Washington, March 27 (RFE/RL) -- Moscow's latest efforts to
integrate the CIS more closely have had an unexpected result: they
have seriously reduced the influence of that organization and the
ideas behind it on the foreign policies of its member states.
One of the most interesting consequences of this shift has been
that many of Russia's neighbors are now defining their foreign policies
in terms far more like those of countries outside the region.
But precisely because of the specific experiences of these
countries, the meaning of such familiar terms as sovereignty,
integration, and neutrality may be significant in very different ways
than some might think.
Sovereignty is perhaps the most troubling of these terms. Even
before the collapse of the USSR, many political figures in this
region regularly contrasted sovereignty and independence, implying
that the two are different things.
In the West, the two are assumed to be the same: that is, an
independent country has sovereignty, and a sovereign country is
independent. But Russian leaders, beginning with Mikhail Gorbachev,
argued that a republic could be sovereign without being independent,
a line of thought Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Belarusian
leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka have continued. Consequently, many in
the West viewed protestations about sovereignty by other non-Russian
countries as nothing more than claims of autonomy.
Such a position was entirely consistent with the ideas behind the
CIS and appeared to be accepted by many of the CIS member
governments. Recent Russian actions, however, have led many of the
CIS countries to conclude that the Western identification of these
two terms is correct. As a result, their insistence on sovereignty
has a very different meaning compared to what it had only a few
Nowhere has that shift been more obvious than in the
statements of the Central Asian governments, which in the past have
been the most supportive of Moscow's integrationist ideas.
A second term that causes problems is integration. Russian
political figures have used integration and reintegration almost
interchangeably, and non-Russians have followed their lead until
But now ever more writers and spokesmen in the non-Russian
countries are recognizing that the two are very different, and that
while they are very interested in the one, they are totally opposed
to the other. Specifically, they have come to understand that
"reintegration" would mean the rapid restoration of economic
arrangements that had been laid down by the Soviet system to promote
Moscow's control of the region and the political power of the
"Integration" on the other hand has an entirely different meaning:
it denotes cooperation among the various parties on a more equal
basis and presupposes the genuine independence of the entities coming
Consequently, when non-Russians such as the Ukrainians or
the Kazakhs speak of "integration," they want integration like that
being pursued in Western Europe, an integration of independent states
rather than the restoration of a past imperial arrangement. This
distinction needs to be understood in order not to misunderstand the
changed nature of discussions in the former Soviet space.
And finally there are the terms "neutrality" and "non-aligned." To
many in the West and to many who fought the Soviet system from
within, the use of these terms smacks of collaborationism or worse.
Thus, many observers were troubled when Turkmenistan sought to have
U.N. support for its policy of neutrality. But such conclusions were
unwarranted. In fact, a move toward neutrality or non-aligned status
by Turkmenistan or any of the other former Soviet republics
represents a step away from Moscow not a step towards it.
Were countries like Ukraine, which is seeking tighter integration
with the West, to begin to talk about neutrality as a policy, that
would be another matter. But for many of the post-Soviet states,
neutrality is a useful and entirely defensible position: It helps to
mobilize international support against any stationing of foreign
troops on the territory of these countries, and it represents a step
away from the past.
Unless such apparently minor linguistic distinctions are recognized,
the enormous fundamental changes taking place now in the foreign
policies of these countries will not be understood.