthless dictator. He however, is known in Russia for the salvation of Russia from disintegration, for the end of the war in Chechnya and the destruction of ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria. Russia lost blood and sweat to accomplish all this, including to get out of Afghanistan.  

My personal experience, now only a memory

Looking back some 60 years ago (Feb. / March 1962) during Khrushchev regime, when I was “foot loose and fancy free,” I visited the Soviet Union from my educational stay in United States enroute to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). I was really fortunate in spending a full month travelling around the Soviet Union visiting some of the capital cities of its Republics: Moscow, including Leningrad in Russia; Kiev, capital of Ukraine and also Odessa and Sochi in Ukraine, Erevan capital of Armenia, Tbilisi in Georgia, Baku in Azerbaijan, and Tashkent in Uzbekistan. I learned a lot about the then Soviet way of life, the Kolkhoz “Collective” farm systems, the Soviet education. I had read much about Soviet Space Exploration while in President Kennedy’s USA. I wrote three feature articles published in 1962 in the Times of Ceylon, which readers can access, including the one I recall: “Russian students are paid to study”.  

I came to realise that both the Russian and Ukrainians were from the same stock of people, speaking both Russian which then was the official language; and Ukrainian which was the language of Ukraine. The Ukrainians were naturally very proud of their “Zaporozhe Cossack” tradition of their history. I was most welcome and treated with much courtesy because I came from Mrs. Srimavo Bandranaike’s friendly country. So much for my credentials, which I am sure my readers will forgive me for it.

Today, Ukraine is a separate and rightly free nation. But both Russian speaking brothers are at loggerheads thanks in large measure to NATO and the stirring up of emotions, because Russia invaded Crimea in 2014 and annexed it. 

Russia now states it has stationed near 100,000 “border patrols” on the eastern flank of Ukraine. This could well be in fear of Ukraine becoming coerced as a NATO member. 

Diplomacy or deterrence, is Russia’s choice says United States?

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy R. Sherman, a veteran diplomat, recently states: “De-escalation and diplomacy as opposed to deterrence and the very significant costs to Russia, if they choose invasion, subversion or coercion”. She goes on: “I am not quite sure why Russia feels so threatened by Ukraine. President Putin will have to make a judgment about where he can get the kind of progress he wants”.

“Why are they threatened by a much smaller country that’s just a developing democracy? It makes no sense.” Are we witnessing a form of “gun diplomacy?” 

Nearly 8 hours of US/ Russia bilateral talks in Geneva a few days ago has yielded no progress. Nerves are on end.

Of course, NATO and the West is nervously watching Russian build up, a formidable build-up of forces alongside the Ukrainian border, it’s eastern border with Russia with an estimated alleged 600,000 Russian troops, including tanks for invasion. But Moscow has denied plans for an all-out strike attack, which could engulf in a world war. Will it be in Moscow’s interest to escalate, is any body’s guess?

President Putin has not wanted to fall into the same mistake made after the collapse of the Soviet Union, or by Ukraine wanting to ever join NATO, a threat to the security of Russia. He has Estonia and other Baltic States, within earshot of Russian border. He has the Nordstrom Oil Pipeline to Germany issue un-resolved. But 8 years later, he still has held Crimea.   

President Putin has put forward an eight point draft treaty laying out the requests, his conditions for withdrawal, including long term security guarantees, including NATO will halt its eastern expansion, rule out membership for Ukraine, and roll back US and NATO forces stationed in Central and Eastern Europe. Is it a tall order? 

United States wants to protect the borders and sovereignty of Ukraine. The US already is using sanctions, to curtail Russian intervention. The Biden Administration and its allies are signalling to Russia that they would face financial, technological and military sanctions against Russia. They say they would go into effect within hours of an invasion of Ukraine, if Russia sends troops across the border. 

What has been achieved by the Old Soviet Republics in these 30 years of freedom?

Thirty years on, the residents of the individual republics are seen to be better off in some measures than they were at independence. All 15 Republics have seen life expectancy improve since 1991. They have seen a decrease in poverty levels, through reliable comparison data, is difficult to ascertain. There is however, some nostalgic for Soviet days,

understandably, especially among the elderly citizens, who knew how to ……………. in the Old Soviet Union.

Will Putin use diplomacy rather than deterrence is the trillion dollar question?