The EU must develop a strategy of integrating the former USSR, writes Grigory Yavlinsky

Boris Nemtsov’s murder, which has shocked Russia, is the result of the war that has been under way for the past year. The war’s location is far broader than the area of military operations in east Ukraine. It covers the whole of Russia and the former USSR.


The Kremlin has created a concept of the “Russian world” which has no clear boundaries but encompasses the entire post-Soviet world. The application of this idea is official policy, mingling with the worst elements of public opinion.

Opponents of this logic, such as Mr Nemtsov, have dared to call it what it is: annexation, aggression and fratricide. The tragedy of Mr Nemtsov’s murder is how it has made it clear that the war is not only about foreign policy — it is a major domestic problem for Russia, and one that is disfiguring its society.

The war must be stopped. However, the measures that need to be taken to save Russia go far deeper and are far more complex than the end of hostilities. As Mikhail Kasyanov the former prime minister of Russia has observed, since 2008 Russian politics has been characterised by “managed democracy and capitalism for friends, redistribution of property in a very intensive manner and human rights violations”.

But, of course, it started long before 2008. Russian President Vladimir Putin did not create this authoritarian system — he simply used it and will leave it unchanged behind him. The system which is the foundation of today’s official policy was created in the mid-1990s, developing and becoming entrenched into the 2000s. It is the result of failed efforts to reform post-Soviet Russia and has included fraudulent privatisation, the creation of the system of “crony capitalism”, and a lack of secure property rights. The failure of these reforms is also a failure on the part of the European Union and the west, which supported the way in which these policies were undertaken.

There is no doubt that Russians should themselves address these problems. But unfortunately Europe did not consider developments inside Russia a priority for more than 20 years. Now the EU is paying attention, but its focus is fixed on the situation in Ukraine.

Problems in Russian-Ukrainian relations have existed for more than a decade. Previously, Europe did not display any serious interest in establishing a long-term framework for Ukraine’s European integration. It did not object to the opaque and corrupt scheme for trading in gas between Russia and Ukraine. Now that many hope for greater Ukrainian integration, a recent House of Lords report suggests it may be unrealistic. Without such expectations, however, we can expect nothing to be achieved. A European future represents the only development strategy of the entire post-Soviet world.

The EU must develop a strategy of integrating the disparate parts of the former USSR. It should consider not only formal EU membership, but also broader policies to encourage good and stable governance among its neighbours.
Part of the problem created by a lack of a European strategy relates to uncertainty over the social and political framework that should form the basis for change in Russia. Providing a European path for the former Soviet countries would also create a successful model for Russia.

While it would be short-sighted and dangerous simply to back the formation of a coalition of opponents to the current political regime and Mr Putin personally, the core of a new European policy for Russia and the post-Soviet space should revolve primarily around encouraging an outright rejection of the war and the logic of the “Russian world”. This movement must counter the current tactics of hatred, xenophobia, nationalism and division. This will be challenging, as Nemtsov’s death has already deepened the climate of fear among groups opposed to the Kremlin.

What Europe and Russia require is a plan to achieve a clearly defined strategic result: the integration of the former states of the USSR into Europe. Such a plan would also be an excellent manifestation of European values.

The writer is founder of Russia’s liberal Yabloko party and a member of the St Petersburg legislative assembly

Original