The implosion of the Soviet Union has created the real likelihood of general conflagration in post-Soviet Eurasia. This is especially true of Russia's "near abroad," the territorial arc stretching from Tallin to Yalta and containing six independent countries: Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and the Baltic republics. This area contains 70 million people, over 250 strategic nuclear missiles and provided roughly one-third of the former Soviet Union's total economic output. Russian policy toward the "near abroad" will indicate what kind of Russia--nation, empire or anarchic battleground--the West will face in the 21st century.
While the Cold War in Europe ended in a phenomenal strategic victory for the West, the dissolution of the USSR
continues to disorient NATO capitals. The emergence of fifteen fissiparous states, the devolution of a disciplined imperial military into various self-directed armed forces, the erosion of unitary control over 30,000 nuclear warheads, and the spontaneous combustion of inter-republican conflict are among the scenarios which completely eluded Western planners even five years ago. Despite the implosion of the Warsaw Pact, any new concert of Europe will be buffeted by the ongoing revolutions in the former Soviet empire. As NATO official Christopher Donnelly puts it, "Russia is no longer threatening, but it is frightening." (1)
Such an environment is hazardous for daily political forecasts, let alone long-range strategic visions. George Breslauer argues that we have no experience analyzing countries "that are attempting nation-building, political democratization, and economic reform in a context of economic austerity, imperial disintegration, and the collapse of state structures." (2) Western governments, however, must appreciate the forces driving defense and diplomacy in the former USSR in order to foresee--and, perchance, to forestall--the real likelihood of general conflagration in post-Soviet Eurasia.
Several unappreciated realities demand a review of the states on Russia's European periphery. (3) The Republic of Ukraine, by virtue of its geopolitical position, resources and nuclear weapons, is already a major actor on the European security scene. Quiescent Belarus, capital of the moribund Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), nevertheless has created its own army and could be drawn into a regional conflict. A shooting war erupted in Moldova in mid-1992 which, though currently ignored by the West, evinces eerie parallels to the Balkans. (4) The Baltic republics, centrifugal pioneers of the Soviet break-up, continue to "host" unwelcome Russian military units and an unsettled Slavic population whose cause has energized Moscow's conservatives. Russian policy toward the blizhniye zarubezhniya ("near abroad") will indicate the kind of Russia--nation, empire or anarchic battleground--the West will face in the 21st century.
The territorial arc stretching from Tallin to Yalta contains six independent countries with 70 million inhabitants, over 250 strategic nuclear missiles, (5) and provided roughly one-third of the economic output of the former Soviet Union. Ukraine alone has a population of 52 million (including some 11 million Russians) and the second largest standing army in Europe. Unlike the Central European Warsaw Pact states, these republics did not even enjoy a chimerical notion of statehood, (6) and so were thrust even more abruptly into independence in 1991. Like Russia, all six share unfathomable socioeconomic nightmares, not least of which is that each has banished its Communist Party without casting off its Communists. Jack Snyder identifies in these countries all the historical "risk factors for intense outbursts of aggressive nationalism," i.e., "democratization, state building, marketization, mass communications." (7)
The borders of these states were designed, courtesy of Josef Stalin, to heighten ethnic …