Thursday, October 24, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Post-Soviet States Increasingly Vary in Their Relations with Russia, Poll Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 24 – Some post-Soviet states have “left the post-Soviet space” for good, others are interested in closer ties with Russia, and still others are uncertain about where they are headed, a situation that is further complicated by differences between national leaders and their populations on this point.

            But any effort to ignore these differences and to force integration where national populations are opposed to it will be counterproductive, according to a Moscow analyst, who suggests that the Russian Federation is going to have to come to terms with the final disintegration of the former Soviet space.

            That is just one of the findings of a poll conducted by the Center for Integration Research of the Eurasian Development Bank earlier this year in the 11 CIS countries and Georgia. (A similar poll was carried out a year earlier in all of these states except Tajikistan.) More than 14,000 people were queried in all.

            Summarizing the findings for, Aleksandr Shustov says that “some countries have finally left the post-Soviet space” and are unlikely ever to return but that “the population of others, despite the position of the ruling elites as before is oriented toward integration with Russia” (

            The 12 countries can be grouped into four categories, he suggests.  In the first are Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan which have “already formed the Customs Union” and are on the way to creating a Eurasian Ukraine. In the second are Ukraine and Moldova which plan to sign association agreements with the European Union.

            In the third are Kyrgyzstan and Armenia which are interested in joining the Customs Union led by Russia. And in the fourth are Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which “for many reasons” do not intend to join the Customs and Eurasian Union or the European Union either.

             Within the first group, from two-thirds to three-quarters of the population has a positive view of the Customs Union, although support for it has fallen over the last year in Russia and Kazakhstan while rising slightly in Belarus.  Shustov suggests this pattern reflects the impact of the second wave of the economic crisis.

            Within the second group, which includes Moldova and Ukraine, popular interest in the Customs Union is low, at 24 and 28 percent respectively, the result, Shustov says, of “the active PR campaign” by those who support integration with Europe.

            Within the third and fourth groups, he continues, popular support for the Customs Union is much higher than the positions of the governments might suggest. In most cases, between 50 percent and 75 percent of the population favor association with it. The only outlier is Azerbaijan were only 37 percent of the population favor ties with the Moscow-led group.

            Shustov notes that a majority of Azerbaijanis – 53 percent – oppose Eurasian integration, making their country “the only CIS state where the share of negative answers exceeds the positive.”  This suggests that “mentally, Azerbaijan has already in fact left the post-Soviet space and is more oriented toward Turkey, the US and the European Union.”

            This pattern, Shustov says, is a product of the conflict with Armenia about Karabakkh and the relatively higher standard of living in Azerbaijan. And he points out that “it is no accident that Azerbaijan is the most active supporter of Turkic integration to which other Turkic language countries of the CIS are not showing great interest.”

            The better off countries in the CIS – Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan – are more interested in goods and investments from Europe and the United States; those less well off – including Central Asia and Armenia – continue to look to Russia and other CIS states in that regard.

            These countries also divide on where they would like to receive an education, but in this sphere,, “neither Russia nor other countries of the CIS have particular competitive advantages.”  Only in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan do residents still look to Russia and the CIS I this regard. Others look to Europe and the United States.

            This pattern has important and long-term negative consequences for Russia, Shustov says. “With the exception of several states in Central Asia, [Russia] is losing its position as the scientific and educational center of the CIS” and that in turn means that the next generations will be more oriented toward the West than toward Moscow.

            At the same time, he says that this shift has not yet occurred in most countries in the political or military areas where, with the exception of Georgia and Azerbaijan, most of the populations of these countries still look to the CIS, with 70 to 90 percent saying that they view Russia as a friendly country.

             With the exception of Azerbaijan, the populations of the other countries do not believe that the CIS countries will move further apart, Shustov adds, although only in Central Asia, Belarus and Russia itself are the percentages of those who expect integration to increase very high.

            Obviously, Shustov concludes, the poll paints “an extremely varied picture.”  In military and political terms, the CIS countries continue to consider themselves allies,” but “in the economic and humanitarian spheres they in part are oriented toward the countries of ‘the rest of the world.’”

             Thus, at  the level of mentality and psychology, “the process of fragmentation of the post-Soviet space is in fact continuing, not infrequently directed by foreign players,” Shustov says.  And in “places,” it has “already acquired an irreversible character.”  Efforts to reverse this “will only have a negative impact” on the outcome.

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