Staunton, June 24 – Many commentators have thought that the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was intended to promote the integration of the former Soviet republics into a new whole perhaps like the European Union, given the frequent invocation of that goal in early CIS documents. And as a result, such writers have judged the CIS a failure.
But such an assumption is incorrect, Andrey Baykov, deputy editor of the Moscow journal “Mezhdunarodnye protsessy,” argues. The CIS has a different purpose – helping the member states to navigate “the processes of the disintegration of a highly integrated space” – and in that, the organization has been very successful (www.ng.ru/scenario/2010-06-22/13_cis.html).
The experience of the European Union has a powerful “’demonstration effect’” on observers and even participants in the early years of the CIS, the Moscow analyst continues, and it overshadowed an important reality: European countries were not then and are not now as “consolidated” as the post-Soviet republics were and in some cases remain.
That has led various authors to label the CIS “ineffective” and “unnecessary” and to predict its demise, especially “on those occasions when on the post-Soviet space develop sub-regional integration projects,” like GUAM, the Eurasian Economic Union, and the like, “have begun to develop."
Indeed, Baykov argues, it is important to understand that even organizations like GUAM were intended to “distance” their members from Russia rather than from the CIS “as a system of mutual relations.” And he suggests that this is yet additional evidence that “the meaning of the existence of the CIS has little to do with integration as such.”
It would have been far better if those involved in the CIS and those analyzing it had considered “the CIS not in the context of integrative unions [like the EU] but rather in comparison with other international formations far more similar to the CIS as far as the conditions of their appearance are concerned.”
The two most obvious of these are the British Commonwealth and the Francophone Union. Had that been done, the CIS would be seen “not as an unsuccessful integration project but as a mechanism for the preservation of preferential intra-regional ties under conditions of the collapse of the political (state) organism.”
Seen from that angle, the CIS would be evaluated “not according to the accepted criteria of integration but by the level of effectiveness of the coordination of the positions of the group of countries,” and it would receive high marks for what its member countries have been able to do most of the time.
“Throughout the 1990s,” Baykov writes, “the CIS successfully fulfilled the functions of keeping the post-Soviet republics in the frameworks necessary for their exit onto the trajectory of independent existence.” And by the end of that decade, the CIS “supported the differentiation of the formats of cooperation among its members,” a mark of success not failure.
During the last decade, he acknowledges, the success of the CIS as a regulator of the multi-lateral ties of these countries declined. Indeed, “the international-political space of the CIS was essentially structured, and ‘the demand’ for a sharply unified approach to the coordination of interactions had weakened.”
“The striving of some countries to distance themselves from the CIS … or from sub-regional structures on the space of the CIS … led to a violation of the principle of preferences in intra-group ties and forced Russia to shift its relations with these countries to an ‘equal rights’ level,” something that affected Moscow’s ties with the others as well.
Conversely, he says, “the desire of certain states of the CIS to find a more attractive (than Russia) integrative nucleus’ or center of attraction can be considered as dangerous attempts to reorient the system of preferential ties without a consideration of the existing realities on the space of the CIS.”
Seen from this perspective, “the broadening of the spectrum of the initial goals – the support of preferences in relations – through the development of new directions of cooperation including of an integration character only heightens the effectiveness of the CIS as a whole,” again something obvious if one compares the CIS with the British Commonwealth.
Put in most lapidary terms, Baykov argues, “the CIS as an organization [was and is] called to minimize the negative consequences of the transitional processes of the post-Soviet period” rather than be the basis for the further integration of a space which was far more centralized in the past than almost any other by virtue of both politics and culture.
Baykov’s argument provides a useful content for two other developments reported this week. On the one hand, new polls show that most Russians today do not want the Russian Federation to unite with Ukraine even though they do want the two countries to have close relations (http://www.levada.ru/press/2010062301.html).
And on the other, Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev pointed out that there is one truly common space across the CIS: criminal activity in that region is no respecter of national borders but is truly a multi-national operation resting on the ties that continue to exist among CIS countries (rian.ru/defense_safety/20100624/249769799.html).