Thursday, October 2, 2008

Window on Eurasia: If the CIS Disintegrates, Russia Might Too, Moscow Expert Says

Paul Goble

Eagles Mere, PA, October 2 – In a comment that underscores just much many Russians believe is at stake at next week’s meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a Moscow analyst has suggested that if the CIS ceases to exist as a result of the exit of Georgia and possibly other countries, then the disintegration of the Russian Federation could soon follow.
At a Moscow press conference on Tuesday, Sergey Mikheyev, the deputy head of the Center of Political Technolgies, said that the possibility that the CIS would fall apart was “a logical extention of the process of the disintegration of the USSR” and that the end of the CIS would likely entail challenges to the Russin Federation.
In the wake of the death of the CIS, he continued, many people would ask whether there was any good reason for Russia to continue to exist in its current borders, whether Moscow could in fact run so large a country, and whether the central government had a right to control that territory’s natural resources.
That is why, Mikheyev said, Russian elites are so interested in saving the CIS. Not so much because it allows them to project power as many have suggested or complained but because it allows them to hold on to the power they have over the territory and people of the Russian Federation (
But another commentator, Aleksey Vlasov, the director of the Moscow State University Information Analytic Center for the Study of Social-Politgical Processes in the Post-Soviet Space, offered a somewhat different take on the current situation of the CIS, albeit one that also highlights just how fateful for that institution the next few weeks and months may be.
If Mikheyev focused on the impact of any change in the CIS on Moscow and on Moscow’s ability to keep this post-Soviet institution going for its own self-preservation, Vlasov focused on the ability of the non-Russian members to destroy it and on the underlying reason why they won’t do so.
It would be easy for the member states to destroy the CIS, he said. All they would hve to do is to “liquidate all the economic concessions and preferences in their relations and introduce a visa regime applying to all.” That would end the CIS, but it would harm so many of the countries that, he said, there are unlikely to be moves that radical at the Bishkek summit on October 10.
Far more likely, the Moscow State University analyst said, will be changes when the CIS “becomes more compact and consists of those countries which are prepared to jointly take decisions and fulfill them,” an implicit acknowledgement that other countries besides Georgia are likely to leave the institution in the not too distant future.
The only thing that might allow the CIS to survive with most of its current members, Vlasov argued, would be the appearance of “an external factor which would force the CIS to unite around Russia, its common historical and economic center.” Considerations of this kind could help to explain Moscow’s increasing hostility to the West.
Vlasov’s argument parallels one made yesterday by nationalist commentator Igor Dzhadan. Asserting “the USSR owed the last 30 years of its existence to the Cold War,” he said that Russia, given its national psychology, will be able to solve its “internal problems only if the country is confronted by foreign enemies (
But any such a retreat to a “Fortress Russia” surrounded by a “Fortress CIS,” however compelling that model may be to Moscow elites in the short term, carries with it two serious threats to the future of the Russian Federation.
On the one hand, as economist Yevgeny Gontmakher pointed out in “Nezavisimaya gazeta” yesterday, such an approach would create the very “isolationism and [need for] a mobilized economy” that led a generation or more ago first to Soviet backwardness and then to the collapse of the USSR (
And on the other, that kind of Russian retreat, by signaling that it has more to lose from the collapse of the CIS than other member states do, could unintentionally give them the whip hand in future negotiations with Moscow over economic and other arrangements. After all, any of them could threaten that if its terms were not met, it would leave.
That possibility was implicitly threatened by Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka this week when he pointed out in a “Vzglyad” interview that if Moscow did not make concessions to Minsk on gas prices, Russia could lose its closest ally in the region, something he suggested Moscow could not really want to do (

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