ArmInfo’s interview with Vladimir Yevseev, Director at the Moscow-based Public Policy Research Center
by David Stepanyan
Ukraine assumed the CIS chairmanship in January 2014. The CIS Ministerial Meeting was scheduled for 7 March in Kyev but was postponed due to the ‘right schedule’ of the CIS ministers. Will the change of power in Kyev and uncertain situation in Crimea affect Ukraine’s chairmanship and the perspectives of the CIS?
CIS has been developing in quite unfavorable conditions yet since the second half of 90s. The first reason was the euphoria from the sovereignty and the growing domestic political problems. Then, many wanted to see immediate result from integration, but the institutes set up in the CIS worked not so much efficiently. All that hindered economic integration and resulted in a deep crisis inside the Commonwealth, and amorphousness and inefficiency of other fields in the CIS became more and more evident.
It was failure of economic integration that gradually led to centrifugal trends in the military and political field in the post-Soviet area under the influence of the West. Particularly, this affected the Collective Security Treaty that was signed for 5 years with a right of extension. In April 1999, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan refused to extend the Treaty unlike Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrghyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. Thus, CST was halved. Only 6 of the Commonwealth states remained in it. Now, in conditions of the extremely deep domestic crisis in Ukraine, the military cooperation of Moscow and Kyev is no longer possible.
Further orientation of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine at the West and the neutral status of Turkmenistan seems to weaken the military structures of the Commonwealth of Independent States. These structures will be replaced with similar structures of the CSTO and, maybe, NATO. This will tangibly weaken the CIS in the military-political aspect. Now the military structures of the CIS and CSTO are certainly duplicating each other, namely, in the filed of air defense.
Meanwhile, the regional organizations engaged in economy problems in the post-Soviet area unite just half of the Commonwealth states. In this light, there is still need for a platform for settlement of economic and political problems. So, the CIS will not be replaced so far. Establishment of the Commonwealth became a positive factor that allowed regulating the aftermaths of the collapse of the superpower, which is enough to preserve the CIS in future.
How will the ongoing crisis in Ukraine affect the CIS activity?
Undoubtedly, the current crisis in Ukraine will deal a strong blow upon the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). It is more than likely that the CIS will be preserved, just the same way as after the war in the Caucasus in August 2008, but will be seriously weakened. First of all, I mean the military structures of the CIS. It is very much possible that the new leadership of Ukraine will leave these structures and the CIS just the same way as Georgia did. In future much will depend on the situation in Ukraine. If it manages to fully orient towards the West, which is hardly possible, and even join NATO, in that case the CIS will become weaker from inside. The most possible scenario is that the Crimea will de-facto become independent. This will be accompanied by disintegration of Ukraine and central power in Kiev will become very much weak. In such conditions, for Ukraine or its certain regions the CIS may again start playing a positive role as a factor which hinders full disintegration and split of the country. In this context, Ukraine will be hardly able to effectively use its chairmanship in the CIS.
At present Kiev does not think about it. And the new leadership of Ukraine is more anxious about the so-called problems of local separatism and its own legitimateness. Although, it is not rule out that Kiev will try to use the CIS platform to blame Russia for its position regarding Ukraine.
What do you think of the current processes around Ukraine?
In Ukraine the West, first of all in the person of the USA and certain European states, which propagate American national interests, is trying to punish Russia for its extremely independent policy in settlement of the Syrian and Iranian crisis.
Actually, few states are concerned about the interests of Ukraine, which is used just as an instrument for imposing pressure upon Russia. At the same time, the West deceives Ukrainians which want to live along Western lines. Actually, nobody in the EU is waiting for Kiev, and nobody is going to open its borders and take this country in tow. From the political point of view, it is more beneficial for the West to have chaos and anarchy in Ukraine, as this will create problems to the close Russian territories. In this context, many people which were eager to topple Viktor Yanukovich's power, will be deeply disappointed. We already suffered of that at the beginning of the 90-s when we used to idealize the policy of the West. Unfortunately, the Ukrainians will suffer of that against the background of radical nationalism of the western regions of the country.
Unlike the West, Russia is not going to actively interfere in local affairs of Ukraine. But Russia was put in such conditions, when it could not but react. Certainly, one can condemn the decision of the Council of Federation to use Russian armed forces at the territory of Ukraine or other decisions of Vladimir Putin, but they are conditioned by the situation, which was purposefully created by the West. However, not everything in Ukraine was developing according to the scenario of the West, which wanted to have the government in Kiev fully controlled by them, to limit extension of the Customs Union and create instability near the Russian territories. But the West lost, as it hoped that Moscow will not react at it. It overestimated its own political and economic capabilities and did not take into consideration deep involvement of Russian Federation in the economy of the EU and serious pro-Russian moods in the east and south of Ukraine. They did not take into account the fact that in 2013 the commodity circulation between Russia and the European states amounted to $380 billion. As a result, the disintegration process of Ukraine as a single state started.
Unlike U.S., Europe seems no so much happy with the new leadership in Kyev…
Berlin cannot afford a real confrontation with Moscow, even under pro—American Chancellor Angela Merkel, given the current level of commodity turnover, weakness of the armed forces, and insufficient infrastructures to use the liquid gas from Qatar. Nevertheless, it does not hold Germany from information war, which was launched in Dec 2013, from restriction of visas and suspension of some political and cultural contacts, as well as from termination of discussions on the free trade area between Russia and Europe. At the same time, in Berlin they are well aware that there is no alternative to Moscow and they are reluctant to negotiate. France is in a similar situation, as French companies are implementing big arms supply contracts, particularly, delivery of Mistral-clash warships to Russia. As for the UK, there are Russian securities on the London Exchange, without those securities, that stock exchange may face serious socks. In this light, it is only the countries having no significant commodity turnover with Russia that can speak of economic sanctions against Russia, for instance, the US. Reduction of the commodity turnover with the USA will affect the USA rather than Russia, as Moscow enjoys positive balance of that foreign turnover. Furthermore, the US depends on Russia's low-grade uranium for its numerous NPPs, rocket engines and others. Meanwhile, European companies will be happy to replace their American partners in the high-capacity Russian market
Is there a boiling point in the West-Russia conformation? Will that confrontation spiral into military actions putting an end to the current diplomatic war? Don’t you think that this geopolitical confrontation may end in new agreements and a new status-quo in the world order?
There may be no war between the armed forces of Russia and Ukraine, Russia and NATO in general and Russia and certain states of NATO. As a military expert, I rule out development of events in Ukraine according to the military scenario. The main reason of such a policy of Brussels is that in the conditions of leadership of NATO in Conventional Force sphere, Moscow will be forced to start using battlefield nuclear weapons. But nobody will let it. Moreover, the armed forces of Ukraine have been fully demoralized both by the current situation of deep local crisis and permanent reforming over the last years. The training level of their servicemen is extremely low...Really, at present the country can neither mobilize nor arm the population.
For the West in such conditions the only way out from the created situation is to make an arrangement with Russia, in an exchange to reduction of its military presence in the Crimea. I don’t mean the military units and facilities of the Black Sea Fleet. Moscow may demand concessions from Kiev regarding the radical nationalists. Settlement of the Ukrainian crisis will not result in creation of the new status-quo in the world order. But it will principally change the role of Russia, the viewpoint of which will be taken into consideration during settlement of the world and regional conflicts.
Do you think that abandoning its project of factual restoration of influence on the post-Soviet area Moscow will give an impetus to the western and Turkish disintegration projects in the territory of Russia?
The key purpose of the forces, which have been trying to fulfill the Western project in Ukraine, is to hinder any integration projects of Russia at the post-Soviet area. Such a position is wrong and politically short-sighted. It is not based on true assessment of the situation and the available resources of the West. Instead of establishment of relations between the EU and the newly set up Eurasian Union, they have a task to counteract. At the same time, they speak much about the empire ambitions of Russia, but nothing about the dictate of the West. Taking this into consideration, Moscow will go on fulfilling its own integration projects at the post-Soviet area. In the conditions of confrontation of the West, it will need more resources. Nevertheless, Moscow may reach this goal, although it may require extension of the political, economic and even military cooperation not only with China but also Iran and other regional actors. It is extremely doubtful that all this meets national interests of the USA or the West in general.