ALTHOUGH Moscow is losing its ability to govern Russia, it is
nevertheless trying to extend its control over neighboring states.
Citing Russia's "vital interests" and "special responsibilities"
Boris Yeltsin recently asked the world community to deputize Russia
so it can start policing what used to be the Soviet Union. On Feb.
28, in a speech to the Civic Union (an ad-hoc coalition of former
Communist Party apparatchiks and managers of state enterprises),
the Russian president indicated that "the time ha
s come for distinguished international organizations, including the
UN, to grant Russia special powers of a guarantor of peace and
stability in regions of the former USSR."
Mr. Yeltsin's appeal to legitimate a new Russian sphere of
influence is unlikely to be repeated by a conservative successor,
should he be ousted. The move would probably be taken unilaterally.
Months before Yeltsin's Civic Union address, Russian politicians
and statesmen had begun stumping internationally for the sheriff's
job, mainly on the platform of protecting the human rights of the
25 million ethnic Russians who, due to the break-up of the USSR
into 15 independent states, have suddenly become minorities in
foreign countries. Judging from the response of Western
decisionmakers and opinion shapers they have succeeded in
distorting the minority question in the former USSR by defining it
an exclusively Russian problem. This has dangerous implications not
only for Russia's neighbors but also for the global community.
First of all, the figure of 25 million Russians living in
diaspora is in itself misleading. This number may reflect the most
recent Soviet census of 1989. But the census, in the opinion of
many specialists, deliberately overstates the strength of the
Russians to mitigate the demographic strength and growing
restlessness among the USSR's non-Russian nationalities. Already by
1989 Russians were returning to Russia from the other republics by
the thousands, and this trend accelerated visibly after the disin
tegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. Clearly, if another census
were taken today there would be considerably fewer than 25 million
people living outside of the Russian Federation who declare
Surely there is an enormous Russian diaspora. Yet, it is not
clear that Russians in other countries would welcome Moscow's
intervention on their behalf. In Ukraine a majority of its 11
million ethnic Russians voted for Ukrainian independence in
December 1991. Also, most of the Russian officers stationed in
Ukraine opted to swear allegiance to Ukraine rather than return to
an uncertain future in Russia. For many in the Russian diaspora,
emotional and economic roots run deeper in non-Russian soil.
, in relative terms the Russian problem of diaspora is no larger
than the problem of diaspora for any of the other former Soviet
republics. The Russians living in diaspora account for about 17
percent of the total ethnic Russian population. This is about the
same percentage of minorities living in other states that one finds
among all the other 14 titular nationalities of the former Soviet
Russia has the largest number of ethnic minorities. More than 27
million non-Russians reside within the Russian Federation. Put
another way, almost 40 percent of the former Soviet Union's
minorities live in Russia. Thus the issue is not only minorities
living outside Russia, but those who live within its borders.
What about non-Russians?
While Russia is making an international bid to protect
minorities outside its borders, many of the minorities living in
Russia are asserting their independence. Russia faces the prospect
of disintegration. Addressing only the "25 million Russian
minority" issue ignores the 27 million non-Russian minorities who
live in Russia.
Russia's neighbors say Moscow is merely using the pretext of
protecting Russian minority rights to mask latent imperial and
nationalistic ambitions. …