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RIA Novosti
October 9, 2007
Three post-Soviet summits

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Kosyrev) - The three post-Soviet summits that Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, hosted this past weekend - of the CIS, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) - were a kind of review of Vladimir Putin's presidency, a balancing of the achievements and blunders of his CIS policy over two terms in office.

The three international groups clearly outline the future the CIS is headed for. The Commonwealth is turning into a level-arm balance with two "centers of gravity," - Russia and Kazakhstan, the two economic giants of the former Soviet Union. Other CIS members tend to gravitate toward one end or the other, forming economic and political alliances with various degrees of integration. Its structure is flexible, because both Russia and Kazakhstan have their own friends and foes among the former Soviet republics. Moscow sometimes succeeds in doing what Astana fails to achieve, and vice-versa.

The group's structure is also flexible, because both Russia and Kazakhstan have their own interests, which sometimes clash. The two nations have learned to accept this as reality by now. Russia does not want to supply its energy resources to one market, and Kazakhstan is pursuing a similar policy. Russia is diversifying its export pipeline routes, and eventually Kazakhstan will start doing so too. But this does not prevent them from being close economic, political and military partners, both between each other and with other CIS nations.

It was no accident that of all the former Soviet republics, Russia and Kazakhstan were the ones to tap into a new style of bilateral relations, different from that which existed in the Soviet Union, and worked it out by trial and error. Belarus could well be in Kazakhstan's place, paired with, say, Ukraine, because Russia did not necessarily have to play the consolidating role. On the contrary, had Moscow been more aggressive in the 1990s, had it tried to recreate the U.S.S.R. under an "alternative EU" brand, it would have scared away the others with this move back into the past.

It was certainly the Kremlin's best idea under Vladimir Putin's presidency to start complaining, some three years ago, that the CIS was cumbersome, ineffective and tailored in the fashion of the Soviet Union.

Simultaneously, Moscow began abandoning subsidized oil and gas shipments, the key instrument holding the CIS together. Both Russia and Kazakhstan are now viewing oil and gas as merchandise, rather than an instrument of political pressure. This change has accelerated the reform of the CIS, and, more importantly, the development of new policies by its members. It was time to stop holding on to the past and start building the future.

The triple summit in Dushanbe was largely successful. Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus established a common customs zone, a solid foundation for a Eurasian economic union. Other achievements included the common energy market concept and the CSTO peacekeeping contingent, and even the series of routine CIS documents on fighting crime, drugs and terrorism that were signed certainly contributed to the overall success of the event.

On the other hand, President Putin's last post-Soviet summit suggested several simple albeit important conclusions. First of all, Moscow will not be able to make use of political blunders made by the United States or European Union forever. It is certainly true that the West used to pursue too aggressive a policy toward the former Soviet countries in a bid to draw them as far from Moscow as possible. The "colored" revolutions staged in some of those countries, in which the pro-Western parties took over through methods other than honest and fair elections, were certainly a mistake. In Central Asia, it has led to a total political fiasco with the West, which has not started making efforts to remedy the situation until very recently.

Meanwhile, other nations, including Russia, China and Iran, have taken the niche vacated by the EU and the United States, even though they initially lacked the requisite human and economic potential. But this was sheer luck and it is unlikely to be repeated. It is time Moscow opted for a wiser policy, which would encourage cooperation rather than competition between Russia, Europeans, Americans and Asians in investing into the emerging CIS markets.

It is certainly true that security is one area where Moscow has achieved perfect mutual understanding with the CIS countries due to the shared interests. Still, we should not lean too heavily on military cooperation alone. There are other important modern realities such as lifestyle, cultures, and innovative commodities. Funnily enough, Russia might end up ensuring the stability for others' investment projects - Chinese, Iranian, etc.

Finally, there is one simple and natural thing Russia needs to do now - forget where the Soviet Union's borders used to be. The Russian term "near abroad" is no longer synonymous with the former Soviet Union. It has gradually come to include China, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, which are important targets of Russia's eastern policies. Moscow and its CIS partners are equally new to the current system of geopolitical relations, which replaced the one that was in place, say, 20 years ago. In any case, there will be no return to the past for them.