Staunton, October 28 – President Vladimir Putin opposes the introduction of a visa regime with the Central Asian countries because he is still “living with the illusions” that the Commonwealth of Independent States of which they are members continues to exist and can serve as the basis for some broader and deeper Russian-led entity.
But the weakness of the Russian Federation, the actions of China and the European Union, and the interests and attitudes of the governments and peoples of the former Soviet republics now part of that organization mean, Moscow’s New Times suggests that “the CIS de facto does not exist” anymore (newtimes.ru/articles/detail/72967).
In a 4,000-word article in the current issue of the week, Sergey Khazaov, Konstantin Shiyan, Boris Yudanov, and Viktoriya Charochkina survey the situation in all of these countries and call attention to some common themes which challenge Putin’s assumptions about the CIS and its future.
In all these countries, economic investment from the European Union and/or China is playing an ever greater role both absolutely and relative to that coming from the Russian Federation. In some cases, such as Kazakhstan, China has largely displaced Russia in this regard; and in others, such as Ukraine and Moldova, national elites hope the EU will.
That underlying economic shift – and the article features lists of investment proects by country, maps showing where these investments are coming from, and explanations as to why Russian investment in these countries is falling behind – helps to explain a re-orientation of elites and masses in these states away from Moscow and toward Beijing or Brussels.
Four of the five countries in Central Asia now have more trade with China than they do with Russia, a remarkable if not always much reported development. And the countries of the former Soviet West and the southern Caucasus are, again with the exceptions of Belarus and Armenia, increasingly diverse in their trade partners as well.
This change in turn has happened so quickly and so dramatically that it has led Moscow to take dramatic measures to try to hold these countries in its orbit, including the introduction of trade restrictions, threats to raise oil and gas prices, and exclusion of gastarbeiterss from these countries.
But to judge from the New Times survey, these Russian actions are having exactly the opposite effect that the Kremlin wants: they are reminding these countries of how Moscow has behaved toward what it views as naturally its own in the past, and they are driving these countries ever further away from it into the welcoming arms of China and the EU.
At least some in these countries would like to remain close to Russia, but Russia attitudes are pushing them away too. As one Ukrainian official noted, Russian representatives have acted as if Ukraine has no choice but to stay with Russia, thereby making it ever more likely that Ukrainians will try to find a different one.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this article, however, concerns what Russians are having to pay to maintain Putin’s “illusions.” The New Times pointsto the burden the CIS and other post-Soviet institutions now put on the Russian taxpayers, implicitly suggesting Russians are not getting what they are paying for and virtually inviting them to oppose this approach.