New Russia celebrates independence 18 years after Soviet collapse

A look at how our former Soviet neighbors are developing and how they feel about Russia

Few Russians know what holiday they’re celebrating on June 12 as the date is noteworthy for two reasons. On June 12, 1990, Soviet leader Boris Yeltsin signed the declaration “On the State Sovereignty of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic.” And exactly one year later Yeltsin became the Russian Federation’s first president. Undoubtedly Russians know both dates. But each year on June 12 they are actually celebrating Russia’s independence. Ex-President Vladimir Putin issued a decree in 2001 marking the date as the state holiday “Russia Day.”

Who is Russia independent of? How are the sovereign, once brotherly Soviet republics faring today? We analyzed the present situation in the post-Soviet world and studied synopses provided by the Center for Post-Industrial Researches Director Vladislav Inozemtsev and Globalization and Social Movement Institute Director Boris Bagarlitskiy.

Belarus

Population: In 1989, 10.2 million; Today, 9.75 million

Welfare: GDP per capita — $3,792

Economic Growth: 8.6%

Average Wage: $376.60

Rating of Benevolence to Russia*: 80%

Synopsis

Inozemtsev: “Belarus is more economically tied with Russia than the other former Soviet republics. It needs our gas. Commodity circulation in other sectors is also large between Russia and Belarus. At the moment, any talks about Belarus becoming closer to Russia are only words as the Belarusian elite doesn’t want the country to be a member of a unified state. But Russia buys their idle talk and indulges Lukashenko with discounted prices on gas.”

KP Commentary

Six years ago, Lukashenko promised to introduce the Russian ruble. Twelve years have passed since Russian and Belarus signed the agreement on a unified state. Indeed, we are officially a single nation. Only the presidents of Russia and Belarus are different.

Moldova

Population: In 1989, 4.338 million; Today, 4.1 million

Welfare: GDP per capita — $876

Economic Growth: 4%

Average Wage: $226

Rating of Benevolence to Russia: 52%

Synopsis

Inozemtsev: “We hardly have ties with Moldova — especially after the wine embargo. Moldovans consider themselves Europeans. But still they have serious points of discontent with Romania. They haven’t even been able to sign an agreement on the Moldovan-Romanian border.”

KP Commentary

Gastarbeiters compose one third of Moldova’s able-bodied population. Half of them work in Russia. In January-February 2008, they sent $186 million to Moldova in remittances. The average wage in Moldova is the lowest in Europe: 0.2 euro cents per hour.

Armenia

Population: In 1989, 3.228 million; Today, 3 million

Welfare: GDP per capita — $2,128

Economic Growth: 13.7%

Average Wage: $270.80

Rating of Benevolence to Russia: 85%

Synopsis

Kagarlitskiy: “An anecdote. An Armenian caught a rabbit and brought it home to his wife.

“‘Boil this.’

“‘There’s no water.’

“‘Then fry it.’

“‘There’s no gas.’

“‘Well then put it in the microwave…’

“‘There’s no electricity!’

“The husband grabbed the rabbit and threw it out the window.

‘Welcome to independent Armenia!'”

Kagarlitskiy: “The Armenians maintain a relationship with Iran and fight Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. Moscow supports Azerbaijan’s stance in the conflict. So it’s unlucky Armenia is Russia’s satellite state.”

Kazakhstan

Population: In 1989, 16.536 million; Today, 15.581 million

Welfare: GDP per capita — $5,043

Economic Growth: 8.5%

Average Wage: $434

Rating of Benevolence to Russia: 84%

Synopsis

Inozemtsev: “Unlike Russia, Kazakhstan has gas and oil pipelines to China. Energy-wise, nearly all the Central Asian republics are quietly turning to the flag with the rising sun. I’m afraid it’s impossible to curtail this allegiance. And we ourselves are to blame. We downplayed Kazakhstan’s significance in our foreign policy too often.”

Uzbekistan

Population: In 1989, 19.905  million; Today, 26.851 million

Welfare: GDP per capita — $598

Economic Growth: 9.5%

Average Wage: $210

Rating of Benevolence to Russia: 85%

Synopsis

Kagarlitskiy: “Uzbekistan needs us for our power factor. But if Moscow starts to exert strength, Tashkent will turn toward the U.S. and China. And vice versa. In the early 2000s, the U.S. started to activate its resources in Uzbekistan. As a result, the Uzbeks quickly ‘made friends’ with the Russians and asked the U.S. to free the Khanabad aerodrome. So the current friendship between Moscow and Tashkent could end quite abruptly.”

Kyrgyz Republic

Population: In 1989, 4.29 million; Today, 5.166 million

Welfare: GDP per capita — $536

Economic Growth: 7.3%

Average Wage: $120.90

Rating of Benevolence to Russia: 84%

Synopsis

Kagarlitskiy: “The Kyrgyz Republic hasn’t been able to remain stable since the Tulip Revolution. In a cultural sense the nation has benevolent feelings for Russia. The nationalism sometimes seen among the Kazakhs isn’t as apparent in the Kyrgyz Republic.”

Tajikistan

Population: In 1989, 5.109  million; Today, 7.163 million

Welfare: GDP per capita — $424

Economic Growth: 7.3%

Average Wage: $60

Rating of Benevolence to Russia: 90%

Synopsis

Kagarlitskiy: “The nation wouldn’t have survived without Russian and Kazakh aid. Today, only Russia ensures Tajikistan’s statehood.”

KP Commentary

The Tajiks are the poorest among former Soviet nations (63% live on less than $2 per day), but they aren’t dying out with 26 births per 1,000 people. Russia’s figure is half as high. A third of Tajikistan’s population works in Russia.

Turkmenistan

Population: In 1989, 3.534 million; Today, 6.786 million

Welfare: GDP per capita — $1,327

Economic Growth: Roughly 10% (The Turkmen don’t publish this information.)

Average Wage: $140

Rating of Benevolence to Russia: 42%

Synopsis

Kagarlitskiy: “The country is self-sufficient, yet underdeveloped and unstable. It houses a single clan. It’s also quite clear Turkmenistan wants Russian investment.”

Inozemtsev: “Don’t get carried away with the idea that the Turkmens want to return to Russia. There’s nothing Russia in Turkmenistan. The country is completely closed and has almost no ties with us — economic or cultural.”

Azerbaijan

Population: In 1989, 7.38 million; Today, 8.436 million

Welfare: GDP per capita — $2362

Economic Growth: 30%

Average Wage: $273

Rating of Benevolence to Russia: 35%

Synopsis

Kagarlitskiy: “Azerbaijan basically has a monarchy. The country’s economy is larger than Turkmenistan’s and integrated with Russia’s. We have fairly close ties.”

KP Commentary

Heydar Aliyev’s successor Ilham has a good head on his shoulders. Azerbaijan is participating in the construction of the Nabukko pipeline bypassing Russia and Europe.

Lithuania

Population: In 1989, 3.690  million; Today, 3.366  million

Welfare: GDP per capita — $7505

Economic Growth: 8%

Average Wage: $930

Rating of Benevolence to Russia: 43%

Synopsis

Kagarlitskiy: “The Lithuanians were always the most fiery anti-Soviets. Now they’re indifferent about their Estonian and Latvian neighbors and greeting Russian tourists with open arms.”

KP Commentary

Lithuania is also exceptional for its birthrate, which is 218th in the world (of 222). The Lithuanians commit suicide and die in automobile accidents more than residents of other European nations. Last year the country became Europe’s leader in the number of emigrants. The Lithuanians are moving to the more developed Western European nations and the U.S.

Latvia

Population: In 1989, 2.680 million; Today, 2.295 million

Welfare: GDP per capita — $781

Economic Growth: 10.5%

Average Wage: $897

Rating of Benevolence to Russia: 50%

Georgia

Population: In 1989, 5.443 million; Today, 4.7 million

Welfare: GDP per capita — $1,746

Economic Growth: 11.4%

Average Wage: $130

Rating of Benevolence to Russia: 49%

Synopsis

Kagarlitskiy: “The country has almost no economy. At one point Russia couldn’t feed Georgia. So the country has turned to the West and hopes to be saved from a hungry death.”

Inozemtsev: “But Saakashvilli was able to shatter the bureaucratic system. He gave the private economic sector the opportunity to grow.”

KP Commentary

Besides Borzhomi, wine and mandarins, the Georgians have another strategic product. Last year Saakashvilli made $32 million on pine cones. They’re good for the health and grow in the Borzhomi Gorge among mineral waters.

Saakashvilli and Yushchenko have taken their countries along the path of colored revolutions.

Ukraine

Population: In 1989, 51.707 million; Today, 46.337 million

Welfare: GDP per capita — $2,287

Economic Growth: 7,3%

Average Wage: $344.50

Rating of Benevolence to Russia: 88%

Synopsis

Kagarlitskiy: “Ukraine is tightly connected with Russia. Our business presence is remarkable there. The power-consuming Ukrainian economy needs our gas. And we need Ukraine as it is the cheapest transit route for our energy suppliers.”

Inozemtsev: “Ukraine isn’t choosing between Russia and the West. It’s floundering between the West and independence. Talks about Ukraine sooner or later splitting and its eastern half joining Russia are unfounded. In terms of Ukraine’s economy, the country’s business elite understood long ago that it’s easier to work with the European system than compete with Russia’s oligarchs on post-Soviet territory.”

One of the biggest conflicts with Ukraine is over the fate of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.

Estonia

Population: In 1989, 1.573  million; Today, 1.324  million

Welfare: GDP per capita — $12,007

Economic Growth: 6.4%

Average Wage: $1,233

Rating of Benevolence to Russia: 51%

Synopsis

Kagarlitskiy: “In my opinion everything is clear in terms of our neighbors Estonia and Latvia. And here’s the paradox. Russian can be heard more and more in these countries. There are more and more Russians there, especially in Tallinn and Riga. So the Baltic states have nowhere to run.”

KP Commentary

Not long ago, the Estonians were surprised to learn that the country’s most common last name is “Ivanov.” READ MORE

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