On December 15, 2016, the Economy Institute of the Russian Academy of Science jointly with the Association "Center for Research into Economic and Sociocultural upward enhancement of CIS countries, Central and Eastern Europe" held a round table “25 years later. Results and outlooks of development of post-soviet states”. The participants included researchers Russian Academy of Science, students, postgraduates and professors of Moscow universities. Here follow the key theses of speakers of the event.
1. Following the 25-year transformation, post-soviet states have built up different results, partly due to chosen political, social and economic models of development, and partly due to available production resources, varied interests of global and regional states, external factors. Domestic demand, based on incomes from export of goods, services and labor force, as well as foreign loans, can be defined as the main driver of economic growth in these countries. Investments, especially foreign ones, are another important factor, but it manifests better in countries with rich natural resources. Thus, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have showed the highest rates of economic growth, while Ukraine and Moldova – the lowest.
2. In their foreign policies, the New Independent States (NIS) demonstrate various geopolitical orientations, different approaches to the development of cooperation within the post-soviet space and diverse attitude towards Russia. In fact, the post-soviet space is no longer a single whole, it is split, which makes the realization of the Eurasian integration project a difficult task to accomplish. The reasons are cultural differences, historical traditions, cultural characteristics, egoistic ambitions of ruling elites to secure personal survival.
3. The policy pursued by Russia has also contributed to the split of post-soviet space. Absence of well-developed long-term strategy has resulted into disjoint and sometimes conflicting steps, which have given no political or economic effect. Moreover, effectiveness of Russian integration policy in the region has been compromised by the tendency prevailing in many NIS to distance themselves from Russia as the only way to preserve sovereignty.
4. Recent change of foreign policies in some states, aimed at closer cooperation with Russia, proves that integration process starts prevailing over disintegration on the post-soviet area.
5. The Eurasian integration project also faces resistance from Russia’s geopolitical rivals – the US and EU. Strategic tasks, defined by the US back in 90ies, right after the collapse of USSR, are aimed at the prevention of reintegration of post-soviet states into a union led by Russia. Amid the cold war between Russia and the West, the key priority of western foreign policy towards the post-soviet space is to prevent realization of the Eurasian integration project.
6. The post-soviet space also needs improved security, partially due to obvious foreign threats, and partially due to accumulated social and economic problems, which threatens stability in CIS countries.
7. New Independent States seek to strengthen their sovereignty. It is an objective process, which limits the possibilities of the Eurasian integration process. Integration provides for transfer of some decision-making functions from national to supranational level, but any restriction of sovereignty is a sensitive issue for ruling elites. They see it as an attempt on the part of Russia to dominate the post-soviet space.
8. Competing with such powers as the US, EU and China, Russia does not have enough resources to obtain dominant influence over the post-soviet space, thus it has to seek and agree to various form of cooperation and to avoid direct confrontations, as it is happening in Ukraine.
9. Ukrainian crisis is a serious challenge to Russian interests. Relations with Ukraine are important for Russia and require balanced and well-thought out decisions.
10. At present, the process of globalization slows down, and countries pay more attention to their sovereignty, which holds backs the realization of the Eurasian integration project. At the same time, in response to globalization, countries also focus on regional integration, which strengthens the chances of success of the Eurasian integration project.
Nowadays, no country, including NIS, can afford to exist outside regional integration projects, but the problem is that NIS countries have an alternative to the Eurasian integration project, namely the EU or Chinese Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB). Moreover, for many NIS countries these two integration projects are more preferable than the Eurasian integration, as they offer significant foreign investments, access to modern technologies, new markets and production chains of transnational companies.
11. Amid such conditions, improvement of cooperation within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization can be a possible way out, especially considering Russian-Chinese agreements on interfacing between the Eurasian integration project and SREB. Thanks to cooperation between Russia and China, the Eurasian project will have more chances for further development. However, considering different levels of potentials of these countries, we should take into account that in this integration project Russia may play the role of China’s junior partner.
12. The analysis of foreign policy principles and national security concepts of NIS proves that post-soviet states welcome multi vector foreign policy. Development of relations with Russia and participation in the Eurasian integration project is no longer a priority for many NIS countries. In fact, basing on their political goals and understanding of the Eurasian project, NIS countries can be divided into three groups. The first one includes countries seeking closer cooperation with Russia and participating in Russian integration project (Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan). The second group includes states seeking European integration (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia). And the third group of countries is balancing among Russia, the EU and NATO (Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan). Thus, only a part of post-soviet states is really interested in the Eurasian integration project, and no changes in policies of other NIS states are expected any time soon.
13. After 25 years since the collapse of USSR, NIS countries have a new generation of politicians, not linked to the experience and traditions of the Soviet Union. The new generation does not consider Russia as a natural ally. Moreover, new ruling elites are unsympathetic towards Russia and prefer to take the US and European Union as a model for their foreign policies. Such tendency will get stronger within years, which will have a negative impact on the Eurasian integration project. Population and business of NIS countries also have rather guarded attitude towards the Eurasian integration. The major part of society in these countries have trouble picturing its idea and do not see any concrete social and economic effects from participation in it.
Analysis of programs of NIS political parties proves that the Eurasian integration project is not a governing idea of their political activity. The programs focus either on strengthening of sovereignty or on building closer ties with both Russia and the West. Thus, there are no solid social and political grounds for successful realization of the Eurasian integration project.
14. Issues of foreign policy are an important factor for determining domestic policy, as they influence political constellation and domestic political processes, especially in Ukraine and Moldova. Studies show that a consensus on foreign policy issues will not be reached any time soon. Moreover, analysis of foreign policy doctrines and international activity of the post-soviet states proves that the process of their formation as stable global players is not over, and the choice of foreign policy reference points is not final.
15. Geopolitical and geo-economical split of the post-soviet space will continue, and disintegration processes will prevail, which will further obstruct the realization of the Eurasian project. The world economic crisis has badly hit NIS countries and have created news obstacles for the Eurasian integration project, as it forces them to follow the path of protectionism, not openness.
Further development of the Eurasian project strongly depends on Russia’s ability to overcome the crisis and to turn into a modern and effective power with modernized economy and high-tech production, which will hike its importance for NIS states and, consequently, for realization of the Eurasian integration project.