Russia and the Legacy of the Soviet State

The disappearance of the USSR as an international legal entity posed the problem of the heir or heirs of this subject. The legitimate or residual heir of the USSR seems to have been identified without hesitation, by the international community, in the Russian Federation, as the leading country of the old USSR and by far the most important state entity, from every point of view, of all successor states of the USSR itself. Therefore, for example, the seat due to the USSR in the UN Security Council was assigned without hesitation to Russia.

A different discourse must be made for the individual concrete inheritances. No problem for the real estate properties of the Soviet state, which included all the land and most of the buildings: they logically followed the fate of the territory, being attributed to the new states in whose borders they fell. Some problems emerged for Soviet state-owned properties abroad, e.g. a part of the diplomatic offices, but above all for the liabilities of the Soviet state, that is, international debts. Creditor countries, to protect themselves, have affirmed the principle of the responsibility of solid of the states that emerged from the dissolution of the USSR, but many of the latter, and especially the smallest and poorest, have largely withdrawn, so the bulk of the dispute has ended up falling on the shoulders of Russia: which in exchange intends to retaliate, in fact, on properties abroad.

A big problem, deeply felt in the West, was that of the military legacy. The most powerful war apparatus in the world has ceased to exist as such, creating three kinds of problems: a) the reconversion for civilian purposes, or even the simple rearrangement in housing inside the Russia, of most of the armed forces headquartered in the Central-Eastern European countries already members of the Warsaw Pact, or in the former Soviet republics that have broken all ties with the CIS (Baltic countries); b) the fate of common conventional armaments, such as the Black Sea fleet, which was not easy to share or maintain in common between Russia and Ukraine; the latter solution was adopted, but only in principle and after many disputes, provisionally and with a view to a subsequent partition; c) the fate of nuclear weapons, which has particularly worried the West. This last problem especially affected Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus, all countries to be considered new nuclear powers. The Alma-Ata agreement on the CIS (1991) envisaged, to the great relief of the West, its unified command and, in the long run, its liquidation; however, further negotiations were necessary, with various facets and non-negligible economic implications, and with strong resistance from Ukraine, in order to start a process of substantial nuclear disarmament, concentration of nuclear power only in the Russia and classification of the former countries in the framework of international disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation treaties. In this regard, the Russian-Ukrainian-US agreement of 1994, which provides for the gradual transfer of the mighty Ukrainian nuclear war apparatus to Russia, against US compensation and a joint Russian-US guarantee in terms of Ukraine’s security. In the West there remains the nightmare of more unscrupulous attitudes on the part of new minor political entities (e.g. Chechnya), and that of the possibility of covert transfers of individual weapons, recycled materials, technologies or specialized personnel, in the nuclear field, to countries third parties or unreliable organizations, which could make use of it in a much less responsible way than the Russia or the former USSR.

Political, social, religious structure of the new Russia. – Banned in 1991 the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, until then a single party, with its collateral organizations, and confiscated its large properties in favor of the state and local communities (in part, however, already returned in 1992), Russia suddenly found herself having to organize a free and pluralistic political, social and religious life, without having practically any experience of it. This last characteristic largely explains how the structure and political articulation of today’s Russian society is quite different, despite the adoption of substantially democratic mechanisms, from that of Western societies. The main political currents that emerged in the early years of democracy (1991-94) – albeit among large, and perhaps even majority,

The reformist, westernizing groups (zapadniki), in favor of the full implementation of liberal democracy, reforms of all kinds, the gradual introduction of the market economy, full and loyal collaboration with the United States, the European Union and other Western countries, were the inspirers of the new liberal-democratic Constitution of the Russia and usually prove to be a majority in referendums (e.g. the one who ratified the Constitution in 1993), but they prove to be weaker and more fragmented in different currents in parliamentary elections. Moderate or conservative groups are inclined to alternate brake strokes with accelerator strokes in the implementation of reforms, to retain part of the institutions of the past, in particular those of the planned economy, and have some reservations or mistrust of the West. Nostalgic and nationalist groups (narodniki) are opposed to economic reforms and imitation of the West, some inclined to maintain or restore the socialist economy, with tendencies towards the recovery of communist ideology, others rather with conservative inclinations in internal and Slavophilic (if not pan-Slavic) in international politics, with veins of regret for the past of great power (USSR, or even the Tsarist Empire: with relative restoration intentions) and even with hints of xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

From a social point of view, we are witnessing the coagulation of interest groups of various kinds: in part linked to the various layers of the past nomenklatura, such as the agrarniki (managers and executives of state and collective farms), the administrators and technicians of the state industries, the military, former CPSU officials; in part, on the contrary, in relation to the new social realities that are slowly affirming themselves, such as merchants or, in agriculture, free cooperators (fermery) and tenants (arendatory). Political and social life – of which characters who already had some public role at the time of the communist regime are the protagonists very often, and inevitably – usually takes place between lively differences of opinion, frequent street demonstrations and marked rivalries, not without reciprocal coups of hand, between constitutional bodies. Normally, however, there is a general rejection of violence and prevarication, even if a notable exception was represented by the conflict between the President and Parliament that resulted in the bloody clashes of 1993, and if there is a certain increase in common crime, big and small.

From a religious point of view, a revival of cults is evident, especially the Orthodox one, thanks also to the civil recognition of all religious holidays and the reopening for worship or the reconstruction of 6,000 of the 50,000 churches deactivated from 1917 onwards. The Orthodox clergy also figure in the foreground in the process of restoring historical respect for the Tsarist past of the Russia, which manifests itself in ceremonies, the exhumation of traditional symbols, monumental celebrations and, as will be seen later, widespread toponymic revisions.

All these characteristics of the new Russian society are certainly not distributed uniformly over the immense territory of the country, but according to typical gradients in the city-countryside and center-periphery sense. The first observations of electoral geography that it was possible to make after the 1993 elections, for example, show that the clear success achieved by the reformist currents in the big cities of the European Russia are contrasted, in principle, with more favorable results for the moderates., if not the nostalgic, in smaller towns and areas inhabited by ethnic minorities.

Russia and the Legacy of the Soviet State

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