Russia fights back

In this brief history of post-Soviet integration attempts,  Giovanni Cadioli takes the Russian point of view, which has indeed been the main force behind the majority of attempts to reconnect the former Soviet Republics. He argues that after a number of disappointments, Russia finally seems to have found a way of integrating its own neighbourhood.

The flag of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation

The flag of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation

In looking at the phenomena here at issue, one can clearly see how at first the Kremlin focused on a number of Commonwealth-wide projects (and here I refer to the Commonwealth of Independent States, CIS) and then attempted the foundation of various organisations which were meant to involve smaller numbers of former SSRs.

The CIS had the particularity of “encapsulat[ing] two contradictory dynamics” [1], namely to “facilitate the journey of the former Soviet republics toward independence [but also to] develop more associational qualities”[2]. It is therefore not the case that most of the projects launched under the framework of the CIS were never implemented and that the organisation was and still is largely ineffective. The most notable attempted projects were: the plan to establish a Commonwealth Army (which would have prevented the complete break-up of the former Soviet Army) under a CIS High Command, the CIS-wide Economic Union, launched in 1993, and the Collective Security Treaty (CST), signed in 1992 [3].

Afterwards, several other forms of regional coordination were attempted: in 1995 the creation of a Customs Union (CU) between Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus was suggested; in 1997 Russia and Belarus established the Union State; in 1998 Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan re-launched the CU project, with the aspiration to proceed to a Common Economic Space (CES); in 2000 these same states, plus Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, established the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC); in 2002 the original signatories of the CST minus Georgia and Azerbaijan founded the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO – Uzbekistan later on suspended its membership from both the EurAsEC and the CSTO); in 2003 the project of a CES between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine was re-proposed; in 2007 three members of the EurAsEC –  Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan – launched the project of a Customs Union of the Eurasian Economic Community (CU EurAsEC); in 2011 plans for a Eurasian Economic Union (EurAsEcU) and Eurasian Union (EurAsU) were laid down.

Most of the organisations listed above remained on paper. Those that did come into being – the Union State, EurAsEC, CSTO and CU EurAsEC – gained only limited achievements and have not yet fully developed.

However, in the last few months Russia seems to be “striking back”, as the Customs and Economic Union plans got the endorsement of Armenia. At the same time the tiny Republic of Moldova is seeing mass demonstration held by the communist opposition in favour of closer ties with Russia and of the Customs Union, while much sought-after Ukraine has shown that it is unwilling to unilaterally abandon the Russian-led project in order to join the European Union.

The presentation of these repeated attempts at political, economic and military integration proves the existence of three trends. First of all, the utopia of a reunification in the name of Slavic brotherhood vanished, albeit not very quickly. Secondly, Moscow gave up the idea to involve the whole Commonwealth in its plans and concentrates mostly on its two most reliable allies, Belarus and Kazakhstan. However, finally, the Kremlin has not abandoned at all integration plans concerning Ukraine – an attitude that seems to have paid off. Therefore, we could say that Moscow has now accepted the independence of its neighbours, but still questions their sovereignty and now pursues plans to regroup them under its leadership. Its long term plans surely cannot not exclude some sort of reunification.

[1] Sakwa, Richard and Mark Webber. “The Commonwealth of Independent States, 1991-1998: Stagnation and Survival”. Europe-Asia Studies 51, no. 3 (1999), p. 379.

[2] Ibid.

[3] In 1992 only Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan signed the treaty. However, in 1994 they were joined by Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan. Nevertheless, Turkmenistan and Ukraine never signed the agreement.


One thought on “Russia fights back

  1. Pingback: European Union vs. Eurasian Union; going into extra time | Vostok Cable

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