Integration race

Russia has started to restore its elaborate and elitist traditions. On July 3, for the first time in the post-Soviet era, the Central Moscow hippodrome hosted the Prize of the President of Russia race. The last event on this scale was held in the country 90 years ago, before the outbreak of WWI.

The event was held at the highest level and, in point of fact, became an informal CIS summit.

Russia, which is gradually recovering after a prolonged recession, has recently been conducting an increasingly active policy with regard to the CIS member states. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, for Russia, the CIS is "a sphere of vital interests, dictated by history itself. Our policy towards the development of integration and cooperation helps to increase stability there, which is something the entire international community should be objectively interested in."

Practice, however, has shown that the West is far from enthusiastic about Russia's integration processes in the former Soviet republics. A trend towards turning the CIS into a zone of rivalry for spheres of influence is already becoming evident.

This is proved by the European Union's unequivocally negative position on Ukraine's participation in the single economic space covering Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine.

Moreover, some Western media are becoming increasingly critical of Russia's "imperial ambitions".

"The West is projecting its own sense of shame onto Russia, as most European countries are former empires," believes Olga Butorina, head of the European integration department at the Moscow Institute of International Relations. "Therefore, Russia's increasingly stronger geopolitical positions evoke a sense of jealousy, rivalry in them. As a result, the thesis of Russia's desire for 'imperial hegemony' has emerged. It aims to establish a moral right to counteract Russia's stronger positions that are, in essence, justified and natural."

The CIS integration processes are unique because the independent countries involved used to be a single state for many decades and even centuries. As a consequence, their economies are both mutually dependent and supplementary, as they have a common technological base. This historical legacy offers great potential for an integration breakthrough.

The CIS countries are driven towards closer cooperation by their geography, as two major and promising energy markets, Europe and Asia, connect the Commonwealth. Therefore, cooperation in the fuel and energy industry is considered a priority.

Thus, according to various estimates, the four members of the single economic space that form the core of the CIS may create a single energy products market as early as in 2007-2010, which will also help to increase competitiveness of their national economies.

In this context, the choice the EU offers to Ukraine, membership in the single economic space or integration in the EU, is a form of competition.

Olga Butorina says, "The participation of a party in a regional group does not prevent it from developing relations with another regional group. There are historic examples, for example the EU and the European Free Trade Association once signed a framework agreement and created the European Economic Area". Accordingly, there is no problem of obligatory choice, the expert believes, although "the EU is definitely trying to strengthen its geopolitical position and there is every reason to believe that the West will continue exercising such pressure on CIS countries".

Nevertheless, increased integration of the former Soviet republics is an objective fact that entirely corresponds to the parties' interests. Accordingly, in the near future we can expect a further expansion of integration processes, both throughout the CIS and within the four driving forces of the single economic space.

And very soon the Prize of the President of Russia race may become an informal forum of the leaders that have made an integration breakthrough, as they seek to help their national economies clear even higher hurdles.