Thursday, June 25, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Economic Crisis Threatens to Kill Off the CIS

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 25 – The economic crisis in the Russian Federation and other post-Soviet states may finally lead to the complete collapse of the Commonwealth of Independent States because, in the absence of agreement on a common plan of action, the number of conflicts among its member states is growing, according to a leading Moscow financial analytic center.
In a 27-page study entitled “The Countries of the CIS and the World Crisis: Common Problems and Different Approaches” that was released yesterday, the FBK accounting firm said that the deepening economic crisis across the former Soviet space is creating “a moment of truth” for the Russian-led CIS (
Its authors argue,, as “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist Sergey Kulikov put it today, that Russia’s weak economic performance especially in recent months has exacerbated centrifugal forces within the CIS because “the absence of a strong center forces its members to seek a way out on an individual basis” (
Igor Nikolayev, the head of the FBK strategic analysis department which prepared the study, said that if Russia were in a position to counter the centrifugal forces, then the crisis could lead to a strengthening of the CIS, but because of Russia’s own economic problems, there seems to be little chance of that.
And even if Russia were in a position to provide more leadership, it would face an uphill battle, Nikolayev said the FBK study shows. “The number of problems among the countries in the Commonwealth has increased,” including tensions between Russia, on the one hand, and Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Belarus and Azerbaijan, on the other, not to mention with Georgia.
At the same time, the report acknowledges, some of the CIS countries “have attempted and are attempting to combine their efforts,’ including the February 2009 decision to create an Anti-Crisis Fund for the members of the narrower European-Asiatic Economic Cooperation Organization.
Commenting on the conclusions of the RBK report, Ruslan Grinberg, the director of the Moscow Institute of Economics, drew attention to the rhetoric of cooperation which he said continues to affect the governments of all countries in this crisis as well as to a divide that the FBK report highlighted (
That divide, he noted, is between the “authoritarian” members of the CIS where “there is no crisis” and more democratic ones like Ukraine where the crisis has hit particularly hard. He suggested that Ukraine now represents the largest problem for the region because “Russia doesn’t want to forgive [Kyiv’s] debts and Europe does not want to pay them.”
Others reacting to the report included Sergey Mikheyev, general director of the Moscow Center of Political Technologies. He argued at a press conference yesterday that Moscow would do whatever it takes to keep the “stillborn” CIS from falling apart lest its collapse lead to the disintegration of the Russian Federation itself (
“I am certain,” Mikheyev continued, “that the question of the falling apart of the CIS is [in fact] a logical extension of the process of the falling apart of the USSR. [Consequently,] if the ‘commonwealth’ is liquidated, then the question will arise about the falling apart of the Russian Federation.”
Russia’s elite, he added, “is the main factor behind the existence of the CIS. If the Kremlin decides that the CIS is a post-Soviet structure that is doomed to pass away, then that organization will disappear. But if the [Moscow] elite takes some actions in order to prolong the existence of post-Soviet integration, then the CIS will have a chance to survive.”
Given what is at stake – not just the post-Soviet space as a whole but the Russian Federation as a country – Moscow elites are likely to do just that. But Aleksey Vlasov, a Moscow specialist on the region, said that may not be enough if the other countries decide to “liquidate” the CIS by adopting protectionist measures or requiring visas.
Indeed, although Vlasov did not mention it, there is some evidence on his side. Almost two weeks ago, the Georgian parliament unanimously adopted two resolutions which complete the procedure of Tbilisi’s exit from the CIS, a step that other countries, including Ukraine in the first instance, could soon follow, with all the consequences for Russia that would have.

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