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​Ukrainian Navy command ship Slavutych is blocked by two Russian ships at the Crimean port of Sevastopol. Photo: Reuters
Russia may gain small and loose big
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Russia can de jure or de facto take over Crimea. However, the more ambitious aim of Eurasian integration may now become more difficult than ever.

​This article is written by Tor Bukkvoll, researcher at FFI and was first publised in the publication European Voice March 20th, 2014.
No post-Soviet state has supported Russia`s deployment of military force to the Crimea. Close Russian allies such as Belarus and Kazakhstan have been careful in their reactions, but at the same time underscored the principle of Ukrainian territorial integrity. 
Two facts are probably especially alarming for the other post-Soviet states.

  • First, Russian policy has been justified by the defence of Russian and Russian speaking populations despite no identified credible threats to these populations’ wellbeing.
  • Second, no attempts to discuss even potential threats to these populations were made with the host government before military force was employed.

Most post-Soviet states have significant ethnic Russian minorities within their borders. For example, ethnic Russians make up 23.7% of the population in Kazakhstan, 9.4% in Moldova, 8.5% in Uzbekistan, and 6.6% in Kyrgyzstan. 
Since the Kremlin in the late 2000s decided not to emulate the European model, one of Putin`s top priorities has been to integrate the post-Soviet space as a separate geopolitical, political and civilizational entity between Europe and Asia. 
The Eurasian Union, expected to be fully established next year, is to be the flagship of this ambitious project. Armenia`s rejection of an association agreement with the EU in September 2013 and Yanukovych`s turnaround in November the same year, were both seen by Russia as encouraging signs in this regard.
The reintegration, however, was never going to be easy. The levels of trust between most post-Soviet leaders continue to be low. They all come from low trust societies where expectations of being deceived or having their arms twisted are high, and they have great difficulties in abandoning these reflexes also in international affairs. 
The Russian analyst Yulia Latynina has with regard to the prospects for post-Soviet integration suggested this is problematic because while “democracies may really join forces, cleptocracies may not”. In particular, the economic elites of the post-Soviet countries fear that integration with Russia will be followed by asset-grabbing of their businesses by politically and economically stronger Russian oligarch groups.
In addition, there is also a question of the readiness of the Russian population to shoulder the potential costs of post-Soviet reintegration. One of the main incentives for post-Soviet reintegration for the non-Russian republics is easier access to the Russian labour market for their populations. However, migrant labour is rapidly becoming more unpopular among Russians, and especially among the blue collar classes that the Putin regime increasingly relies upon for its support. 
Furthermore, at least for the Caucasian and Eastern European republics, there is a “pull of the West”. Even after the financial crisis, significant parts of the populations in these countries realise that the European politico-military model works better than the Russian one. This impression is further strengthened by the almost halt in Russian economic growth in 2013.
Still, despite these obstacles, Russian led post-Soviet integration has progressed in the last five years. The customs union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan is, maybe as the first post-Soviet integration project, actually being implemented. Military and security integration through the CSTO is also moving ahead, although progress here is slower. 
Caution is stronger in military than economic integration. Still, post-Soviet states are expected to become much more significant customers of Russian arms in the next 10-15 years than they are today.
This limited progress, however, has probably at least partly relied on an assumption that Russia would not use military force to solve issues of controversy. That assumption may now become invalid. Open opposition to Russia is probably not likely, Ukraine has demonstrated what that could lead to, but deep integration with Russia has suddenly become much riskier. The non-Russian post-Soviet elites may conclude that a return to token integration and the establishment of empty projects is the safest course of action. 
In addition to the other costs for Russia such as Western economic sanctions and a stronger anti-Russian unity in Ukraine, more Russians may in time begin to questions whether Crimea was worth it.  

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