Integration outlook for ex-Soviets

by Andrey Borodaevskiy

It is well known that, in the political field, the 20th century brought about a strong and, as it turned out, omnipresent trend toward disintegration of former empires and the formation in their place of nation-states all over the crumbling colonial world.

In the realm of economy, however, the development went in the opposite direction — toward internationalization of economic life and further — toward a higher and specific form of economic integration. Such integration first emerged in its classic — regional or “neighborly”- form, like the European Union or the comprehensive North American Free Trade Agreement.

But with the dawn of the new millennium, economic integration began to take a new shape involving the “twinning” of economies of some countries belonging to different continents and to different social-economic models. The highly unusual pair of the United States and China offers the most striking example of such a rapidly emerging “Siamese connection.”

The two just-mentioned mighty trends, though opposite to each other, were somehow interconnected and often developed simultaneously or with only a short time lag. The world began to take on a new shape — with the global economic system becoming characterized by many poles of development or by many enclaves of an integrative nature in all major directions of economic exchange.

Among the former Soviet empire “fragments,” the processes of change proceeded in contradictory ways.

With the three Baltic states, which have spent half a century under the aegis of Communist Moscow and are ethnically and culturally rather alien to Russian tradition and political practices, the situation is unequivocal: All have become “little brothers”in the growing European “family” and are now quite happy with the status quo. Their destiny leaves no grounds for concern, while the future of the Russian population still living in these former Soviet territories will probably be secured on a geo-economic basis.

Actually, ethnic Russians in “Baltia” and elsewhere are, as a rule, well-educated people prepared to work in modern production systems — a quality which can be in high demand during the next historical period characterized by the trend toward further all-European “twinning.”

It looks as if Ukraine will share the Baltic experience, though with a lag. However, it does not exclude a revival of full-scale fruitful cooperation with Russia sooner or later — in a historic perspective, also a quite realistic scenario. For one, there are objective preconditions to rebuild the common aerospace complex of the two countries, which for decades has served as an example of effective “twinning a la Sovietique” on a sectoral basis.

As for Belarus and Moldova, both are characterized by rather whimsical combinations of geopolitical and geo-economic factors, and that makes their future obscure and difficult to predict.

Yet, it can be expected that at the end of day, Belarus will share the historical destiny of Russia — in contrast to Moldova, or at least to its “Roman” part, which may make the choice in favor of the united Europe (with an eventual transformation of the Russian-speaking region Pridnestrovye into a self-dependent subject of international law in the Kosovo manner).

In the Caucasus, we find all three former Soviet republics looking for good fortune on rather different paths.

Armenia stands traditionally close to Russia and is a full-fledged member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, though it seems premature to speak of anything like economic integration (or “twinning”) in this case — just as in the case of Kazakhstan, by the way.

This evaluation is also valid for Azerbaijan, with a certain reservation connected with the fact that this oil-producing Islamic state has another alternative — that of a wider international orientation. Its mutual relations with Armenia are aggravated by the very painful problem of Karabakh, but it seems that nothing can be done here — until good will and geo-economic interests will outweigh the traditional geopolitical strife.

As for Russia’s close historical partner Georgia, today the course of its leadership is tightly attached to what is happening on Capitol Hill and what supranational Brussels expects of it. It applies both to military-strategic issues and to geo-economic considerations regarding the prospect of gaining EU membership.

The acute confrontation with Russia is a transient matter which does not deserve any excessive attention, but as it seems, nor is there any hope for a quick improvement in Russo-Georgian relations soon.

To this may be added that, judging by the geography of the recent “domestic” suicide attacks and the ethnic origins of the terrorists, there are hints that some parts of Russia’s North Caucasus will try to secede and establish a kind of independent status as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

Kazakhstan and the newborn states of Central Asia cannot be regarded as neglected in any way. The first is actively cooperating with Russia — something quite natural and useful to both sides. Not-so-few schemes of an integrative nature encompassing this vast region remain on paper — with the possible exception of the Eurasian Economic Community. This decade-old grouping includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kirgyzstan and Tajikistan, and it might pretty soon develop into a genuine customs union.

It seems that all of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia have been taking a wait-and-see position — in part, thanks to the considerable interest Europe and America have been showing in their natural riches. All, including Uzbekistan, are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a geopolitical entity with a big geo-economic potential as well.

Thus, a drift toward the “elder Chinese brother” will probably develop in the region — though not so much with the help of geo-economic mechanisms as on the basis of traditional geopolitical choice.

Analyzing the also quite young Russian Federation — Russia proper — and trying to forecast its future, we must keep in mind exactly the historic retrospective: first of all, the well-known fact that it is not an ordinary nation-state but a former metropolis of a vast empire inhabited by more than 120 peoples culturally glued together by the Russian language.

For centuries, Moscow and St. Petersburg ruled with a powerful hand the scarcely populated vast territories. The colonial character of relations between the European core and mostly Asian periphery predestined especially strong disintegrative forces within the Communist empire.

Since 1991 the world has observed a sharp turn of almost all former Soviet republics away from Moscow and toward capitalist Europe and the industrial West in general. The disintegration has borne a strong geopolitical imprint. As for the times ahead, there might be an equally strong impact of geo-economic interests and considerations on bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the former imperial area.

With the new/old — empire-minded — president that Russia is going to get in 2012 (“re-elect” doesn’t quite fit), integrative efforts in the post-Soviet area may grow in strength and embrace new directions.

Russian professor Andrey Borodaevskiy, with half a century of research and teaching experience in the world economy and international economic relations, is co-author of the recent monograph “Russia in the Diversity of Civilizations.” His e-mail address is annabo36@mail.ru