As legal successor to the USSR, Russia regards the post-Soviet space as her own sphere of special interest, though Russian CIS policy was not formulated in terms of clear doctrine. The result of this is her frequent swings between maintaining the geopolitical status quo and revisionism (explicit or implicit revision of the Belovezha Accords), tough defence of her interests and similarly tough defence of international legal procedures.
Other integrating structures
The CIS is now far from the only integrating structure in the post-Soviet space. Russia leads the institutional integration of the new independent states. As legal successor to the USSR, Russia regards the post-Soviet space as her own sphere of special interest, though Russian CIS policy was not formulated in terms of clear doctrine. The result of this is her frequent swings between maintaining the geopolitical status quo and revisionism (explicit or implicit revision of the Belovezha Accords), tough defence of her interests and similarly tough defence of international legal procedures.
After the dissolution of the USSR, Russia initiated such projects as the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The declared functions of all these organisations overlap to a certain extent, but at the same time they have differing aims and spheres of operation. The overlap arose because the integration projects were set up at different times and and in varying circumstances.
The Collective Security Treaty (CST)
There were specific reasons for the signing of the Collective Security Treaty on 15 May 1992 and the establishment of its base, the CSTO, which came into effect on 18 September 2003. These were the upsurge in the Afghan crisis and the Central Asian ethno-political destabilisation. Of particular concern was the civil war in Tadzhikistan in which Russia and Uzbekistan were involved. It was for this reason that the chief signatories (and creators) of the CST were the former Soviet Central Asian republics. Later on the aims and objectives of the CST changed and the organisation is now regarded as the legal framework for guaranteeing security (mainly military) throughout the CIS.
In the summer of 1999 and 2000 there were serious military conflicts with Islamic fundamentalists in the Kyrgyz mountains. At that point the signatories to the CST agreed on joint military action, almost for the first time. This led to the CST becoming the CSTO. In August 2006 Uzbekistan joined CSTO for the second time.
Today CSTO is called the «Eurasian NATO», but this comparison is misleading both in terms of its numbers and its effectiveness, as was demonstrated by the Collective Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF) initiative of February 2009. At the CSTO summit on 14 June 2009 the document establishing the CRRF had yet to be signed by Uzbekistan or Belarus, though Belarus later rectified this and Uzbekistan might yet do the same. Russia is the main donor to this project, both financially and in the composition of future forces.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the CSTO have similar structures. The SCO came into being as a direct result of the successful collaboration on demilitarising the borders of the 5 Central Asian republics and China. It was originally considered a security organisation. Its status is not that of a military bloc, nor yet of a regular open security conference. It handles a wide range of issues, from the prevention of terrorism and extremism to humanitarian problems. But unlike the EEC or the CSTO it is not a structure where Russia’s domination is assured. China plays an important role: it takes a different position on the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and tries to ensure its own leading role in Central Asia.
The SCO also differs from other integration structures in the post-Soviet space in that its members are not only former USSR republics: China is a member, India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan have observer status and Sri Lanka is a «partner in dialogue». EEC may be important for Russia mainly as a means of preserving security in Central Asia, but for China the economic conquest of the region is just as important.
The Eurasian Economic Community (EEC)
Unlike the CSTO and SCO, the EEC’s priority is the economic integration of former Soviet republics. The EEC was formed out of the 1995 Customs Union between Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. On 10 October 2000 the presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tadzhikistan signed it into being in Astana. In December 2003 the EEC was granted observer status at the UN General Assembly. In its turn it granted observer status to Moldova and Ukraine (2002) and Armenia (2003). Uzbekistan also worked with the EEC in 2006-08, but pulled out again in November 2008.
At its summit meeting in Dushanbe (6 October 2007) the EEC agreed on 3-year Customs Union between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Its Commission accorded Russia 57% of the votes and Kazakhstan and Belarus 21.5% each. At the meeting of the EEC intergovernmental council on 11 December 2009, the 3 heads of government concerned signed the final set of documents. From 1 July 2010 there will be a single customs regime for the 3 countries.
The Single Economic Space (SES)
The SES has rather too hastily been described as a «post-Soviet EU». It was an attempt to develop economic integration, with plans for subsequent political integration. Its members, from September 2003 were Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. But from the start Ukraine has been blocking practically all measures towards integration. In 2003-04 the second Ukrainian president, Leonid Kuchma, had complicated relationships with Russia, USA and EU countries, which was the main reason why Ukraine joined the SES. After the Orange Revolution the SES ceased to be a priority for Ukrainian foreign policy or foreign trade relations.
Russia and Belarus
Russia and Belarus are the countries that have moved furthest along the route to integration. On 2 April 1996 the treaty creating the Commonwealth of Russia and Belarus was signed. This started a unification process, which has not yet been completed. Further milestones were the Declaration of 25 December 1998 and the Treaty on the creation of a union state of 8 December 1999.
But, as Andrei Suzdaltsev has correctly pointed out, even today the Union State is a «strange formation», which still has «no coat of arms, flag, president or government, territory, citizenship, security and fiscal ministries, borders etc. etc. The Union State plays no part in international law, is not a member of the UN and plays no part in international relations».
Integration has been so slow for many reasons. The most important being that Russia and Belarus have different motives for joining it. For Russia, the Union State has become a kind of compensation for the dissolution of the USSR, a demonstration of possible «ways back». For Belarus, rapprochement with Russia was a good opportunity to use Russian resources at favourable rates in order to further their own development plans. In the second half of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 the views of Moscow and Minsk diverged in respect of recognising the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These differences impinged on other problems (participation in setting up CCRF and Belarusian food imports to Russia).
The dissatisfaction of some new independent states with Russia's geopolitical dominance of the post-Soviet space has resulted in attempts to set up integration systems without her. They were regarded as one-off alternatives to projects initiated by Russia after 1991.
The first of these GUAM, (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaidjan and Moldova), was established on 10 October 1997. Operating outside the CIS, its members were looking to become less politically dependent on Russia, as well as less energy dependent. 3 of GUAM’s members have lost control of separatist territories as a result of interethnic conflicts. From 1999-2005, when Uzbekistan was a member, the organisation became GUUAM.
It really only got into its stride when Viktor Yushchenko became Ukraine's 3rd president. GUAM initiatives tend to be rather unrealistic, oriented more towards propaganda, like the «democratisation of Belarus» or the idea of setting up a joint «GUAM peace-keeping force». This was not very realistic, as three of the four members are themselves involved in conflicts.
After the USSR
The last years of the USSR confirmed Alexei de Tocqueville's famous saying that «the worst times for a bad regime are just exactly when it makes attempts to improve».
The fruits of perestroika, considered by many in the USSR and elsewhere to be timely and desirable, were not at all what was expected by its supporters and activists. The new states that have arisen from the ashes of the «bad regime» which did not survive its «improvement», have quite complicated relationships between themselves, let alone with Russia, the legal successor to the USSR. Of the 15 former Soviet republics, 4 have no diplomatic relations with one of the others (Armenia and Azerbaidjan, Russia and Georgia). This is just one reason why the political «transition» from authoritarianism to democracy, freedom and the market cannot be considered to be completed. The process has not been either as easy or as speedy as many in the early1990s expected it would be.
The search for a balance
There is a fragile balance between reforming initiatives and the preservation of political regimes in the new independent states. The countries of the CIS, Georgia and the Baltic states are also trying to balance between preserving the status quo and revising it. On the one hand the new nation states are successful (even if they do have ongoing internal conflicts). But on the other, they are bound together by a host of problems, ranging from the economy to security. They are therefore doomed to swing between integration and the defence of their independence. The ideal balance has yet to be struck.
Dr. Sergei Markedonov is Director of the Department for Inter-ethnic Relations at Moscow’s Institute of Political and Military Analysis.
The first part of Sergei Markedonov's article can be read here