In the first decade of this century, there is a vacuum where once lay the brooding, looming Soviet shadow, a force that kept its own citizens under a form of house arrest and yet inspired enough fear in Anglo-American hawks to restrain their imperial tendencies.The notion that the USSR was a force for peace and 'stability' is only a post ex-facto rationalisation given the subsequent rise of the neoconservatives into power by 2000 which was a result of US Imperial hubris after 'defeating' the USSR and 'winning' the Cold War.
Would the Bush-Blair partnership have invaded Iraq in 2003 with such brazen impunity if Uncle Stalin, or even Cousin Brezhnev, had been around?Akbar is not defending the USSR ideologically but from the perspective of Central Asian realpolitik. As such the condition of people within the Soviet Union or the misrule and repression of the one party states in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary et al does not interest him.
There have been power worshipping realists in the past such as EH Carr who supported the Soviet Union on that basis and on the notion that the alternative to the Imperium in the East was, as it subsequently has been, one of ethnic irredentism and conflicting religious enmities.
Yet these were already happening before the final demise of the USSR. Brezhnev was pushed into Afghanistan in 1979 not only because Brzezinski had already pushed to arm and fund the mujahadeen but because Islamist ideas were spreading in the Soviet Muslim Republics.
There were concerns, as Geoffrey Hosking points out in his History of the Soviet Union that the Slavic races were starting to be displaced and potentially outnumbered by the demographic increase in the number of Soviet Muslim citizens.
This makes it difficult to accept Akhbar's contention that,
In the best of all possible worlds, we would have had, in the first decade of the 21st century, a half-Brezhnev as head of the Union of Semi-Socialist Soviet Republics, a muscular superpower in which Pravda was as free as the Guardian and Izvestia as irreverent as the Sun.That ignores the centrifufal forces breaking up the USSR before 1991 and the continuities in US policy which served to accelerate that. In particular, the desire of the Soviet Islamic elites to control the oil and gas wealth and Brzezinski's policy of encouraging that from the 1970s.
That US policy was intiated by Brzezinski because he exploited Soviet weaknesses and not, as some claim, because was so clever as to destroy the promise of a secular democratic experiment of the PDPA in Afghanistan singlehandedly by supporting the mujahadeen.
Often the case for preserving the USSR depends on the belief that detente between Carter and Brezhnev could have worked and the USSR reformed into a more politically liberal empire without losing all the 'social acheivements'. It is tempting to believe so but unfortunately a myth.
Moreover, the Soviet Union certainly did not make for 'stability'. It did not deter the US invasion of Vietnam ( result two million dead ) Nor the proxy wars between the USA, China and the USSR in SE Asia. Nor did Cold War bipolarity prevent the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
The Cold War is a misnomer in many ways. As Niall Ferguson points out in The War of the World it was distinctly 'hot' in other parts of the globe beyond the developed world and the Communist bloc Warsaw Pact nations of what was then "Eastern Europe".
Certainly the end of the Soviet Union was a 'geopolitical catastrophe' but from its inevitable demise came good ( the liberation of Central Europe ) and bad ( the ethnic irredentist wars in the Caucasus and the competition for oil and gas in 'the stans'.
Yet this was a return to history and not the End of History espoused by Fukuyama. With the revival of classic geopolitics the Great Game of the nineteenth century for control of Eurasia has resumed as has the friction between the ethnic groups of the former imperium.
That has been shown dramatically by the War in Chechnya as well as the wars between the Georgians and the South Ossetians and Saakashvili's nationalist attack on Russian peacekeeping forces in the successionist territories in August 2008.