THE POST-SOVIET SPACE: PREVIOUS DEVELOPMENT AND A NEW CONFIGURATION
Sergey Zhiltsov, D.Sc. (Political Science), Head of the Department of Political Science and Political Philosophy of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Professor, Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (Moscow, Russian Federation)
In December 1991, the political map of the world acquired newly independent states. The former Soviet republics became free to follow foreign policies based on their interests and conditioned, to a great extent, by their geographic location and integration in the production and economic context of the previous, Soviet period. The fact that the Soviet Union was replaced by newly independent states did not remove the cooperation issue from their common agenda. Indeed, the post-Soviet states could not cope, on their own, with social and economic problems piling up during the first years of their independence. Cooperation was an obvious must, yet the post-Soviet republics remained undecided. The new elites that nurtured political ambitions of their own were not ready to abandon them and had no experience of bilateral and multilateral cooperation to rely on. The fast transit from socialist ideology to market economy, the changed status of the republics—from parts of a single state to independent countries—made it harder, if at all possible, to correctly assess the situation unfolding across the post-Soviet space. Certain political factors or, rather, the power struggle inside each of the post-Soviet states and their ardent desire to get rid of the Soviet heritage strongly affected the discussion and realization of integration initiatives. This explains why integration projects seemed like a heavy burden rather than an instrument very much needed to cope with fundamental problems and why post-Soviet states failed to establish efficient multilateral cooperation.
The external factor, likewise, interfered to a great extent with post-Soviet integration: as independent states, the former Soviet republics became a zone of geopolitical and economic interests of the world’s leading states that spared no effort to get access to their resources and to shape their domestic and foreign policies. The West wanted a greater role in the political sphere and stronger contacts with the new political elites. Economic interaction was widening; the post-Soviet states opened their markets to big Western businesses which did nothing good to national economy. The former Soviet republics were thus adjusted to the economic system of the West, which needed new markets and more resources; their elites had no choice but take commands from the new masters, which made integration a haphazard process in many respects.
The post-Soviet period is dotted with random and mainly failed attempts to realize some of the integration projects, yet foreign policy aspirations and ambitions of the ruling elites widened the gap between the former Soviet republics.
On the whole, the newly independent states were fairly ambiguous in their policies and aspirations: on the one hand, in expectation of a wider cooperation with the West, the dominant foreign policy trend, the majority looked at Russia as one of the partners. On the other, integration projects remained on the agenda because of economic problems, because the former Soviet republics needed more time to finally define their national identities and because Moscow was needed as a counterbalance to the West.
Today, post-Soviet countries are united by nothing more than the geographical boundaries of the defunct state, while the political and economic processes unfolding in certain post-Soviet states do not allow us to look at the sub-regions of Central Asia, the Southern Caucasus, etc. as geopolitical units. The balance of power that has been taking shape in the last few years is strongly affected by the changed relationship between Russia and Ukraine and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) project that triggered a reformatting of the post-Soviet space.