The CIS: One step away from falling apart

Agency WPS
What the Papers Say. Part A (Russia)
February 17, 2005, Thursday


SOURCE: Argumenty i Fakty, No. 7, February 16, 2005, p. 5

by Alexander Kolesnichenko

Konstantin Zatulin, Duma member and head of the Russian Institute for
CIS Countries, discusses the undercurrents in the Commonwealth of
Independent States.

* * *

Until recently, the purpose of existence for the CIS might have been
summed up as follows: to enable all member states to extract
privileges and concessions from Russia. Moscow was alone in insisting
that the CIS really existed. Over the past couple of years, however,
it’s become clear that the former Soviet republics are rapidly
sliding off in different directions. Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine
seek to join European organizations, following in the footsteps of
the Baltic states. And Russia is even having problems in relations
with its closest partners: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and

Ukraine has always been the greatest threat to the idea of preserving
the CIS. It is the only post-Soviet state capable of becoming a real
counterweight to Russia, and the fact that the pro-Western Viktor
Yushchenko has come to power may accelerate that process. The first
test of stability will be the Trans-Dniester region.

This unrecognized republic borders on Moldova and Ukraine. Moldovan
President Vladimir Voronin (the only CIS president to attend Viktor
Yushchenko’s inauguration) is relying on Ukraine to complete the
economic blockade of this “rebel territory.” Voronin believes that
once the Trans-Dniester region is entirely isolated from the outside
world, Tiraspol will surrender. But things aren’t that simple.
Ukraine’s nationalists consider the Trans-Dniester region to be
theirs. With their support, Yushchenko could start a game of his own,
turning the tables by offering active support to the Trans-Dniester
region. And Russia would be sidelined, losing its compatriots.

There are also some more far-reaching problems lying in store for us.
In the very near future, the GUUAM organization will make itself
heard. This is the only organization in the CIS of which Russia is
not a member. The GUUAM members are Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan,
Azerbaijan, and Moldova. GUUAM was founded in 1999 at a NATO meeting
in Brussels, as a counterweight to Russia.

All this makes it clear that the former Soviet Union is continuing to
separate into two camps. The first, pursuing advantages for itself,
still relies on Russia; but it is continuing to shrink. The second is
growing, but it is a channel for outside influence. And the greatest
tests for Russia in relations with its nearest neighbors are still to

Ukraine’s potential ambitions are the main problem in the foreseeable
future. Some parts of southern Russia are susceptible to agitation
from Ukraine: the Voronezh region, the Krasnodar territory, and
others. Against a backdrop of dissatisfaction with Moscow, there
could be fertile soil here for the “Why do we need Moscow, if it
gives us nothing?” question and the slogan of “We’re sick and tired
of the Chechnya problem.”

Imagine that Russia – for a number of reasons, including due to a
confrontation with the West – becomes bogged down in its own
problems. Meanwhile, Ukraine – thanks to the West – grows rapidly and
seeks opportunites for expansion. The only possible direction for
Ukraine’s economic, cultural, and any other expansion is Russia. And
the West will be nudging Ukraine in that direction.

* * *


The CIS Inter-State Statistical Committee recently released economic
development results for 2004. The best figures were recorded in
Ukraine: GDP growth of 12%. It was followed closely by Belarus, with
11%. Tajikistan’s economy grew by 10.6%, Azerbaijan’s by 10.2%, and
Armenia’s by 10.1%. But Russia was at the bottom of the list, with
GDP growth of only 7.1%, the worst result in the CIS.

Translated by Pavel Pushkin