Integrational Pragmatism

By Nikolay Pakhomov

The worst, the better – this is what, probably, can be said when analyzing the hysteria which has been raised for the last several weeks in European, and especially, American newspapers regarding hardening of the Russian line towards the states willing to join the European Union. The more clearly Moscow imagines russophobic attitudes of a significant segment of Western elites, the more rational, cold and efficient shall be Russian foreign policy within post-Soviet space.


More than a decade after the Soviet Union collapse many Russian experts and even some official persons have liked to dwell on that the CIS doesn’t work, and how wonderful it would be to substitute failing mechanisms of the Commonwealth with some new institutions, even with a more limited list of members, but which would have allowed accelerating the rates of economic integration. On the other hand, some post-Soviet republics efficiently used the nostalgia for the common state, assuring Moscow about their wish of deeper integration in exchange for some, often significant economic concessions from Russia. However, these promises of neighbors have been accomplished quite rarely.

The Customs Union, after more than twenty years after the USSR collapse, solves this problem.


Integrational process initiated by Russia has not only its own objectives and tasks, but forces Russian neighbors to define with their long-term geopolitical choice – whether they are willing to remain within the field of Russian influence or they will search for happiness in West.


Let’s note that if they choose the second option, we should wish them luck, as this choice is their indefeasible right. Another thing is that Russia can and should react on this choice in a corresponding manner: if this or that state doesn’t want to tight its historic fate with Russia, so why should Moscow grand this state some preferences, whether trade ones, energy carrier for beneficial prices or relaxed visa regime for the citizens of this state?


Many contemporary critics of Moscow for the so-called “intimidation” of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine absolutely forget that economic integration should have economic prerequisites. And if for the EU it is economically beneficial to include into its members post-Soviet countries, which in their turn have economic advantages from joining European integrational association, so what has Russia to do with that? Intentions of administrations and a significant part of citizens within post-Soviet states to start the way of the EU integration are easily explainable – for example, in the horizon they see the full pockets of hardworking German taxpayers. Much more questions arise when you consider what does the European Union need these states for?


The costs evidently overweight possible economic benefits (the existence of which yet should be proved). Here of help is an old European idea that integration should fix finally those integrating in the family of stable and democratic states. The idea itself is not groundless, proved with experience of several current members of the EU, let’s say Spain, Greece, Portugal. But such wording of the question (will integration assist democracy building?) a whole number of problems impedes to give a positive answer.


The first problem: it is not clear, which meaning in case of such integration independent political traditions and peculiarities of integrating countries have. Let’s say in Central and Eastern Europe democratic process was in progress (although with some troubles) even before inclusion of these states into the number of the EU-members. Is this process active in post-Soviet states? Are there required prerequisites and conditions for it to progress?


The second problem: even the inclusion into the list of members of the European integrational association would assist democracy building in individual states, after a while due to various reasons (including once again local political and cultural peculiarities) economic difficulties of these countries have turned out to be a serious problem for the whole EU. The examples of these states are famous – the same Greece, Spain, Portugal plus Italy.


The third and probably currently the most significant problem: such integration for political motives is especially costly for the members of the integrational association. With all multiple current problems of the EU it’s unlikely for the leaders (and moreover voters) of the most powerful states of the block to undertake these spending of resources of all kinds – from political to financial. Let’s say that it is clear that choice between the preservation of Great Britain and integration, for example, of Moldova is even out of the question.


Thus, the prospects of integration, targeted at democratization of the post-Soviet states, are also not promising, But the EU may have another objective, in particular the intention to draw these states from the orbit of Russian influence by all means. Yet there are reasons to doubt that European leaders shall follow exactly this objective – still they their strategic understanding is higher that of the authors’ of the comments page of the “Washington Post” or of Lithuanian politicians’, and we shall also repeat that the resources to fulfill this task are not enough.


However for Russia such constant reminder of the existence of serious anti-Russian spirits is a good reason to rationalize foreign policy. After all if there is no certainty, for example, whom and at which cost following Ukrainian leaders “love”, then it is better to develop the policy within the post-Soviet space on exclusively rational grounds, defined by Russian interests, but not by the talks, let’s say, about “Slavonic brotherhood” or memories about good Soviet history.


Till western upholders of the cold war renewal write off paper with ideological passages about the need to suppress “Russian imperialism” Moscow can develop its foreign policy on pragmatic principles which do not give a possibility for post-Soviet states to use the preferences from Russia without giving anything in return. Exactly this kind of pragmatism lied in the basis of many western successes of the cold war period, and today it’s more often substituted with shallow slogans of democratic messianism.


Translated from Politcom.ru