The official visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Italy on July 4, 2019, the first in the past four years, became yet another confirmation of the “special relationship” between Rome and Moscow, but did not, however, signal a breakthrough. For Italy, the meeting came as another attempt to restore its role of a “protagonist” on the international scene, a role the country has been dreaming of playing for over two decades. It was not by chance that Guiseppe Conte, during his recent visit to Moscow, “rebuked” Vladimir Putin for not paying sufficient attention to the Italian people. In Italy, this lack of attention is seen as a sign that the country is not coping well with its role of a “protagonist” and a “bridge” between the West and the East. For Russia, a dialogue with Italy is more than just a conversation with a partner who is willing to listen and establish relations based on mutual trust — it is an opportunity to convey Russian opinions on key issues related to cooperation between Russia and countries of the Euro-Atlantic bloc.
The visit of Guiseppe Conte to Moscow in October 2018, and now Vladimir Putin’s visit to Rome, the “friendly” meetings of Guiseppe Conte and Donald Trump in July 2018 during a period of acute tension in the Euro-Atlantic bloc, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s visit to Washington in June 2019, and the signing of a memorandum of cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative reached with Xi Jinping all testify to Rome’s ambitions for a more independent and autonomous foreign policy. Italy, under the leadership of the new “government of change,” is trying to play its own foreign policy game, guided by the principles of national sovereignty and national interests. However, at the moment, the hands of the yellow-green coalition are tied by the threat of sanctions from the European Commission for non-compliance with financial discipline. Naturally, this imposes significant restrictions on the potential of Italian foreign policy. In addition, the elections to the European Parliament in May 2019 and the subsequent distribution of top posts in the EU testify to Italy losing a significant share of its say in relations between Russia and the EU. In this context, the visit served as a confirmation of the two parties’ intentions but did not produce any practical solutions to problems of mutual concern.
Bilateral political dialogue: dreams and reality
Improving relations with Russia is a separate clause of the “government contract” concluded between the two parties that form the governing coalition in Italy. This is the first time that such an agenda is set at such a high level. Generally speaking, this is evidence of the consistency of Italian foreign policy which was formed in the post-war years,the purpose of which is to fulfill the role of a “bridge” between the North and the South, the West and the East. Perhaps, the historical peak of this strategy occurred when Italy carried out active mediation to establish the Russia-NATO Council in 2002. Nevertheless, the Italian foreign policy is still following this strategy.
According to experts, the status of “privileged partnership”, which was repeatedly voiced at the level of heads of state and by official representatives of Russia and Italy, does not match the real level of relations. A more realistic description of relations between Russia and Italy is “the best among the worst” compared to other partners in the EU, or a pragmatic cooperation that is still a problem to implement at the European level. This time, the leaders of the two states, speaking of existing relations, used such epithets as “excellent”, “constructive” and “businesslike”, and several times addressed each other using the word “friends”.
Meanwhile, we can be confident that a political dialogue between Russia and Italy is gradually regaining strength after the crisis of 2014–2015, particularly following the arrival of the yellow-green coalition in Italy. In October 2018, the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte visited Moscow. On the eve of his visit, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the League Party, Matteo Salvini, arrived in Moscow too to meet with representatives of Italian businesses working in Russia. In 2019, Vladimir Putin and Giuseppe Conte met at the “One Belt – One Road” forum, and also at the G20 summit in Osaka. Bilateral contacts are gradually being restored between the defense and interior ministries, consultations are under way on international information security, and an inter-parliamentary dialogue is back on track too.
Even though Moscow highly values Russian-Italian relations, Russian leaders regularly emphasize that Italy could do more in the EU to improve relations with Russia. In a report on Russian-Italian relations, which was recently released by the Russian International Affairs Committee of the Federation Council, Italy is systematically criticized for following the general course of the Euro-Atlantic partnership, be it NATO’s bombings in Yugoslavia in 1999, the U.S. operation and coalition in Iraq in 2003, the bombing of Libya in 2011, or the adoption of anti-Russian resolutions on Crimea. In all these cases, the report says, Italy, even though it is not completely in agreement with the United States and other European leaders, did not come out actively against them. Similarly, in 2015, Italy did not protest against the lowering of the status of Russia-EU relations, which had previously been known as a “strategic partnership”. In addition, Italy, whose political leaders often publicly speak in favor of the lifting of sanctions, has never used its right of veto when voting in the EU to extend sanctions.
In particular, Russia points out that, having burned its fingers on the situation in Libya in 2011 and still paying for hasty decisions back then, Italy has been acting more carefully in Middle Eastern conflicts. It refused to participate in ground operations in Syria. Instead, it opted for providing humanitarian and logistical support. In Libya, Rome is actively trying to establish a dialogue between key warring parties, including with the help of Russia. In November 2018, Italy invited Russia to a conference on Libya in Naples, hoping to win the support of the Russian leadership, who at that time had better negotiating positions with Marshal Haftar than their Italian counterparts. On the issue of refugees, the Italian leadership took a number of independent measures and decisions to restrict migrants’ access to the territory of Italy (“porti chiusi”, or closed ports), and adopted a security law changing the rules for granting refugee status. This triggered criticism not only in Brussels, but also in the UN. Italy refused to recognize self-proclaimed Juan Guaido as the new president of Venezuela, thereby making it difficult for the EU to strike a common approach on this issue. On March 23, 2019, during Xi Jinping’s visit, Italy and the People’s Republic of China signed a memorandum of cooperation within the One Belt One Road Initiative, despite the numerous warnings against the move from Brussels. Such “independence” of the Italian leadership in foreign policy shows that Italy is at the epicenter of the conflict of national and supranational sovereignty in the EU, articulating this conflict as clearly and consistently as possible.
Italy-EU-Russia: not a love triangle
Such independence on the part of Italian leadership and their desire to assume some of the decision-making has triggered controversy domestically in Italy. On the one hand, these moves contribute to the status of Italy, both within the EU and on the international scene. On the other hand, some Italian experts say there is the risk of the country becoming isolated within the EU. Brussels, Paris and Berlin tend to view Rome’s moves in a negative way – as detrimental to European solidarity and hindering the development of further supranational integration.
The EU systematically criticizes Russia for prioritizing bilateral relations above dialogue with Brussels. As for Italy, the situation is aggravated by the fact that, from the point of view of Brussels, the “anti-system” forces have developed a special liking for the Russian leader, while Russia, in turn, uses them as agents of influence in the EU. In February 2019 the leader of the “League” Matteo Salvini was reported to have received 3 million euros from the Kremlin for running the election campaign in the European Parliament. Therefore, on the eve of his visit, Vladimir Putin said in an interview with Italian news agency Corriere della Sera that Russia is ready for dialogue with any political forces that come to power by legitimate means, “regardless of their political affiliations.” However, after Vladimir Putin’s interview with The Financial Times, one cannot but notice that the Russian president’s criticism of liberalism, being addressed, above all, to U.S. president Donald Trump, echoes the rhetoric of the Italian “government of change”. Both in matters of migration management and in terms of governments’ ability to respond to people’s needs, the views of the Russian and Italian leadership are fairly close. In this context, Vladimir Putin’s visit to Italy should certainly be considered not only as a bilateral dialogue, but also as an attempt to get across to leaders of the Western world the need to establish a dialogue with those political forces that express a different point of view on further socio-political and economic development in Europe and the United States.
The recent developments in the EU show, however, that the political mainstream is not prepared to heed alternative political groups. After the May 26, 2019 elections, Matteo Salvini, together with representatives of the “sovereignists” of Poland, France and a number of other countries, succeeded in building the largest coalition of “populists” in the entire history of the European Parliament – 73 deputies. This, however, did not provide them with enough say to affect the choice of candidates for key posts in the EU. The results of the EU summit on July 2, 2019, in which appointments to senior positions were made, testifies to Rome losing its influence in the EU. Unlike before, when representatives of Italy had occupied three key posts in the EU (Antonio Tajani – President of the European Parliament, Mario Draghi – Chairman of the ECB, Federica Mogherini – High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy), now only one Italian – a representative of the opposition Democratic Party Divid Sassol – is part of the EU top management, having been given the position of President of the European Parliament. This yet again demonstrates that Paris, Berlin and Brussels are not ready for a serious dialogue with representatives of the yellow-green coalition of “sovereignists” and continue to rely on center-leftists.
In addition, the appointment of Ursula von der Leyen, German Minister of Defense with extensive experience in foreign policy and defense, as President of the European Commission is likely to lead to attempts at greater EU integration in the sphere of foreign policy, which may narrow the window of opportunity for more independent foreign policy initiatives of EU countries, including Italy.
What also restricts Italy in its efforts is the looming threat of EU sanctions for breaching fiscal discipline and exceeding the budget deficit. After the EU summit on June 2, Giuseppe Conte said that he had reached an agreement that sanctions would not be applied if Italy cut down the previously planned budget expenditures. However, the threat of sanctions is still there, and this is likely to be one of the most effective instruments of influence from Brussels on the country’s position on many issues, including relations with Russia. Any harsh statements during the visit of Vladimir Putin or any so-called “big deals” would certainly cause even more irritation in Brussels, which means they could lead to a tougher policy towards Italy. Therefore, Vladimir Putin’s visit was, of course, an important confirmation of Italy’s proactive foreign policy but was not a breakthrough, since Italy is connected with the EU not only by the historical bonds of Euro-Atlantic solidarity, but also by tangible economic mechanisms that allow the EU to impose sanctions against the Italian economy.
The economy depends on politics
The economic dialogue between Russia and Italy does not correspond to the declared high level of bilateral relations. In 2017, after a three-year decline (from 2014 to 2016), bilateral trade regained momentum but is still far from the pre-crisis level ($ 27 billion in 2018 against 54 billion in 2013). Russia maintains a clear lead in Italian exports, being the fifth among top importers. The Italian presence is felt in almost all sectors of the Russian economy. About 500 Italian companies operate in Russia, which, however, holds no candle to Germany (4.7 thousand). Even though about 100 Russian-Italian joint ventures were set up during the period of sanctions as part of a program to move Italian production to Russia (“made with Italy”), this figure does not yet correspond to the existing potential. As for an economic dialogue, Italy is considerably behind Germany and France. While in Germany and France there have been functioning “Petersburg Dialogue” and “Trianon Dialogue” respectively, and the Sochi Dialogue has recently been launched with Austria, the Russian-Italian economic dialogue has yet to acquire an appropriate status. The Council for Economic, Industrial, Monetary and Financial Cooperation, which last gathered in Rome in December 2018, is still little known to both countries’ general public. The “Russian-Italian Forum-Dialogue on Civil Society”, which Vladimir Putin and Guiseppe Conte attended in course of the visit, has not received support from the Italian authorities since 2014. Only now is it approaching a new level of development. In addition, during the visit, the two parties agreed that the Russian Export Center and Vnesheconombank (VEB) would set up a bureau to support Russian exporters in Italy. Thus, the economic dialogue, which for a long time needed a new impetus, has finally received it following Vladimir Putin’s visit to Rome. It is worth noting that the Italian leadership is acutely concerned about competition with Germany and France in two vast markets – Russia and China.
Russia, however, is waiting for more decisive steps from Italy to secure the lifting of the sanctions. However, according to Pasquale Terraciano, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Italian Republic to Russia, “Italy has never considered sanctions a smart decision, but Italy is part of the Western bloc and cannot stand against it alone.”. Italy’s agenda, he said, is to change the EU’s opinion through the use of consistent steps. At the same time, as a practical measure aimed at expanding economic cooperation, Italy proposes to unfreeze the funding of small and medium-sized enterprises at the level of the EBRD and the European Investment Bank. As he addressed a press conference after the meeting, Giuseppe Conte pointed out that Italy is ready to assume the role of a consistent promoter of the idea of lifting the sanctions but the conditions for this lifting had to be “ripe”.
Energy is a major area of cooperation between Italy and Russia. Russia is the fourth most important supplier of oil and the first of natural gas to Italy. Supplies from Moscow account for more than 40% of the total gas consumption. However, as Italian experts remark, Italy expects an increase in prices in connection with the construction of the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline, which will make Germany the number one transit country for Russian gas in Europe, bypassing Ukraine. Therefore, negotiations on the development of southern transportation routes are more than relevant for Italy. The meeting, however, yielded no breakthroughs on this issue either.
Regional cooperation: identifying problems, lack of solutions
Italy, just like Russia, sees a great potential for dialogue not only on issues related to bilateral cooperation, but also on those of the regional and global agenda. The priority for Italy is the Mediterranean, which produces the greatest number of challenges and threats to the country’s national security. Simultaneously, Italy is fully aware of the fact that the country will not be able to cope with these challenges alone, although it is taking independent measures, in particular, in matters of migration. Quite recently, Matteo Salvini held talks with the Libyan leadership in Tripoli to curtail illegal migration. However, Rome knows only too well that the solution to the problem lies not so much in reaching agreements with specific countries as in assisting the development of countries the migrants come from and in settling regional conflicts. Italy greatly appreciates the role of Russia as a non-regional player whose influence has increased significantly in recent years. During a press conference following the elections, Vladimir Putin, however, said that Russia is not ready to plunge head-on into resolving the Libyan crisis, and that forces that destroyed Libya’s statehood during the armed operation in 2011 should be involved;that is, NATO and the EU coalition. In solidarity with the Russian president, the Italian Prime Minister emphasized that Italy had warned from the very beginning that a military solution would not lead to peace. Under current conditions, the parties have indicated their readiness to participate in fostering a dialogue between all political forces in Libya.
As for Ukraine, Italy’s official position should be in line with the EU policy providing for no new opportunities to change the situation. In an interview before Vladimir Putin’s visit to Italy, Giuseppe Conte directly linked the issue of lifting of the sanctions with the observance of the Minsk agreements, implicitly suggesting that Russia is a party to the conflict and urging both sides to demonstrate more understanding. In an interview with Corriere della Sera, and during a press conference following the meeting, President Putin reiterated that the new leadership of Ukraine should fulfill its election promises and enter a direct dialogue with representatives of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic. Guiseppe Conte repeatedly pointed out that, although Italy is not part of the Normandy format (a negotiation apparatus designed to resolve the Ukrainian conflict), it is nevertheless ready to play a role in resolving the conflict if necessary, which once again confirms the country’s willingness to play a greater role on the international scene.
The Russian president and the Italian prime minister also hold similar views on the situation in Venezuela, expressing concerns over foreign interference, which in their opinions will only aggravate the situation inside the country.
On the whole, it is essential to emphasize that Vladimir Putin’s visit to Italy did not bring any breakthroughs, either in bilateral relations or in formulating common positions on issues of regional and global concern. Although the parties demonstrated identical views on the causes and nature of some of the issues on the international agenda, they proved unprepared to suggest concrete practical solutions. For Italy, the meeting provided yet another opportunity to identify its own national interests in promoting relations with Russia and to demonstrate its readiness to act as a “bridge” in the development of a dialogue between Russia and the Euro-Atlantic bloc. At the same time, it has revealed limitations in Italian foreign policy, linked to the economic situation in the country and the weak positions of the current leadership in the renewed European institutions.
1. Speech by the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Italian Republic to the Russian Federation Pasquale Terracciano at the conference, at the Institute of Europe RAS, June 19, 2019
From our partner RIAC
XV Congress of the International Association of Teachers of Russian Language
The XV Congress of the International Association of Teachers of Russian Language and Literature “Russian Language and Literature in a Changing World” began on September 13 in St. Petersburg. Outstanding Russian philologists from all over the world took part in the world congress. The objectives of the event and its significance for promoting the Russian language abroad were discussed at a press conference in TASS by the chairman of the congress program committee, adviser to the President of the Russian Federation, president of MAPRYAL and ROPRYAL, chairman of the supervisory board of the Russkiy Mir Foundation Vladimir Tolstoy, co-chairman of the congress program committee, rector St. Petersburg State University, member of the presidium of the Russian Language Council under the President of the Russian Federation, co-chairman of the Russian Language Council under the Government of the Russian Federation, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Nikolai Kropachev and president of the Leo Tolstoy Institute in Colombia Ruben Dario Flores Arcila.
The XV Congress of MAPRYAL is the largest event in the life of world Russian studies, in which about 600 delegates from 63 countries of the world take part: specialists in the field of scientific description and teaching of the Russian language, literature, theory and practice of translation, lexicography and other aspects. During the congress, 418 reports will be presented, which will present a whole range of international studies of Russian studies – from teaching methods to translations of literary texts and analysis of phraseological units.
As the President of MAPRYAL and the Association of Teachers of Russian Language and Literature, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Russkiy Mir Foundation Vladimir Tolstoy noted, today MAPRYAL has 130 collective and 65 individual participants, and interest in the study of the Russian language and Russian literature is only growing around the world.
“This year, new colleagues from Argentina, Venezuela, Qatar, Kenya, Nigeria, Lebanon, Peru, Senegal, Tanzania, Ecuador, as well as our old friends from the CIS countries, Asia, the Balkan region, countries of Eastern and Western Europe joined the work of the congress . We are grateful to St. Petersburg State University for its active participation in organizing the congress,” said Vladimir Tolstoy during a press conference.
The XV Congress is being held in Russia for the first time in 20 years, and St. Petersburg is becoming its capital for the second time in the history of the event. In 2003, it was held in St. Petersburg on the initiative of the outstanding Russian scholar, rector and president of St. Petersburg State University Lyudmila Alekseevna Verbitskaya, who is the author of more than 300 scientific and educational works in the field of Russian and general linguistics, phonetics, phonology and methods of teaching the Russian language , as well as the significant project “Let’s speak correctly!” As part of the “zero” day of the congress, a sculptural portrait of Lyudmila Alekseevna Verbitskaya was unveiled at St. Petersburg State University, which will greet philologists and linguists every day.
Today, St. Petersburg University pays great attention to the study of the Russian language and its promotion abroad. The University has 112 Russian language centers, represented in 50 countries. In 2023, St Petersburg University opened Russian language centers in Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Kenya, Algeria and Paraguay.
“SPbU has traditionally become the most popular university in Russia among foreign applicants. Citizens from 105 countries come to study at the University; the competition among foreign students is 21 people per place. Young people come to St. Petersburg University to learn Russian and study in Russian. St Petersburg University also teaches more than 100 world languages, including rare ones spoken in two or three countries. We teach our students not just foreign languages, but culture, history, economics, and law in these languages, because language does not exist separately from other areas of human life. I believe that today the Russian language is so popular and strong, partly because our country is open to all languages of the world. And it will always be like this,” said Nikolai Kropachev.
As the participants of the press conference noted, the rules for using the Russian language as the state language of the Russian Federation require special attention today. Rector of St. Petersburg State University, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Nikolai Kropachev noted that the changes made on behalf of Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Law on the State Language established new requirements for consolidating the norms of the Russian language, which must be observed in areas of compulsory use of the state language. Such norms must now be enshrined in normative dictionaries, reference books and grammars, the list of which will be approved by the Government. The normative dictionary must also define those foreign words that have no analogues in the Russian language and therefore can be used in the areas of use of the state language.
Associate Professor at the National University of Bogota, President of the Leo Tolstoy Institute Ruben Dario Flores Arcila spoke about the motivation for foreign students to learn Russian. In Colombia, Russian has been taught since 1944, when the Institute of Friendship with the USSR was founded. According to him, the first foreign articles devoted to the study of the work of the Russian writer Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy were written in Colombia, Cuba.
“I am confident that Russian literature and the Russian language are special cultural codes that help foreigners understand the identity of Russia and better recognize the culture of this unique country,” said Ruben Dario Flores Arcila.
As part of the events of the XV MAPRYAL Congress, experts will pay attention to the methods of teaching Russian as a foreign language, various aspects of translating the works of Russian writers and poets into different languages of the world, discuss issues of reflecting cultural changes in language, and much more.
According to the director of the MAPRYAL secretariat, Alexander Korotyshev, the list of participants and topics of reports indicate that in order to competently teach and study the Russian language, you need to know a lot about both the culture and history of the country. “Modern methods of teaching the Russian language strive for accuracy in conveying linguistic facts and are literally “tuned” to the cultural and linguistic characteristics of different national audiences. The number of congress delegates suggests that interest in the Russian language in almost all parts of the world continues to grow,” added Alexander Korotyshev.
It should be noted that from September 1, 2023, on the basis of St. Petersburg University, with the support of the Government of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation, the online school of St. Petersburg State University began its work. A unique educational project allows schoolchildren from different countries to undergo training in Russian according to an approved educational program for grades 5–11 and receive a standard certificate. As the rector of St. Petersburg State University Nikolay Kropachev noted, the project already in the first year of its existence showed that studying in Russian is important in different parts of the world: the University received applications from schoolchildren from 44 countries.
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The XV Congress of MAPRYAL was organized by the International Association of Teachers of Russian Language and Literature together with St. Petersburg State University with the support of the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation and the Russkiy Mir Foundation.
The first MAPRYAL congress was held in 1969 in the USSR, and since then it has traditionally been held once every five years in different cities around the world. Since 1969, MAPRYAL congresses have been hosted by Moscow, Varna, Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Regensburg, Bratislava, St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Granada, Astana.
Common wealth of independent states
The geopolitical environment of Eurasia underwent a profound change with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. A new regional structure known as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) arose to deal with the difficulties and uncertainties that came along with this momentous event as the largest communist state in the world began to fall apart. The former Soviet governments that make up the CIS sought to maintain regional stability in the post-Soviet era while fostering political, economic, and cultural cooperation among its member states.
This research explores the intricate topography of the Commonwealth of Independent States and offers a thorough examination of its establishment, structure, and governance. We can understand the motivations behind the formation of this regional organization better by looking at the historical context of the demise of the Soviet Union and the CIS’s ensuing establishment.
This research’s main goal is to explain the political and economic aspects of cooperation within the CIS. We focus on the decision-making processes that have an impact on how the CIS functions as we examine the organizational structure of the CIS as well as the obligations of its member nations. We can gain a better understanding of the role the CIS plays in promoting regional stability by looking at political cooperation initiatives including those that address shared security concerns and participate in political and legal coordination.
The economic cooperation of the CIS nations is also examined, with an emphasis on attempts for trade and economic union. We evaluate the same economic issues these countries confront and look into the coordinated actions done to address them. We intend to determine how well the CIS is fostering stability and economic progress in the region by studying its economic component.
We take into account the CIS’s accomplishments and future advantages while also acknowledging its flaws and detractors. Both the efficacy of institutional processes and the internal problems brought on by disputes and conflicts among the member states are explored. We also look at how the outside world perceives the CIS, focusing on how Russia is seen as the organization’s dominant force and how the CIS is perceived as important and having an impact on global concerns.
Then, we evaluate the CIS’s possibilities while taking into consideration the modifying dynamics among its member states and the transforming global scenario. We look at possible areas for growth and transformation while examining the CIS’s role in solving fresh concerns and promoting deeper regional integration.
This research study aims to increase understanding of the Commonwealth of Independent States and its importance in the post-Soviet era by closely evaluating the group’s conception, structure, functioning, and prospects for the future.
The Soviet Union’s fall in December 1991 is where the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) got its start. Moscow’s centralized control over the vast lands and several republics that made up the union came to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. A number of causes, such as economic difficulties, political changes, and the growing yearning for independence among the Soviet republics, led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Following the Russian Federation’s declaration of independence, other former Soviet republics started down a similar road in an effort to assert their sovereignty and create independent states. In the Belovezhskaya Pushcha, a woodland reserve on the border between Belarus and Poland, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus met when the Soviet Union fell.
They approved the Belavezha Accords on December 8, 1991, thus dissolving the Soviet Union and founding the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Creating a framework for coordination and collaboration among the newly independent countries was the CIS’s main goal. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was founded in 1991 with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan as its founding members. More former Soviet Union countries were added as the CIS grew over time to comprise the 12 member states it does now.
In its early years, the CIS faced numerous challenges. The difficulties that the member states faced included economic hardship, political upheaval, and territorial disputes from the Soviet era. The CIS provided a forum for dialogue and collaboration to address these problems and maintain regional stability.
The CIS had problems accomplishing its objectives while being technically created. Some member states prioritized their own national interests over group efforts while others offered varying degrees of support to the CIS. The Soviet Union, which had an intricate web of connections covering politics, economy, and security, was no longer as intertwined as the CIS.
The CIS has changed in terms of operations and organizational structure over time. While some programmes have improved member state cooperation, others have had very little success or have mostly been token efforts. The organization, despite various levels of efficacy and influence, provides a space for communication and collaboration. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, an effort was made to encourage regional cooperation among the newly independent republics by creating the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, independent nations established the regional organization known as the Commonwealth of Independent Nations (CIS). The CIS promotes intergovernmental cooperation and aims to deepen the links that bind its member nations politically, economically, and culturally. The CIS’s organizational structure is made up of a number of important parts, including:
Council of Heads of State: The Council of Heads of State is the CIS’s highest legislative body. It meets at least once a year to talk about and decide on crucial topics affecting the CIS. The participating nations’ heads of state or government make up this group.
The Council of Prime Ministers, also known as the Council of Heads of Government, coordinates and implements the decisions taken by the Council of Heads of State. It meets frequently to discuss and organize many aspects of cooperation and is made up of the heads of state or prime ministers of the member states.
Council of Foreign Ministers: The foreign ministers of the member nations make up the Council of Foreign Ministers. It acts as a forum for coordination and diplomatic dialogue on issues related to politics, security, and foreign affairs. The majority of the CIS’s foreign policy priorities are established by the Council of Foreign Ministers.
Economic Council: The member states’ economic cooperation is the main emphasis of the Economic Council. It aspires to improve economic integration, trade, and investment inside the CIS. The implementation of joint economic projects, the creation of common economic policies, and the encouragement of intra-CIS commerce are all coordinated by the Economic Council.
Sectoral Cooperation Bodies: The CIS has a number of specialized organizations that focus on particular sectors of cooperation. These organizations represent a wide range of professions, such as those in the legal, judicial, cultural, educational, and medical fields. They promote collaboration, knowledge sharing, and team projects in their specialized domains.
A structure of intergovernmental cooperation and consensus-based decision-making underlies the operation of the CIS. The following elements are essential to how the CIS functions:
- In the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), decisions are frequently reached by consensus. Negotiations and discussions among the member nations frequently result in important decisions. All key decisions and initiatives shall be developed and approved by the Council of Heads of State and Government and the Council of Heads of State.
- Cooperation Agreements and Protocols: The CIS is governed by a number of agreements and protocols that set the standards for member state cooperation. These accords cover a wide range of topics, including cultural exchange, economic integration, and security collaboration.
- Working Groups and Committees: The CIS creates a range of working groups and committees to help with the execution of decisions and objectives. These organizations are in charge of planning events, keeping an eye on initiatives as they take shape, and resolving particular problems within their individual spheres of expertise.
- Joint Programmes and Projects: The CIS supports collaborative initiatives that encourage member states to work together and integrate. These programmes cover topics like infrastructure construction, international interchange, scientific research, and humanitarian aid. Bilateral and multilateral agreements among member states are used to implement joint programmes and projects.
- Interaction with International Organizations: The CIS is in touch with other international bodies as well as regional groups. In order to address shared difficulties and advance shared objectives, it cooperates and engages in discourse with organizations like the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
The CIS aims to improve cooperation and collaboration among its member states in different political, economic, and cultural domains by operating within its organizational structure and functional framework. The operation of the CIS has, however, altered over time as a result of changing member state dynamics and a more general geopolitical environment.
Political and economic cooperation
A crucial component of the CIS’s operation is the political collaboration between its member states. It seeks to solve shared security issues, advance regional stability, and foster political and legal discussion. The following are some of the important CIS political cooperation areas:
- Common Security Issues: The CIS focuses on resolving common security issues that member governments encounter. Combating terrorism, drug trafficking, organized crime, and illegal immigration are included in this. To improve regional security, the member states work together through collaborative initiatives like intelligence sharing, law enforcement coordination, and joint military exercises.
- Regional Stability Initiatives: The CIS contributes to efforts to maintain peace and resolve disputes in the region. In order to resolve territorial disputes and disagreements between member states, it develops procedures for discussion and negotiation. The group promotes peaceful dispute resolution procedures, aids in negotiations, and offers a forum for communication between disputing parties.
- Cooperation on Political and Legal Issues: The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) promotes cooperation on political and legal issues with the goal of harmonizing legal systems among member states. There are initiatives to harmonize legal frameworks, improve judicial collaboration, and advance the rule of law. Through discussion, the sharing of experience, and cooperative projects, the organization also addresses topics including human rights, democratic government, and electoral procedures.
Another important part of the CIS’s operation is economic cooperation, which aims to improve trade, investment, and economic integration among member states. Among the crucial components of economic cooperation within the CIS are the following:
- Initiatives for Trade and Economic Integration: The CIS promotes intra-CIS trade and economic integration through a number of programmes. The establishment of a free trade zone, standardization of customs practices, the removal of trade restrictions, and the mutual recognition of standards and certifications are all included in this. Processes for trade are streamlined, cross-border travel is made easier, and investment flows are encouraged within the CIS.
- Economic Reforms, Market Transitions, and Infrastructure Development are a few of the common problems that the CIS member nations must deal with. To meet these problems, the CIS promotes the sharing of knowledge, best practices, and technical support. Key economic sectors are developed, innovation is encouraged, and economic growth and stability are fostered through joint efforts and projects.
- Joint Energy and Transportation Projects: The CIS places a high priority on energy and transportation cooperation. In order to develop and manage energy resources, such as oil, gas, and power, the member states work together. To improve regional connection and guarantee dependable energy supplies, projects including pipelines, power grids, and transportation networks are launched.
- Financial Coordination: The CIS encourages member state coordination in the financial sphere, notably in the areas of capital markets, banking, and insurance. The region’s financial systems are being strengthened, monetary cooperation is being improved, and financial transactions are being made easier. Initiatives to stop corruption, money laundering, and illegal financial activity are also supported by the CIS.
It’s significant to note that over time and across member nations, the extent of political and economic cooperation within the CIS has changed. While some programmes have produced observable effects, others have run into difficulties because of conflicting national interests, economic inequalities, and geopolitical factors. As member states adjust to shifting conditions and work to further integrate the region, the efficacy of political and economic cooperation continues to change.
Challenges and Criticisms
The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) has encountered the following difficulties and criticisms:
- The member states of the CIS have a variety of political, economic, and security interests. This could make it more challenging to conduct collaborative activities and achieve genuine cooperation. It could also make it harder to coordinate on important topics and develop consensus.
- Institutional Weaknesses: The CIS’s institutional framework’s efficacy has been called into question. Some detractors contend that the organization’s capacity to respond quickly to new challenges is constrained by the bureaucratic and delayed decision-making processes. Concerns concerning the implementation of cooperative measures are also raised by the absence of enforcement procedures for agreements and protocols.
- Conflicts and Disputes: Left over from the Soviet era, the CIS has had to deal with persistent conflicts and disputes among its member states. Territorial conflicts, separatist movements, and racial tensions are a few of these. Such disputes can erode confidence and make it harder for employees to work together.
- Economic Disparities: The CIS faces difficulties integrating and cooperating economically due to the widening gap in wealth between its member states. Achieving equitable and sustainable economic cooperation may be hampered by differences in resource endowments, diverse economic systems, and varying levels of development.
- Perception of Dominance: There has been criticism and worry over Russia’s perceived dominance inside the CIS. Some contend that the organization’s power dynamics are unbalanced as a result of Russia’s sway and ability to make decisions, which eclipse the interests of smaller member nations.
The case studies below demonstrate the difficulties and dynamics that the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) faces:
Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh: Within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Armenia-Azerbaijan war in Nagorno-Karabakh has continued for some time. Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh territory, which is predominantly populated by ethnic Armenians, is the focus of a disagreement that has led to a protracted conflict and a precarious security situation. The CIS has attempted to aid in a peaceful resolution of the conflict through its processes and mediation efforts. Despite this, the crisis has brought to light issues like how difficult it is to come to a sustainable peace deal, how different national interests affect discussions, and how ineffective the CIS is at settling conflicts.
Conflict in Transnistria: The conflict in Transnistria, a province of Moldova that seceded, is still active. In 1990, Transnistria proclaimed its independence, sparking a bloody struggle between Moldova and the separatist territory. The Joint Control Commission, a CIS peacekeeping force, has been actively involved in maintaining tranquilly in Transnistria. The issue is a great example of how challenging it is to negotiate with separatist parties and how challenging it is to forge durable agreements inside the CIS.
Relations between Russia and Ukraine have had a significant impact on the dynamics of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 have strained relations between the two nations..
Future prospects for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are uncertain and rely on a variety of factors. Within the organization, increased efforts by member nations to collaborate on security, political, and economic fronts may be seen. Increased collaboration in sectors like energy, transportation, culture, and education might lead to greater wealth and advancement for everybody. Along with forging ties with other regional organizations, the CIS may also need to adapt to altering geopolitical circumstances. However, problems such as divergent national interests, institutional shortcomings, and on-going conflicts between member states may continue to have an impact on how the CIS develops in the future.
The organization will need to deal with these concerns, encourage consensus-building, and effectively react to the changing requirements and aspirations of its member states if it is to preserve its relevance and effectiveness in the years to come.
The CIS’s future will ultimately depend on how committed its members are to overcoming obstacles, fostering cooperation, and advancing shared objectives. The CIS has the chance to promote regional stability, economic growth, and interstate peace among its numerous member nations as the geopolitical landscape changes.
Developing Far Eastern Region Russia’s Priority
The Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) is held annually in cooperation with the Far East regional administration, in the city of Vladivostok. Three years of COVOD-19, followed by Russia’s ‘special military operation’ and the current geopolitical situation have adversely affected this corporate business event, as Russia looks towards East and made its focus to develop the Far East.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the opening session that the government would not allow the pace of development to slacken in the Russian Far East as it is a strategic region for the country. “We will definitely not be scaling down the pace of development in the region, because the development of the Far East is an absolute priority for Russia, a direct priority for Russia as a whole for the entire 21st century, because it is a colossal region with a small population but huge potential. Of course, this is a strategic interest for the country,” the president said at the Eastern Economic Forum, which Vladivostok is hosting on September 10-13.
Putin further pointed out that it is necessary “not only to hold on to this region, but also to develop it and put its resources to work for the benefit of the state.” According to the president, “it is necessary to talk not only about the development of mineral resources in the Far East, it is necessary to build even more enterprises for the processing of industrial raw materials, so as to increase the added value.”
Putin later held discussion with Vice Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China Zhang Guoqing. Both noted that Russia-China relations in this area – the area of economic cooperation – have reached a very high level. This is a derivative of what has been achieved in the political sphere, but the results are excellent, as every year trade grows by almost one third. This year, over the first seven months, trade is up about the same amount, 24 percent – to as much as 120 billion. The goal President Xi Jinping and Putin have set – to reach the US$200 billion mark in trade – can be achieved by the end of 2023.
In addition to above, Putin held discussion with Deputy Prime Minister of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Pany Yathotou, also on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum. Russia and Laos have made significant contributions to the development of bilateral parliamentary relations.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Yury Trutnev, earlier reiterated that the forum has been the world’s leading platform for discussing economic and political issues. The largest delegations are from such countries as China, Myanmar, India, Mongolia and Laos. He also expressed confident that a large number of new investment agreements with foreign participation would become the outcome of the forum. The Far East region expects new projects, technologies and jobs. And also to strengthen the Far East’s position in the system of economic relations in Asia Pacific.
For the past few years, Western and European businesses have largely been missing in this forum. And those from the Asian and Pacific are getting fewer and fewer as opportunities seem monotonous and speeches have the same message relating to world geopolitics. Business people are really for business opportunities, not geopolitics. Business people are simply looking for the unique products, services and profits.
Nevertheless, at the start of the forum the photo exhibition «Developing the Far East!», organized by the Corporation for the Development of the Far East and the Arctic with the support of the Office of the Plenipotentiary Representative of the President of the Russian Federation in the Far Eastern Federal District and the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East, opened in the departure area of the domestic terminal.
The exposition presents a chronology of images: a decade during which unique conditions for business development were created in the Far East, more than 2.8 thousand investment projects were launched, about 700 of which have already been put into operation.
According to analysts interviewed by Russian media Izvestia, the forum’s agenda will be comprehensive, covering both domestic Russian and external economic issues. “This year, due to the greater focus on the East that has emerged in the country’s economy, the agenda for discussions are extensive, on both internal domestic and external issues,” according to Vladimir Klimanov, Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Regional Policy at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) Institute of Applied Economic Research.
Anton Kobyakov, Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation and Executive Secretary of the EEF Organizing Committee, says participants have the chance to exchange experiences, discuss networking practices at EEF events including a plenary session, panel sessions, round tables, and business dialogues. The main theme of this year’s forum is “The Path to Partnership, Peace and Prosperity” fixed by Roscongress Foundation. The Eastern Economic Forum will be held on 10–13 September 2023 in Vladivostok on the campus of the Far Eastern Federal University.
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