Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 14

Integration processes in the CIS are bogged down,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov admitted yesterday. Ivanov spoke to the Consultative Council of Russian Federation Subjects for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. Created by the central government to harness regional ambitions in the sphere of external relations, the Council met yesterday in Moscow on the subject of Russia’s relations with CIS countries. Ivanov urged Russia’s regions to put their shoulders to the “skidding wheel of integration” by developing direct relations with regions of CIS member countries, saying: “Maximize returns from region-to-region contacts… Vigorously create special groups for interregional cooperation.”

At the same time, the minister sought to shorten the regions’ operating leash. He wanted to make certain (1) that region-to-region contacts are kept within the framework of government-to-government agreements, (2) that the proposed special groups for interregional cooperation are subordinated to the existing intergovernmental commissions, (3) that a general regulatory framework is devised for the Russian regions’ external relations, and (4) that the regions “more actively work to defend the rights of [Russian] compatriots in the near abroad” (Itar-Tass and other Russian agencies, January 20).

The regions will not welcome those bureaucratic restrictions, and few governors would heed the political slogan that Ivanov threw in. More than a few Russian regions have already demonstrated a willingness to develop their own external economic relations, both within and beyond the CIS. This trend, as Russia’s Foreign Ministry evidently realizes, is a double-edged sword. Depending on how it develops, it can either help to pull newly independent countries closer to Russia, or encourage Russia’s regions to gravitate further away from the central government.