Georgia and the reasons of the failure of post-soviet Russia’s initial integration projects

The collapse of the Soviet Union was accompanied by the series of events that are important to analyze. First of all, it should be noted that the Kremlin was trying to keep control by using the hard power, in particular, the illegal militarist interventions on the territories of the USSR, supporting local secessionist groups or criminal gang-formations and thus promoting ethnic conflicts. The soft force was also used, including some kind of an integration policy, which implied the maintenance of its influence over the post-Soviet countries and the carrying out of the political and socio-cultural processes in the region according to the rules of its own by means of initiation and expansion of various unions and organizations and application of different methods of persuasion and coercion. Thus, Russia's integration policy can be obviously considered as a part of its unified imperialistic policy and one of the key elements of Moscow's soft power during the post-Soviet period. It is also important to understand that the term ’integration’ propagated by the Kremlin, which is often used in western and English-language literature as ’Russian integration’ or ’Eurasian integration’, has never had a positive connotation in the civilized world, because it has never been the phenomenon based on the voluntary membership and the equality of rights. Therefore, it is interesting to reconsider the results of the attempts and the efforts of the Russian Federation to maintain and strengthen the influence over the post-Soviet region in the 1990s. It refers to the soft power rather than the hard power, in particular, the establishment of unions and organizations by official Moscow at the institutional level in a form of the Kremlin's first integration projects. It is important to find out the main problems that caused the failure of Russia's first integration policy and the reasons of those problems.

Like many western experts, Russian authors also thought that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the post-Soviet countries were facing not only economic destabilization, political and institutional problems, but also a security problem. As scholar Victoria Silesarenko notes, there were many attempts to solve the above-mentioned problems within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). According to the author, a special emphasis had been made on the cooperation on security issues. On 20 March 1992, in Kyiv, the Declaration on Non-use of Force between CIS Member States was signed within the organization. In the same year, there was the attempt to create a unified military budget. However, the declaration was repeatedly  violated by Russia itself. At the same time, in the early 1990s, there was the support of the separatist forces in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions and the illegal military intervention. Georgia, which left the CIS on 17 August 2009, after one year from the August 2008 War between Russia and Georgia, will not return to Moscow's orbit. The author is quite negative about Moldovan and Ukrainian attitudes towards the CIS. On 19 March 2014, the National Security and Stabilization Council of Ukraine  decided to withdraw its representation from the CIS due to the annexation of South-East Ukraine and Crimea. On 8 December 2014, the discussions on the issue of withdrawal of Ukraine from CIS started. As for the cooperation in the field of military and security integration, particularly, the developments within the Collective Security Agreement Organization, Uzbekistan left the organization in 2012 in protest due to its dissatisfaction with the strategic plans regarding Afghanistan. With regards to the humanitarian missions of the CIS, Victoria Slerarenko emphasizes that Russia uses humanitarian area as an element of soft power. The author states that the Russian language and Russian culture are the traditional tools of the soft power and thinks that they will maintain importance in the nearest future. However, in her view, a decisive role for the post-Soviet countries will be played by an unconditional leadership of Russia in terms of its economic development, education and science. When discussing Russia's integration problems and its regional leadership Silesarenko, like other Russian scholars, puts less emphasis on the political ambitions of Moscow and the real reasons that led to the formation of negative attitudes toward the integration policy of the Kremlin in the post-Soviet space [Слесаренко, 2016: 42].

The Russian experts divide the Russian integration policy into two main phases. The first phase was formed as a result of striving for the regulation of the process of dissolution of the Soviet Union, which, in their opinion, contributed to the creation of the so-called ‘Legal Framework’ of disintegration. As the Russian authors highlight, in traditional European sense, integration implies partial delegation of the governmental powers at the supranational level, which, at that time, was less interesting for the CIS countries as for any other countries that had recently gained independence. In the early 90s of the 20th century, only Belarus expressed interest in closer relations with Russia. In 2003, the Eastern European and Caucasian regions drew their attention to the second largest regional leader, the European Union (EU), and according to the majority of experts, this was the beginning of the second phase of the Russian integration policy. Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine signed a document on the creation of a common economic space in Yalta in 2003. Since 2007, the Eurasian Economic Community documents facilitate the advancement of economic integration processes to a new stage. At the next stage, Ukraine was no longer among them as it was not ready to give up a part of its sovereignty. Since 2003, a lot of initiatives on the so-called ’common neighbors’ have emerged both in Russia and the EU. However, neither Russia nor the EU managed to make their initiatives sufficiently attractive. The European Union initially refused to recognize a number of countries as candidates for the full-pledged members of the EU within the framework of the Neighborhood Policy and Eastern Partnership [Шишкина, 2011: 61].

The problems and challenges of the CIS countries are widely discussed by S. Ulyukayev and K. Shreya. The authors refer to the example of I.V. Zadorina's sociological survey, which was conducted in all former and current CIS member countries, including Georgia. In each country from 950 to 2000 individuals of different ages, genders and places of birth were interviewed. The results of the survey showed that citizens of the CIS countries express little interest in any other member country except Russia. On the basis of this research, the authors concluded that in light of the interests of the population of this region, Russia is the main and only economic and socio-cultural center for the citizens of the former Soviet Union. Despite the similar assessment, the authors emphasize that the political factor is the main obstacle to effective economic integration, as economic cooperation in the united space is perceived as military and political threat by some countries. Authors believe that, taking into consideration the leading political position, Russia is limited to its pragmatic interests and often has to make economically inadequate decisions. Many of the CIS countries find even the least insignificant interference by Russia quite painful and perceive these attempts as a direct assault on its political and economic independence [Улюкаев... 2014: 55]. First of all, it should be noted that the reputation and objectivity of the above-mentioned research is under question. The fact that the results are equally distributed to all countries of the post-Soviet space in terms of interest towards Russia is especially suspicious. The example of Georgia is particularly noteworthy, the main vector of which for the last few decades is directed not towards Russia, but explicitly towards Europe. In the discussion of Ulukayev and Sheriya, it seems that they are somehow trying to mitigate the situation and to justify Russia’s actions that are quite negative in the post-Soviet space. As noted above as well as in the rhetoric of many other Russian authors, it is evident that, as they believe, official Moscow has undertaken a number of responsibilities, which give it the moral right to delegate certain rights from other subjects. Such attitudes, of course, are more intense in the Russian population and especially in its political elite, although these and many other examples, despite the cautious analysis, can be seen in the publications and works of Russian scientists or experts. It is difficult to say, how giving a special role to the Russian Federation increases the subjectivity of assessments and conclusions of such scholars, since all the presented analyses are more or less individual and different. There are also authors who try to focus on the historical importance of integration within the CIS and thus, legitimize official Moscow's policy and its steps taken in the region [Воронкин 2010]. They are similarly trying to demonstrate their integration not as a geopolitical ambition of one particular subject and ’imposed’ to other subjects, but as a need of a voluntary-based cooperation that comes from general political and economic interests, ideology, culture and history.

Some Russian authors clearly emphasize a number of peculiarities of Russian integration policy, which in their opinion, can explain the reasons of success or failure of Moscow's integration project. Such peculiarities are discussed by O. Shishkina, who names several characteristics:

  1. First of all, a special emphasis is put on the fact that Russia had to act in a constant competition with the European Union and from the very beginning, when integration projects were compared, it never had an advantage. This did not concern as much Moscow's integration initiatives towards CIS partners as it depended on the perception of these initiatives by the post-Soviet states. As Shishkina believes, in the early 1990s, Russia, as the Soviet Union's legal successor, reflected the past and the European Union appeared as a clear future. This idea was getting stronger since 2000, as EU was getting closer to the post-Soviet borders. In the opinion of the author, the internal political background for the implementation of Russian initiatives relatively improved after the financial-economic crisis of 2008-2011, when the economic difficulties of the EU were exposed.
  2. Another feature is named as ’Integration for Russia’, which was an attempt to alleviate the negative effects of the global economic crisis and to strengthen regional leadership. The countries of the post-Soviet space, especially, Eastern European members of the CIS, perceived this as ’imperial ambitions’.
  3. In the middle 2000s, an understanding was developed in Russia that political and trade-economic partners were chosen not on the basis of ’historically formed ties’, but rather on the basis of the benefits that a partner could provide.
  4. An inadequate financing of Russian integration initiatives in partner countries is compensated by less demand for undesirable internal political reforms. One of the preconditions for Russia’s engagement in integration is a friendly policy towards Moscow and the support of Russia's internal political actions.
  5. The so-called ‘new wave’ of integration initiatives was not the result of the formation of the interactive new model, but simply the adaptation and development of an already existing model. This was the case with the common economic space and Eurasian Economic Community [Шишкина, 2011: 61-63].

Shishkina emphasizes quite significant aspects the consideration and understanding of which is vital during the discussion of the first integration projects. The author emphasizes that in the early 90s of the last century, the CIS could not compete with the EU and the Soviet political memory played a decisive, mostly negative, role in the understanding of the freshly independent post-Soviet states. According to Shishkina, the EU was a logical way to keep society out of the Soviet past. This significantly impacted the CIS image and its future perspectives from the very beginning. In this case, it is difficult to agree with her, because at that time the EU interests in the post-Soviet space, with the exception of the Baltic, were not apparent at all, while the initiative was obviously in the hands of Russia. In the end, however, the Kremlin was not able to use these chances and lost practically all the neighbors due to its aggressive actions. The assessment that since the mid-2000s, official Moscow, based on its political-economic interests and geopolitical shifts in the world, has been focused on finding more beneficial partners, is quite impartial. Russia is concentrated on ’historically formed unions’ as far as they are needed for its integration, geopolitical goals and interests. Nevertheless, the Kremlin still often emphasizes its common historical and cultural ties in the post-Soviet space. It is quite natural that the Eastern European countries perceive Russia's integration policy, especially, the first attempts of reintegration within the CIS, not just as a matter of a regional leadership, but as an imperial ambition. Taking into consideration the negative perception of the Soviet political memory, there is no trust towards Russia's central government because of its ambitions, which is one of the main reasons for the failure of the first integration projects. According to Shishkina, another reason for failure can be the criteria of selecting partners by official Moscow, which is also a very strong argument to reveal less capabilities of the CIS. However, the problem was not in the selection criteria of the partners, but mainly in the goals for which Russia  tried to use the CIS. The Kremlin  sought to support authoritarian regimes and cooperate with such regimes. Moscow always recognized loyalty and unconditional support, which is not an effective position for internal political and structural development of the region.

The collapse of the USSR resulted in a number of interconnected processes. In the post-Soviet space, there were political, economic, social and military problems. All post-Soviet republics, including Russia, had to face these problems individually. Moscow was not only trying to initiate the new integration policy in order to restore the status, but also wanted to re-identify itself and wanted to clearly define its sphere of influence and to protect its strategic interests. Russia's neighbors, the former Soviet republics with small territories suddenly realized that they were in a situation where the norms and principles of the international community did not work for them. They appeared to be very vulnerable against the strongest country in the post-communist area [Rondeli, 1996]. According to Alexander Rondeli, "in the appropriate situations, a small country should take into account the interests of the national security of its powerful neighbor and maintain diplomatic relations with Russia and other former Soviet states, in accordance with existing geopolitical and economic conditions, for future survival and security" (Rondeli 1996). Thus, a number of states actively cooperated with the Kremlin. Some tried to take a more neutral position, but almost every attempt to oppose the Kremlin's integration policy ended quite negatively for local government forces in the post-Soviet space in the early 1990s. By using the civil confrontation and the separatist regimes, ethnic-political conflicts  stirred up that had been planted as a mine by the Soviet government in order to better control the geopolitical situation by creating destabilization. Although Moscow was weakened but not as much to refrain from using the hard power. However, in the end, its integration policy in the 1990s was ultimately unproductive due to its improper approach. The conclusion of Alison and Bluth is absolutely right and obvious that the goal of creating the CIS was to preserve the complex economic ties and the security system in the former Soviet Union. In this way, Russia hoped to salvage the Soviet military force in some form. Such ambitions in that period were not in line with the nation state building process, which the newly independent post-Soviet republics has already begun. Presumably, this was the main reason for failure of the first Russian integration project. However, Russia still gave it another attempt to reintegrate despite potentially high political-economic spending and overall losses. Apparently, Moscow at that stage was very rigidly pursuing the realistic political principles and the ambitions of restoration of the status of Great Power [Allison... 1998: 281].

To date, the Russian integration model has been characterized by sharply optimistic statements but in fact by fewer actions. Another problem was the centre–periphery model on the background of the CIS economic relations. The main reason of the failure of the economic integration, initiated by Russia within the framework of the CIS, was that Moscow did not really want to pay and it did not make appropriate investments for its own integration projects. Russian politicians almost always perceived the CIS as the source of their personal economic profit. At the same time, at the expense of strengthening of Russia's economic integration, they hoped to increase Russia's GDP, which was absolutely illogical in such situations. Russia's political elite failed to realize that until Moscow had no intentions of pursuing intentional investments and making serious concessions with its potential partners, the integration would not have been possible. The main problem was that, despite the fact that the internal integration processes of the CIS were productive, Russia's only goal was to supervise it  -  the first hindering factor for the real progress [Trenin, 2011: 153-156].

In all bilateral relations, wherever it is acceptable, Putin’s administration was trying to have close relations with CIS countries at the expense of its own geopolitical and structural advantages. In this case, Moscow  acted on the basis of the idea of building "Great Russia". Russia's relations with Central Asia and the Caucasus, including Georgia, were regarded as a direct application of the Kremlin's energy resources to ’punish or reward’ state leaders. It was in fact an attempt to manipulate governments of the post-Soviet countries with energy resources. While the Yeltsin's late and Putin's early period dominated the security issues, economic problems became prominent in the agenda during Putin's presidency. This time Russia was competing not only with the United States, but also with China's growing influence in the Central Asia region [Freire, 2012: 235-237]. All these led to the necessity of reconciling Russian integration policy and Moscow's approach towards a number of issues has been significantly changed.

  Russian researcher Victoria Silesarenko believes that the main goal of the CIS, as Putin was speaking at the press conference in Yerevan in 2005, was to provide a ’civilized collapse’ after the breakup of the USSR and not the formation of an economic integration project similar to the EU. In the President's view, the CIS has done well with its purpose [Слесаренко, 2016: 17-20]. The fact is that the country's leader is trying to deny the initial reintegration ambitions and thus, not recognizing that the first integration project, as a mechanism of its integration policy and an instrument for achieving Russia's real goals, appeared to be unsuccessful. Presenting the CIS by the Russian government only as the project designed to ensure the so-called ’peaceful disintegration’ is not correct.

As Silesarenko admits, there were many unresolved problems within the CIS and they remain to this day. However, like some Russian scholars, she is also optimistic that despite all the above mentioned, the members of the organization are still interested in a future cooperation within the CIS and increasing the capacity of the community. The author also acknowledged that the agenda of the organization repeatedly included the issues of reform of the organisation, as the problem of common economic development and the conflicts in the South Caucasus could not be solved. In order to accomplish this, she sees the need for a closer cooperation within the CIS. In this case, the author's research shows that her wishes and the described reality do not coincide with each other. Slesarenko thinks that the post-Soviet countries have their own ambitions to independently manage domestic and foreign policies as well as their own goals and needs and most importantly, the independence that is perceived as freedom from Russia and from its control. The researcher believes that it is obviously a problem for Russia to strengthen its positions in the CIS. In her opinion, this has been proved by the series of events, in particular, as we have already noted, the withdrawal of Georgia from the CIS, the plans of Ukraine to leave the organization and the position of Uzbekistan regarding the Collective Security Treaty Organization. As for the humanitarian area, Slerarenko directly admits that official Moscow is trying to achieve its own geopolitical goals within the CIS and resorts to the information-cultural propaganda through mass media [Слесаренко, 2016: 52-53]. Despite the above conclusions, the author still considers that if Russia becomes more active and reforms are carried out within the CIS, success will be achieved taking in consideration Moscow's political ambitions. Respectively, some of Russian authors find it difficult to recognize that there is an obvious incompatibility in terms of ideas and goals. Taking into account the ambitions and policies of the Kremlin, which Russian experts are quite widely and realistically discussing, it is impossible to reform the CIS into a successful organization. CIS member states, which have not yet left the organization, find it difficult to realize that the economic development and the regional security are not possible within the organization due to a simple reason that they are less likely to be in the plans of official Moscow. According to the Kremlin's experience, authoritarian systems are much easier to control in the post-Soviet space on the background of a regional destabilization, conflict zones and weak economies. A relatively developed economy, strong democratic institutions and civil society as well as the goals and steps towards integration into the European and Euro-Atlantic community by the post-Soviet republics create a precedent for concern for Russia. A clear example of this is Georgia's progress for the last few decades and the way the country has chosen. Understanding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of any state is incompatible with Russia's integration ambitions. The fact is that membership in the CIS was only formality and therefore, the country has not gained anything good from it. Obviously, the Kremlin's single destructive policy within the organization and its forceful actions have undoubtedly accelerated the process of leaving the Russian orbit by Georgia.


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