Thursday, March 28, 2019

Moscow is ‘Losing the CIS’ Because of Foreign Trade ‘Separatism,’ Russian Economists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 27 – At a time when many are focusing on Vladimir Putin’s efforts to expand Russian dominance over the former Soviet space, Igor Nikolayev argues that in fact, Russia is “losing the CIS” because of what another writer calls foreign trade “separatism,” the increasing tendency of its members to trade outside even of the Eurasian Economic Community.

            In a commentary for Ekho Moskvy, the economist says that one might have expected a leader like Vladimir Putin who has called the demise of the USSR a greater geopolitical catastrophe than the world wars or the Russian revolution to have sought to reverse things; but in face, he hasn’t done so, at least in economics (

            In 2000, the year Putin came to office, Russian exports to CIS countries represented 13.4 percent of all Russian sales abroad. Last year, they formed 12.1 percent. CIS member country exports to Russia fell by a factor of three, from 34.3 percent in 2000 to only 11 percent last year.  Thus, the importance of CIS countries as far as trade is concerned fell sharply.   

To be sure, Russia still has a positive trade balance with the other CIS countries, 54.6 billion US dollars in earnings from sales to them as opposed to26.2 billion US dollars in purchases from them. Russia is happy about this disparity, Nikolayev continues, but other CIS countries are not.

Between 2000 and 2018, the decline in the importance of trade with Russia has been especially great with Moscow’s largest trading partners: with Belarus here the Russian share of exports fell from 84.3 percent to 38.5 percent, with Kazakhstan where it declined from 19.5 percent to 8.5 percent, and with Ukraine here it fell from 34.5 percent to 7.7 percent.

Equivalent falloffs occurred over this period for these countries as far as imports from Russia were concerned: for Belarus, from 92.3 percent to 59.2 percent; for Kazakhstan, from 48.7 percent to 38.1 percent; and for Ukraine, from 26.2 percent to 14.2 percent, Nikolayev continues.

These trends cast doubt on any effort to make the CIS something more than it currently is, a place for leaders of an ever-decreasing number of heads of former Soviet republics to meet and talk. More immediately, they show that the CIS “is not a priority for Russia” or for any of the other member countries: we are ever more distancing ourselves from one another.”

Clearly, the CIS is not going to lead to the restoration of the USSR “in its former form,” Nikolayev says. But more than that, these figures suggest that any union based on that territory isn’t going to occur. “We are losing [the CIS]” economically, however much some in the Kremlin ant to think otherwise.

A second commentator, Aleksey Chichkin, goes further: even in the narrow Eurasian Economic Community, any possibility for tighter economic union is currently threatened by” foreign trade separatism” as member states increasingly look to others beyond this union for trade (

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