With the "multi-vector" mindset taking hold in the Commonwealth of Independent States, Russia is feeling pressure to rethink how it can retain its dominating influence among formerly Soviet states.
At present, Russian political leaders exhibit a business-as-usual approach to regional multilateral organizations, in particular the CIS. At the most recent CIS summit in February, for example, outgoing Russian leader Vladimir Putin proclaimed the CIS to be "Russia's obvious and constant priority." His political protégé and Kremlin successor, Dmitry Medvedev, seconded that idea, saying that Moscow had "no alternative to good-neighborly relations and the development of long-time cooperation."
Despite such official expressions of enduring loyalty to the concept of a post-Communist confederation of former Soviet states, Moscow policy wonks don't view the CIS as a fixed asset. Just the opposite, many now believe that the old regional paradigm will not hold for much longer. Indeed, a recent report issued by Russia's influential Council for Foreign and Defense Policy described the CIS as a "vanishing reality."
As they develop economic and political relations with the broad range of partners, embodying what has come to be known as "multi-vector" diplomacy, Soviet successor states are feeling more emboldened to take independent diplomatic action. This is especially true of the energy heavyweights of Central Asia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. And though lacking the abundant energy reserves of its neighbors, Uzbekistan is also regularly taking an independent geopolitical line.
While all three Central Asian states still profess to be closely aligned with Kremlin interests, they have taken frequent action in recent years that has vexed the Kremlin. In addition to a US regional presence, China's rising economic influence in Central Asia is posing a challenge for Russian planners.
Given the geopolitical realities, some analysts persuasively argue that the CIS cannot be conceived today as a single uniform object of Russian foreign policy. Instead, the former Soviet lands, ever more diverse, are becoming an area of intense competition where Moscow's strategic interests clash with those of Beijing, Brussels and Washington.
"It is clear that the CIS' potential is practically exhausted and we're indeed headed toward a
Igor Torbakov is a Senior Researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs in Helsinki specializing in Russian and Eurasian history and politics.