Staunton, April 28 – The Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States will survive this decade at least, but it will likely have fewer members, with the countries of Central Asia the most likely to exit because they “will make a different geopolitical choice,” according to a leading Moscow specialist on the post-Soviet region.
During a video conference between scholars and officials in Moscow, Tbilisi, Almaaty, Bishkek, and Chisinau, Aleksey Vlasov, director of the Center for Post-Soviet Research at Moscow State University, said that “the nucleus” of the CIS will survive but some of its outlying members will likely leave (www.ia-centr.ru/expert/10364/).
Vlasov mentioned three “factors” which he said would prevent the complete unraveling of the CIS: “the absence of visas, Russian as a common language of communication, and the still existing trade and economic preferences in relations among the [Commonwealth member] states.”
“If the three components disappear,” he continued, “the CIS as such will not exist. In this case, the CIS will be transformed into a club of interests, the presidents will meet twice a year, some questions will be discussed, but not more than that. While these exist, it is necessary to add to them certain motives so that the system will not weaken but be strengthened.”
Another participant in the video conference, Sergey Mikheyev, the director general of the Moscow Center of Political Conjuncture, agreed. He said that in his view, the CIS “in one form or another will be preserved over the course of the next decade because there exist definite preconditions for this.”
There are actually many reasons for “integration within the framework of the CIS,” Mikheyev said. “The question is in how deep this integration can be. As far as the membership is concerned, then it certainly can be changed, but this to a significant degree depends on external factors because around the perimeter of the CIS, destructive processes are taking place.”
As far as the countries of Central Asia are concerned, the Moscow analyst said, “the question could be put in a still worse form.” That is because those countries are “not simply reorienting themselves” but because outside forces are promoting this “in a quite dangerous key.”
The remarks of Vlasov and Mikheyev represent a remarkably open acknowledgement by those close to the powers that be in Moscow that the CIS is hardly the vibrant organization Russian leaders often seek to present it as. But more than that, their words point back to the way in which the CIS itself was in fact organized.
The CIS was not created at Belovezhe as many now think. Instead, the actions of the presidents of the three Slavic republics prompted the leaders of the Central Asian Muslim states to meet and consider forming their own organization. Fearful of what that might mean, Russian leaders then organized a meeting in Kazakhstan to link the two groups into the CIS.
The comments of Vlasov and Mikheyev this week suggest that 20 years on, the organization has not been able to overcome that original division effectively and that it, rather than the withdrawal of Georgia or the assumption of associate status by Turkmenistan, is likely to be the defining vector in that organization’s future existence.