The Post-Soviet Space: A Glimpse Via Director of the First Department of the CIS Foreign Ministry Mikhail Agasandyan's interview with Rossiya Segodnya, August 2, 2023
Several organizations were formed after the USSR’s implosion aimed at keeping the economic and security connections viable. The one most people are aware of is the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which remarkably still includes Ukraine. The others are the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Not included in this interview is the Union State, which is the combination of Russia and Belarus, nor is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which counts many post-Soviet states as members. The information provided ranges from the general to the specific and ought to help readers understand the differing dynamics between the three. The one that will continue to gain more international exposure is the EAEU as it merges with China’s BRI. And now, here’s Mikhail Agasandyan answering Rossiya Segodnya’s questions:
Question: At the end of June this year, experts drafted regulations on the status of Observer and Partner in the CIS and model memorandums. When these documents are approved, which countries could apply for these statuses?
A: The idea of establishing these statuses in the CIS was put forward by President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev at the Commonwealth summit in Astana on October 14, 2022. Over the course of four rounds of negotiations, our experts took an active part in the development of relevant documents. At the end of June, it was indeed possible to reach an extremely verified compromise text that takes into account, in our opinion, the positions of all the CIS countries involved in this process.
We believe that the implementation of this initiative will be an important step in terms of the international positioning of the organization, strengthening its ties with a wide range of friendly countries and integration associations interested in developing cooperation with the CIS both on general international topics and on specific industry areas.
At the moment, the draft decision of the Council of Heads of State of the CIS is being coordinated in the CIS countries. Russia has already completed this procedure. We hope that the document will be approved at the upcoming CIS summit in Bishkek on October 13.
Question: Since last year, the Moldovan authorities have been talking about the need to denounce a number of agreements within the CIS. How many agreements have already been denounced by Chisinau and how many are still in force? Are there any risks of Moldova's withdrawal from the CIS? Does this country continue to participate in the work of the organization? How many agreements adopted by the CIS does Kiev continue to observe?
A: After pro-Western and Russophobic forces came to power two years ago, the process of Moldova's withdrawal from participation in CIS affairs began. During this time, Chisinau was not represented at any meeting of heads of state, government and foreign ministers and did not join any decision. The country initiated the procedure for withdrawing from the Interparliamentary Assembly of the CIS member states, does not pay a share contribution to the budget of the Commonwealth.
According to the CIS Executive Committee, there are now about 280 international treaties signed within the framework of the Commonwealth in relation to Moldova, from which Chisinau, by the way, derives significant, primarily economic, benefits. However, the Moldovan authorities have already begun denunciation of a number of agreements, although this process is not yet widespread.
In particular, notifications were received about the country's withdrawal from the Agreement on General Conditions for the Supply of Goods between the Organizations of the CIS Member States of March 20, 1992, as well as from the documents regulating the activities of the Mir Interstate Television and Radio Company.
And this is despite the fact that, according to the latest public opinion polls, the majority of Moldovan citizens oppose the rupture of relations with the CIS. Nevertheless, as we know, the Moldovan authorities are not inclined to listen to the opinion and be guided by the interests of their own voters. Time will tell whether common sense will prevail.
As for Ukraine, one can often hear the incorrect statement that it allegedly withdrew from the CIS. In fact, Ukraine de jure remains part of the organization. Although the Kiev regime does not actually participate in the work of the Commonwealth and has denounced about 80 agreements within its framework, more than 150 international treaties signed through the CIS continue to apply to Ukraine. These are mainly documents of a trade, economic and humanitarian nature.
Question: Is it possible for new members to join the EAEU? Is any work being done in this direction in the post-Soviet space, in Asia, on the African continent? Is it possible to raise the status of observer states in the EAEU or the emergence of new observer countries? Is it possible to conclude new agreements on free trade zones?
A: Any state that shares the goals and principles of the Eurasian Economic Union, as stated in Article 108 of the Treaty on the EAEU, may join this association on the terms agreed upon by the member states. In the same article, the procedure for joining the Union is spelled out in detail.
At the same time, the Eurasian Economic Commission or the Member States have never been faced with the task of attracting as many new members as possible to the Union. In working with countries and international associations interested in cooperation with the EAEU, the circle of which is expanding from year to year, we are primarily focused on the practical results of our cooperation in areas of mutual interest. In the case of the EAEU - an association of a purely economic orientation - these are the growth of mutual trade, the removal of obstacles to the movement of goods, capital, services, labor resources, and the strengthening of socio-economic stability in the region.
The geography of the EAEU's international contacts is not limited to Eurasia. For example, Cuba is an observer state in the Union, and dialogue with a number of countries and integration associations in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia is currently developing dynamically.
Speaking about the observer states at the EAEU, I would like to note that this status can be considered, among other things, as the first step towards full membership in the association. At the "observation" stage, countries have the opportunity to get acquainted with the work of the Union from the inside, receive information about the key areas of its activities and mechanisms for making collective decisions. At the same time, all the advantages of a single market for goods, services, capital and labor are opened up for states after joining the EAEU.
As practice shows, the institution of the observer is in great demand in a number of countries. The most striking example here is Uzbekistan. Since obtaining observer status in 2020, the Republic has done a lot of painstaking work to establish cooperation with the EAEU in all key areas. Moreover, Uzbek partners regularly come up with initiatives that involve closer cooperation with the EAEU member states.
Free trade agreements are one of the most advanced forms of international cooperation between the Union and third countries and integration associations.
At the same time, indeed, the plans of the EAEU member states include expanding the network of such partnerships. In the near future, a free trade agreement with Iran is expected to be signed, relevant negotiations are underway with Egypt, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates.
In addition, on the basis of a comprehensive assessment of economic benefits and risks, the Union is systematically selecting new "candidates" with whom it would be advisable to establish preferential trade regimes. Relevant appeals from constructive-minded countries are also received directly to the Eurasian Economic Commission. These applications are also analysed by Member States in conjunction with the Commission.
Question: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the alignment of the EAEU and China's Belt and Road Initiative is making significant progress. Does this trend continue? What is this pairing?
A: We are paying constant attention to the progressive development of the dialogue between the EAEU and China, including in terms of aligning the Union's development plans with China's Belt and Road Initiative. According to our estimates, this trend is strengthening.
The basis for the interaction of the five countries with Beijing is the Agreement on Trade and Economic Cooperation between the EAEU and China, which entered into force in 2019, which spells out issues of sectoral cooperation, customs administration, competition, technical regulation, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, protection of intellectual property rights, electronic commerce, public procurement, and measures to protect the domestic market.
In order to implement the agreements reached, a Joint Commission has been established. In February of this year, on the sidelines of its regular meeting, a Plan (Roadmap) for the development of trade and economic cooperation between the Union and the PRC was signed. This document focuses on such topics as the digitalization of transport corridors, the establishment of dialogues on foreign trade policy, as well as joint scientific research on the effects of various scenarios of trade and economic cooperation between the EAEU and China.
In November 2020, another agreement came into force - on the exchange of information on goods and vehicles of international transportation transported across the customs borders of the EAEU and China.
Thus, the current legal framework serves as a good basis for close mutually beneficial cooperation. At the same time, there is a common mood within the Union to continue cooperation with China, our common reliable trading partner. And, importantly, we also see a similar approach from Beijing.
Question: What is your forecast for the EAEU's domestic trade turnover for 2023? Is it possible to sum up the results of the first half of this year? How much of the turnover is paid in national currencies, including Russian rubles? Is this share growing?
A: The domestic trade turnover of the EAEU countries is certainly an important indicator. Its steady growth throughout the existence of our association testifies to the effectiveness of the decisions taken within the framework of the Union. From 2015 to 2022, the volume of mutual trade between the five countries increased by almost 2 times, in 2022 alone (compared to 2021) they increased by 14%. At the same time, we have reason to believe that this trend will not be interrupted this year. According to the estimates of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC), in the first quarter of 2023, domestic trade between the EAEU states increased by more than 20%.
Work on the transfer of settlements between the members of the EAEU into national currencies has been carried out since the creation of the Union. In the current realities, our partners are increasingly aware of the obvious risks associated with dependence on the dollar and the euro in trade operations. We strive to increase the share of the use of national currencies in mutual settlements to 85%, while this figure has already reached 89% for certain service sectors.
A significant impetus to the launched process is intended to be given by the implementation of last year's order of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council "On further work to expand the use of national currencies of the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union in the implementation of settlements within the framework of mutual trade". Monitoring of the implementation of this initiative is provided every six months, which allows governments to constantly keep their finger on the pulse.
Question: Are Western countries putting pressure on EAEU members to leave the Union? Or on the candidate countries, so that they do not join the association or reduce their cooperation with it? Do anti-Russian sanctions, as well as threats of secondary sanctions, affect the EAEU projects?
A: At the present stage of international relations, it has become the norm for some countries to achieve their goals through pressure and blackmail, even if these goals have no legitimate basis. Unfortunately, today unfriendly states are trying to influence the position of our allies in the EAEU, including by threatening to apply secondary sanctions. At the same time, the West does not care at all about the fact that such measures lead to economic losses of various scales for the countries of the Union and, in essence, undermine the stability of economies and the well-being of the citizens of the EAEU.
Thanks to joint efforts, the Union manages to withstand unprecedented external pressure. Within the framework of our association, serious work has been done, joint measures have been taken that are aimed at increasing the stability of the economies of the member states of the Union, providing support to entrepreneurs and citizens of our countries using existing mechanisms and existing tools (lack of customs control at internal borders, unified technical regulation, industrial cooperation, etc.). A concrete example of such activities is the adoption in March 2022 and further implementation of the List of Measures to Improve the Sustainability of the Economies of the EAEU Member States, including ensuring macroeconomic stability. The list provides for the implementation of a set of measures in four key areas of the Union's activities in terms of customs, customs tariff and non-tariff regulation, protective measures; domestic market and cooperation; financial and foreign exchange markets; international economic cooperation with third countries and integration associations.
Question: The Collective Security Treaty Organization is often criticized for its poor effectiveness in conflicts involving its members. In particular, official Yerevan blames the CSTO for not helping to resolve its border conflicts with Baku. Secretary of the Security Council of Armenia A. Grigoryan stated that Armenia's membership in the CSTO creates "certain problems" for it, and when asked what benefits the CSTO brings, he replied that "it is difficult to find any example of assistance since 2020." Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, in turn, said that it was Yerevan that was not inviting the CSTO mission, which was actually ready to go to the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. How could the CSTO mission help in the situation? Is there any influence of the West on Yerevan's relations with the CSTO? Is there a risk of Armenia's withdrawal from the CSTO?
A: The CSTO is an important tool for maintaining peace and regional stability, which, in particular, was confirmed during the January 2022 events in Kazakhstan, when, following an official request from the country's leadership, the Organization's peacekeeping operation was promptly and successfully carried out. But, like any other international organization, the CSTO is not a "magic wand" that solves any problems. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is one of the most complex, it has deep historical roots. The only way to a sustainable settlement is through the consistent normalization of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations on the basis of negotiations, mutual respect of the parties, their readiness to compromise, make responsible decisions and implement them. In this context, I cannot fail to note the key mediating role played by Russia and President Vladimir Putin personally in this difficult process.
The CSTO member states have never withdrawn themselves from efforts to help stabilize the situation in the region and have repeatedly reaffirmed their readiness to come up with concrete solutions that would make it possible to use the broad capabilities of the Organization with maximum benefit for our Armenian friends. We continue to expect a positive response from Yerevan and are ready to resume substantive work on the proposal to deploy a CSTO monitoring mission in the border regions of Armenia, as well as other joint measures to help our ally. We are convinced that the adoption of relevant decisions will have a positive impact on the regional situation. I would like to emphasise once again that we are ready for such constructive work.
As for your question about the influence of the West on Yerevan's relations with the CSTO, it is no secret that Russia's enemies, not disdaining anything, have embarked on a course of exerting growing political and economic pressure on our closest allies, including Armenia. The main goal is to inflict maximum damage on the Russian Federation and its positions in the South Caucasus. In order to achieve this goal, they are trying to undermine the existing mechanisms of regional security, including those based on the capabilities of the CSTO. We hope that Yerevan understands this well.
Question: Can the CSTO or Russia help resolve the border disputes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan against the backdrop of the fact that both republics are members of the CSTO? In your opinion, how do such conflicts between its members affect the reputation of the Organization?
A: The CSTO is closely following the dynamics of the development of Kyrgyz-Tajik relations, including through the prism of their influence on the positioning of our organisation and the degree of cohesion of its members. We have repeatedly and at various levels expressed our readiness to assist the parties, with their mutual consent, in achieving a long-term mutually acceptable solution to this issue, including using Russia's rich experience in border demarcation with neighbors.
We note positively the joint work begun by Bishkek and Dushanbe to resolve the situation on their border. We are confident that the resolution of interstate contradictions will become a significant factor in strengthening the spirit of alliance in our common Organization. Both Russia and the CSTO as a whole are ready to provide our allies with all the necessary assistance. The main thing is that there is appropriate political will on the part of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Question: Is it possible for new members to join the CSTO or for Uzbekistan, which was previously a member of the Organisation, to return?
A: The modern world order is changing rapidly before our eyes. A system of a multipolar world order is being formed, and the trend towards regionalization is strengthening. All this fully applies to the post-Soviet space, where the CSTO, we are sure, will remain the most important factor in stability and peaceful development.
The organization is open to states and international organizations that are ready to develop dialogue, interaction and cooperation with it on the basis of the goals and principles enshrined in the UN and CSTO charters. In this regard, I would like to note that in 2022, the status of an Observer at the CSTO and a Partner of the Organization was established. They enhance practical opportunities for collaboration with stakeholders.
As for your specific question about Uzbekistan, I would like to clarify that in 2012 it suspended its membership in the Organization. It was his sovereign choice, which we respect. We would certainly welcome the full return of Tashkent to the Organization, which, we believe, would meet the interests of Uzbekistan itself and the CSTO as a whole. But, unlike NATO, we do not have cane discipline, we do not impose our opinion on anyone. This should be a conscious and voluntary step on the part of the country's leadership and its friendly people.
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