CIS economic integration gathers speed
This chapter examines the nature of Russia’s policies towards the CIS in the realm of economic integration during the 2000s. It shows how the first years of the Putin Presidency witnessed a renewed, and in many ways, much more successful effort by Moscow to deepen integration within the CIS framework, although primarily with a selective group of states which were eager to develop closer cooperation with Russia – Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The chapter reaches the conclusion that Russia’s policies in the early to mid-2000s were characterised primarily by a pragmatic approach, which was intended above all to benefit Russia. The chapter also shows how Russia succeeded in shaping the CIS economic organisation partly to its liking, in a clear display of its hegemonic power. However, the chapter argues that Russia’s economic projects cannot be described as neo-imperialist schemes in the strictest sense of the word, as member states voluntarily agreed to join the various treaties and organisations, identifying significant benefits which could be obtained as a result of membership. The chapter also explores how, as the decade progressed, Russia proved increasingly reluctant to subsidise the economies of countries closely tied to Russia, such as Belarus – unless it obtained some tangible benefits in return – in a clear sign that its behaviour was adopting a transactional, ‘Russia First’, approach. Furthermore, the Kremlin increasingly employed hard power instruments – in the form of economic sanctions, embargoes, restrictions and quotas – when pursuing its foreign goals in the region, in clear violation of international law. The chapter also shows how, as economic integration with Belarus stalled, Russia proved ready to use several kinds of economic pressures to draw Belarus into a closer union with Russia, displaying elements of a neo-imperial policy. The same applied to Russia’s engagement with Ukraine, where the dream of ‘reunification’ of the two big Slavic states underpinned the SES initiative.