Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The Dynamics of Integration: Russia and the near Abroad

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The Dynamics of Integration: Russia and the near Abroad

Article excerpt

A country which declared its independence will never join any union. --Uzbek President Karimov (Interfax, 28 March 1997)

We used to live in one big country and now cannot be completely separate. --Moldovan President Lucinschi (Chisinau Infotag, 31 March 1997)

Since the birth of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in late 1991, relations among its states have shown sharply contradictory tendencies. The dissolution of the Soviet Union amid declarations of independence by the union republics at once triggered counteractions to put the Soviet Humpty Dumpty together again.(1) These efforts stirred some of the former republics to oppose any arrangement threatening their newly declared national sovereignty. Meanwhile, in the new spirit of independence, all the states began seeking contacts with nations and organizations outside the CIS, vigorously forging regional and global alliances with great potential for changing the power landscape in the post-Soviet space and for greatly complicating CIS integration plans.

In this article I seek to identify the key factors encouraging CIS integration and disintegration, to weigh the relative strength of the factors after the five-plus years of the "civilized divorce" of the former Soviet republics, and to consider the probable shape of CIS institutions and relations in the next century.

Integrating Factors

The establishment of the CIS policymaking organs (Council of Heads of State and Council of Prime Ministers) was already approved when the Soviet flag was lowered over the Kremlin on Christmas Day, 1991. More than five years later, the CIS institutional anatomy continues to evolve in pursuit of reintegration. In the long run, whether the commonwealth persists at all as a viable political entity appears to depend chiefly on how well CIS institutions can serve the vital national interests of Russia and its non-Russian partners. In this respect, Russia's interests take precedence, for Russia's relative size, resources, and legacy of history have assigned to Moscow the pivotal role in making the CIS work. Without Russia there would be no commonwealth. At the same time, CIS institutions also serve the national interests of the non-Russian states, for those states cannot yet stand alone, secure their borders, or develop their economies successfully in isolation. According to Oleg Bogomolov, head of Russia's Federation Council Committee on CIS Affairs, all the states need one another so much that "the tendency toward convergence cannot be stopped now."(2)

Foremost among the factors driving the integration process is the need of the commonwealth countries to reestablish cooperation among their dislocated, reforming economies. As will be discussed here more fully in later pages, much CIS institution building to date has sought simply to recreate a single economic space within the commonwealth, with a fully functioning economic union and with customs and currency unions based on a common set of legal specifications. In this spirit, the 28 March 1997 summit of CIS presidents in Moscow showcased once again these familiar long-term economic goals of the commonwealth. In addition, Yeltsin defined new, timely economic targets with more immediate appeal that might reward specific coordinated actions of CIS partners. Thus, while particular attention focused, in Yeltsin's words, "on long-term economic questions of integration," he went on to discuss "the more effective use of existing--and the creation of new--transport routes and corridors and the formation of financial industrial groups."(3)

Next to economic imperatives, national security needs drive integration. The burden of Soviet defense, largely bequeathed to Russia, is heavy. As Colonel General Andrei Nikolaev, director of Russia's Border Services has noted, even Russia lacks the financial, technical, or human resources for a "Russia-only" border defense of its 4,669-mile border with Kazakhstan. …

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