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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Recreating the U.S.S.R.

August 19-21 marked the third anniversary of events in Russia that still have a profound effect on the enduring crisis throughout the territory of the former U.S.S.R. It seems important now to glance back at these events and to consider their consequences.


In the summer of 1991, President Mikhail Gorbachev's Novo-Ogarevo process to negotiate a new Union Treaty was nearing its conclusion: The treaty was ready to be signed, but it was opposed both by radical reformers and by the conservative Soviet leadership. A right-wing coup was launched to prevent the final disintegration of the country. Instead, it became a farcical prelude to the tragic dissolution of our country.


The final blow was accomplished on December 8, 1991, with the signing of the agreement of Belovezhskaya Pushcha which cynically declared that "as a subject of international law and a geopolitical reality [the U.S.S.R.] is ceasing its existence." Three years have since passed, consumed by arguments about how to divide the common heritage and how to construct new borders, customs, armies, currencies, citizenship, foreign representations, etc.


But the disruption of traditional economic ties has led to de-industrialization and massive unemployment. The transformation of administrative borders into state borders has provoked territorial conflicts, floods of refugees, homelessness and impoverishment. The establishment of "national" statehood has led to human-rights violations: Neither the "independent states" nor the CIS are capable of providing people with security, freedom of travel and communication or a safe future.


Not surprisingly, the idea of re-integrating the Union has lately begun to flourish, as people seek alternatives to their unstable, insecure lives.


The people of the CIS need more than just words about liberty and individual prosperity. They also need stability, justice and order for their families, communities and society. In the newly independent states, extreme forms of "national liberation" brought to life latent instincts of tribalism. The collapse of communist ideology left a vacuum in the minds of many that has been filled by the idea of the "national state."


Let us consider the Republic of Crimea, which has become the pioneer in the re-emergence of a single united nation based not on tribal instincts and nationalist prejudices, but on common interest. No longer just an administrative district, Crimea is now a territory with some features of statehood, including its own constitution, parliament, president, citizenship, etc. Its goal is to be heard and respected as it pursues the unionist idea of treaty-based relationships with Ukraine and Russia featuring dual citizenship for Crimeans and the free circulation of both Ukrainian and Russian money.


Joint authority of Ukraine and Russia over Crimea during a transitional period would provide a possible solution to avoid conflict. The alternative is a Bosnian scenario. Until recently the Ukrainian leadership seemed to be moving in this dangerous direction. But the dark shadow of possible war awoke the population, and President Leonid Kravchuk lost the presidential elections in July.


Kravchuk's fate brings Boris Yeltsin to mind. Six men agreed to dissolve the USSR: Yeltsin and Gennady Burbulis from Russia, Kravchuk and Vitold Fokin from Ukraine and Stanislav Shushkevich and Vyachislav Kebich from Byelorussia. Five of them have already disappeared, having lost elections or been forced out by parliaments. Only one gloomy figure remains: Yeltsin.


There are various possible future developments. The first is economic integration. Economic cooperation may now be pushed forward by greater demand for restoring a common market. In 1988, the share of inter-republican trade in the national income of the U.S.S.R. varied from 17 percent in Russia to 50-60 percent in Byelorussia and Moldavia. It was a truly integrated economy. The disruption of these ties is abnormal and regulation has been replaced by the rule of criminals.


At the end of September 1993, CIS members signed the Agreement on Economic Union which included a free-trade association, a customs union, a common market of goods, labor and capital, and a currency union. This agreement could become the proper basis for a Union from below. In order to regulate this process, the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the CIS will need to be strengthened through direct elections.


A second scenario is the contradictory model of "Russia as an open Federation." Some parts of Russia would like to secede, but others seem willing to replace them. Regions such as the Transdnestr Republic, Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Crimea have already expressed their desire to live in one united country.


The third scenario provides the solution: a "unionist design," or a special Peoples' Congress to re-create the Union. This idea is rooted in centuries of our history. A Constituent Assembly of nations should be called to restore the legitimate state. The decisions of the Constituent Assembly would need ratification by the people, but I have no doubt that a referendum in many republics would provide it.


Obviously, re-integration must be based not on the use of force, but on a common effort to establish a stable and fair constitutional order. Four years of Russian reform have produced only an illegitimate constitution, which has nothing in common with the anti-democratic realities of life in Russia. Many people believe that it is useless to revise it. Instead they are beginning to create a legal-political framework for the newly emerging Union.





Oleg Rumyantsev is a legal expert to the State Duma's Committee on Legislation. He is also chairman of the Russian Foundation for Constitutional Reform. From 1990 to 1993, he was a deputy in the Supreme Soviet and a First Secretary of the Constitutional Commission. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.