Alegerile parlamentare din 2021 în Republica Moldova -

CIS Summit and European Integration

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Igor Botan / October 5, 2003
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Albeit there were quite a lot of speculations lately on the European vector of the Moldovan foreign policy, still there is much doubt on the sincerity of the Communist authorities in this respect. The skeptic and reserved way in which official medial outlets covered the recent CIS Summit held in Yalta on September 18–19, lead us to believe that perceptions over the said structure have changed considerably. Let us just remember the grandiose manner in which domestic media covered the CIS Summit held in Chisinau, despite the fact that no major events took place, except for the 50th birthday of the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Indeed, official propaganda did it best to create a sensation out of the Summit. To mention just the way it reported on how Vladimir Voronin and Vladimir Putin informally exchanged notes during the meeting of the CIS chief of states, whereby the former was encouraging the later to boost the integration processes within the CIS alike EU, so that later on the first structure could integrate into the later. As it was intended to, the Russian President greatly appreciated the initiatives made by his Moldovan counterpart. This propagandistic trick was largely exploited throughout the recent electoral campaign in view of local elections.

However, one year later President Voronin has had to make public his extremely negative position on the most outcome of the Yalta Summit, namely the decision of the countries having the greatest development potential in the region: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan to establish the so-called Single Economic Area (SEA). Under certain circumstances Moldovan ruling party would have been excited about the event as it envisages a higher economic integration and political coordination between the member-states. President Voronin’s negative reaction was determined by the fact that the new integrating project within CIS failed to take into account the interests of other CIS members, as well as by the fact that the perspectives of their integration into SEA are still unclear. President Voronin did not hesitate to compare Yalta agreement with that made in Belovejskaia Pushia that had led to the dissolution of URSS.

Opposition in Moldova referred to Voronin’s attitude as a belated understanding of the geopolitical trends ongoing in the former soviet space. One may say that Voronin’s discontent with the establishment of the SEA was determined by different views over the CIS development. There is no doubt that Moldovan President is an ardent proponent of Moldova’s integration into CIS, however the integration process should be gradual and uniformed. This is the reason why the President promoted the idea of employing EU integration formula for the CIS in the first place, having in mind an eventual integration of the CIS countries into EU. The problem is that President Voronin’s innovative ideas failed to take into consideration Russia’s interests. Indeed, why did Voronin decide that Russia would want to join EU? It is known for a fact that the Russian political elite has been obsessed with “multi-polar world”, whereby a special and self-sufficient role is reserved to Russia itself. This desideratum is backed up from a historic perspective by the huge potential Russia is endowed with. Last summer during his visit to Great Britain, President Putin stated that Russia was interested to keep strategic partnership relations with EU, however it had no intention to join it.

On the other hand it seems obvious that alone Russia would not be able to keep up to its ambitions of becoming an attractive pole in the multi-polar world it seeks. In this respect, President Vladimir Putin reiterated on numerous occasions that CIS integration was among the top priorities of his foreign policy and that the integration would go along different dimensions and at a different speed. One thing is for sure, the latest development in the international political scenery — US faces serious troubles in Iraq and Afghanistan, whereas EU minds its own integration — allow Russia enough room for maneuvers in order to satisfy its own ambitions, especially as the leaders of Belarus and Ukraine seem to be preoccupied with matters of surviving on the political scenery, and Russia is the only one able to help them on this. Those actions point to the extreme pragmatism of Russian leadership.

In the first place, former soviet Republics are differentiated, despite the fact that they all have things in common — they fall within Russia’s influence zone. From this perspective, it is worth pointing that in order to achieve its interests Russia does not hesitate to exercise pressure on the Baltic States, which are already NATO members and due to join EU next May. Their economy heavily relies on the transit of goods and fuel from Russia to EU. That is a reason for Russia to resort to economic and diplomatic levers in settling the so-called violation of Russian minority’ s rights in the Baltic States.

Going back to CIS countries, they are differentiated based on their economic and geo-strategic potential. There is no doubt that for Russia the countries it borders with have a far greater significance then the rest. Besides having common borders with Russia, both Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan are by far the most developed republics, endowed with a huge economic and demographic potential, which in the long run might enable them to go on their own. These factors determined the inclusion of the said countries into the SEA and there is no doubt that Russia would assume a leading role in it. By doing so it hopes to satisfy its ambitions in the “multi-polar world” game.

Small countries not bordering Russia represent the second category of CIS countries. Further, these small countries may be classified in sub-categories. One of these sub-categories is represented by countries with breakaway conflicts instilled by Russia, and kept under its influence by means of separatist regimes. Republic of Moldova as well as other Caucasus countries falls under this category. Even though it borders Russia, Georgia falls nonetheless within the same sub-category. Yet, another sub-category is represented by Central Asia Republics not bordering Russia. Things are rather complicated on that front, as Russia is trying to promote its interests in that region by creating military basis, alike that in Kyrgyzstan. Turkmenistan, for instance, is kept within Russia’s influence zone by its heavy dependence on the transit of its oil through Russian territory. Interestingly, Russia’s economic interests in Turkmenistan overshadow those of defending the rights of the Russian minority. Needless to say, Russians in Baltic States are considerably better off than Russians in Turkmenistan. Nonetheless, in the case of the former, Russia reacts with might and main, whereas in the latter with a kind of indulgence so as not to undermine its future.

Indeed countries of the second category, especially those afflicted by separatist conflicts would be more of a deadweight to the boosting economic growth of the SEA. That is why at the Yalta Summit the message — you are not wanted for now — was made clear to them. Indeed so, separatist conflicts already hold those countries tight to Russia and there are no real chances for them to unchain. On the other hand, a would-be economic breakthrough in the SEA would make the structure quite attractive to the political elite in those countries, which is constantly fighting for power. Under the circumstances, it would be much easier for Russia to have its saying on the acceptance of new members into a well-off structure, especially in as far as the conflict resolution is concerned, which at the end of the day, it instilled itself. Given the aforesaid, Russian officials insist that the contractual federation formula might be used in Georgia following the example of Moldova, so as to settle Abkhazia and South Osetia conflicts in the next 10 years or so.

Such perspectives are not convenient at all to the Moldovan President who had the courage to voice his disagreement with the Yalta agreements. First of all, Moldova has been left out of the integration process and most importantly its potential benefits, especially in as far as equaling the fuel price on the domestic market, i.e. Russia, and external market, SEA, is concerned. Secondly, there are no perspectives of settling Transdnistrian conflict within the CIS given the “vertical axis of power” recently established in Moldova.

In this respect domestic observers have pointed to the fact that President Voronin’s declaration on bolstering European integration efforts could be read like a threat to leave the CIS, rather than a conscious decision to join the EU. To integrate into EU Republic of Moldova has to take steps to meet its standards, which is an impossible task to bring to an end for the incumbent ruling party. Scandalous treatment of foreign investors, revision of privatization, establishment of the “vertical axis of power”, last electoral campaign — to cite just a few examples in this respect. On the other hand, the much-promised modernization of the Communist Party by President Voronin might end in being a complete failure and in the long-run result in the loss of the party’s influence.

Most likely things would evolve in Moldova along the same path as they did in Ukraine, when several years ago Kuchma declared EU and NATO integration a top priority, however nowadays under the pressure of loosing the power has become the founding member of the SEA. Nonetheless, the future of the SEA is still quite vague. A top priority for Ukraine is a single energy tariff policy. And it still remains to be seen whether Russia would be ready to give up millions of dollars just for the sake of having Ukraine and Belarus in SEA. Moreover, the integration of the SEA member states into WTO, by the way Ukraine is far ahead of Russia in the negotiation process, would raise further obstacles for those countries. It might well happen that President Voronin had been right when indicating that SEA establishment was the first step towards CIS dissolution. Under those circumstances, both the ruling party and opposition should engage into a meaningful dialogue on the long-term strategic development of the country. Needless to say, various national conceptions, linguistic and history issues raise further unjustly obstacles in the process.

European Integration Conception — at last… One step forward, two steps back…