Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Window on Eurasia: CIS Countries Not the Priority for Moscow Russians Often Claim, Radzikhovsky Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 6 – Russians and non-Russians have long been accustomed to saying that Moscow gives priority to its relations with the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, but “in reality,” a leading Moscow commentator says, its ties with the former Soviet republics long ago ceased to be its primary concern.
In an article in today’s “Rossiiskaya gazeta,” Leonid Radzikhovsky argues that whatever people in Moscow now say, a consideration of the basic indices of international relations shows that the countries of what most Russians call “the Far Abroad” are much more important to Russia than are those in “the Near Abroad”(www.rg.ru/2010/07/06/radz.html).
Only 17 percent of Russia’s foreign trade is with the CIS countries, he points out, a figure that means 83 percent is with others. Only Ukraine is among the first five of either importers of Russian goods or exporters of goods to the Russian Federation, and it ranks fifth among the former and fourth in the latter.
Nor are the CIS countries places where Russian firms are heavily invested. Most of these countries, Radzikhovsky notes, have economies that are too weak and laws that are too problematic to make them attractive places for Russians to invest. Again, only Ukraine represents an exception.
Moreover, “as concerns human contacts,” the pattern is the same. In 2008, the last year for which data are available, Russians made some 20 million trips to the Far Abroad but only 13 million to one of the former Soviet republics. The imbalance was even greater for “more important travel” involving education, medical treatment or business.
And if one speaks about specifically “political” ties, the pattern is the same: Russia has had numerous conflicts with various CIS countries and even with its ally Belarus. But as far as “the main European states, China, India, Japan, and the countries of the Near East, Africa or Latin America” are concerned, Russia has not had as many or as sharp conflicts.
Radzikhovsky suggests that that even relations with the United States have been less conflict-ridden than those with some of the countries in the Near Abroad. And he notes that media coverage notwithstanding, there have not been “PR wars” that have been typical of Moscow’s relations with the former Soviet republics.
Thus, the Moscow commentator says, Russia has “greater economic interests with the European Union, China and the US than with the countries of the CIS,” and there are more causes and occasions “for conflicts with the countries in the Near Abroad than with those states in the Far Abroad.”
Despite that reality, Russians like to tell themselves that the CIS is “a zone of influence” and of Moscow’s “special interest.” That sounds wonderful, of course, but what does it in fact mean? For many in the Russian capital, it is a nicer way of saying that Russia is in a position to “dominate” these countries.
“However,” Radzikhovsky continues, that is a self-deception. NOT ONE country of the CIS will put up with a POLITICAL DIKTAT from Russia” or even the suggestion of that. Indeed, any indication that Moscow intends to try will lead these countries to seek support from elsewhere.
Looking to the future, he points out, California’s Silicon Valley “could help Russia,” but Central Asia’s Fergana Valley certainly cannot. And as the recent developments in Kyrgyzstan have shown, Moscow’s ability to influence the latter region is quite limited. Moscow does not have the resources – “financial, moral or physical” – to act successfully on a unilateral basis.
Moreover, the Russian government’s continuing obsession with “the single union state with Belarus” has become “a ritual” and “one of the causes for eternal conflicts” given that Minsk continually demands for itself concessions it could never hope to obtain “if it were not for ‘the myth of a single state.’” Russians should acknowledge that this idea has no future at all.
The phenomenon that “connects [Russia] with the CIS countries” most of all is “labor migration,” and “the need for migrants will only grow.” Most of them will come from Central Asia, and Russia needs to develop better laws to handle the influx. But that is an “INTERNAL AFFAIR” of Russia, “which does not have a relationship to influence in Central Asia.”
All of this, Radzikhovsky concludes, “leads to a banal conclusion: If the conception of ‘priority relations’ with the CIS countries is in contradiction with reality, then it is necessary to change something – either reality or the conception.” That being the case, Russians need to decide which one they will choose.

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