Returning yesterday from the Transcaucasus, Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov stated that "the Foreign Ministry’s main task now is to promote centripetal tendencies on the territory of the former Soviet Union." The context of Primakov’s remarks left no doubt that Russia was the "center" he envisioned. ("Vremya," Russian TV, May 12) Yet CIS trade statistics just released by Russia’s State Customs Committee for the first two months of 1996 show Russia-CIS and intra-CIS trade growing more slowly than the overall value of the CIS countries’ trade with the outside world. That trend is being reported even from political loyalist Belarus.
Moreover, Russia is now incurring a deficit in its overall trade with the CIS countries despite its position as energy supplier. The January-February deficit, $124 million out of a total $5.2 billion Russia-CIS turnover, grew from the statistically insignificant deficit which Russia posted for the first time ever in CIS trade in the last quarter of 1995. Russian imports from CIS countries in January-February 1996 grew by 50 percent in value, far outstripping the 21 percent growth in exports. The increase in imports came in spite of peak winter energy deliveries. (Itar-Tass, Interfax, Delovaya Rossiia, May 11) These circumstances suggest that Russian deficits in CIS trade might be turning from a new phenomenon into a trend. Moscow may be tempted to respond by raising protectionist barriers, as it has already done for some major categories of goods despite free-trade agreements with CIS and Customs Union partners.
KGB Successor Agency Keeps Up Attack on Estonia.