The essence of the new statehood of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova is their search for a new master. That is the reason why their seasonal threats to withdraw from the CIS are inevitably accompanied by demands for the West to define their position.
It is quite obvious that the withdrawal of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova from the CIS will bring large problems firstly to themselves rather than Russia. The Commonwealth contains a whole system of mechanisms and mutual agreements which bring a real benefit to citizens of the CIS states. That is why, in spite of the inherent weakness of the CIS, it is has not collapsed definitively. Previously, threats to withdraw from the CIS were aimed at blackmailing Russia into making its position more flexible on a certain problem. Therefore even countries which are most dissatisfied with Russia remain in the CIS, not because they are kept there by force, but because it is beneficial to them.
There are a significant number of these benefits. The most obvious one, for example, is the movement of citizens within the CIS, which does require a visa. Just imagine if Ukraine and Moldova withdrew from these agreements tomorrow. It is hard to say exactly how the Kremlin would react, but in principle there would be lawful grounds to quickly expel most Ukrainian and Moldovan guest workers from Russia. This would be another blow to the economies of these countries, which are far from flourishing anyway. And actually in Russia there would be far fewer people wanting to travel to the Crimean resorts, whose economy contributes large amounts of money into the Ukrainian budget.
There are already visa restrictions governing transportation between Georgia and Russia, and it is the Georgians, a large number of whom work in Russia, who are feeling the effects of this inconvenience. By withdrawing from the CIS the same problems could begin in Georgia and a series of Commonwealth members.
Apart from anything else, Georgia’s withdrawal from the CIS will inevitably raise the question of the peacekeepers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. At first glance, it may seem as if that is what Tbilisi and their Western friends are aiming for. However, replacing Russian peacekeepers, who have a CIS mandate, with Americans, Europeans, or even Ukrainians could really cause active military action to break out again in these regions. For the time being it would appear that none of our Georgian friends are ready to get drawn into an unpredictable war. In spite of their democratic choice.
One can quite confidently say that the withdrawal of Georgia (or even Moldova and Ukraine) from the CIS would not lead to the collapse of the Commonwealth or any serious problems for Russia, which is possibly what many of our foes are wishing for. It may just force the Commonwealth to reform into something new. But it is clear that this is necessary, even without Tbilisi’s demarches.
There are many other problems which would automatically be inflicted on those countries wanting to unilaterally leave the CIS. These countries are small, and they are easily scared. For this reason, while Saakashvili makes loud announcements, he in fact is probably in serious thought and is desperately trying to find support on his side. He went to Yushchenko, who is even less prepared to abruptly sever from the CIS, and in turn almost cried out to the West – give us a clear sign that you will accept us into both the European Union and NATO, otherwise we will be left with nothing. After all it is absolutely clear that the worsening of these countries’ relations with Russia is not merely being supported by, but even directed by the West.
However, the West, as is its wont, is not intending to give anyone any guarantees. It especially is not going to feed anyone free of charge. The West really just does not like to give. It leaves this function to its smaller brothers. The West likes to take, and if possible through someone else’s hands, but into its own pocket. Therefore it is encouraging its new friends to aggravate relations with Russia.
Judging by the West’s and especially America’s maneouvres surrounding Russia, Washington and Brussels are intending to formulate a new agenda in relation to Russia which is less advantageous to Moscow in the time remaining before Vladimir Putin leaves his post of president. This is necessary so that Putin’s successor, who to begin with at least will not be as strong as the current president, has to start his work in new external conditions, which are more favourable to the West.
In short these conditions consist of the following – Russia must abandon its foreign policy ambitions, even in the post-Soviet sphere (at least, in the European part); Russia must give up Belarus to the West; Russia must forgo its influence on the internal political situation in other countries; Russia must come to terms with the fact that its place in the post-Soviet sphere will be taken by the interests of the USA, NATO and (to a lesser extent) the European Union. Putin’s successor will have to build new relations from these positions, both with the West and with the post-Soviet sphere.
As ever the West will offer a certain (and predictably insufficient) price for yet another (and certainly not the last) retreat by Russia. At least that is how it worked before, on the market at least. This price will most likely concern the conditions of Russia’s trade in its oil and gas. It was not without reason that American and European politicians, as well as their post-Soviet friends, have applied such pressure on Moscow on the eve of the “Big Eight” summit, which will be devoted to questions concerning energy policy. The West understands that it is this question which could force the Kremlin to make yet another compromise, which tactically seems fairly attractive, but strategically can only cause problems for Russia.
It is hard to predict exactly what further moves both sides will make, but we should always remember the precedent of Alaska and our agreement to remove our forces from Eastern Europe: it easy to spend and eat away money, but it is impossible to buy things back.
Translated by James Platt