Some of us consider CIS as the last ghostly bridge to the perished Soviet Union, an archaism and burden of the past, which holds us back and does not let to develop. On the other hand, there are such modern integration projects like Single Economic Area and Eurasian Union, which represent the "new wave". This way or another, this echo of the past has been an objective reality of the world politics and economy for 20 years, and ForUm has talked to the head of the CIS Executive Committee Sergey Lebedev, who took the post in 2007 after directing Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia.

- Sergey Nikolayevich, in mid-March Moscow hosted a regular meeting of the CIS Economic council. Have any important decisions been adopted?

- As we know, there is a new wave of integration processes on post-soviet space, and CIS remains an important format of cooperation for discussion and execution of topical decisions. This time the council discussed 19 issues, including cross-border cooperation, fight against piracy of intellectual property, strengthening of partnership in the sphere of new technologies and insurance. The delegates also agreed a number of draft bills, including the List of pilot interstate innovation projects of the International program of innovation cooperation of CIS countries until 2020, Agreement on the status of CIS economic court, Radio navigation development plan for 2013-17, new variant of the Statute of Intergovernmental council of road workers. These projects will be submitted for consideration of the Council of Heads of Governments on May 31 2013. These are not some ritual plans, but concrete programs with concrete goals.

- What can you tell about economic dynamics in the Commonwealth?

- The member states show good results. Last year the world GDP in real terms grew by 3.4%, but the developed states were slow: the eurozone increased figures by 1.4% only, while G-7 reduced the rate by 0.4%. At the same time, economy of CIS countries grew by 4%.

Moreover, in 2013 GDP of CIS countries is expected to grow by 4.1%, which will make the Commonwealth the second fastest growing economy after Asia and Middle East. The level of the CIS state debts is also optimistic: in 2012, it made 13.9% of GDP, which is twice less than in the regions of Middle East and North Africa and 16 times less than in G-7 countries.

As for economic figures within the Commonwealth, the leaders on economic growth are Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan. Foreign direct investments inflow grew in Belarus and Kazakhstan and declined in Russia. In general, not all CIS members have recovered the pre-crisis economic level, and integration is considered a guaranty of economic development and stability.

- Free Trade Area has become one of the most visible manifestations of the integration process within CIS. How do you estimate further prospective of this format?

- Well, it is a big achievement. Six out of eight countries have already ratified the FTA agreement, while Kirgizia and Tajikistan are finishing this process. Moreover, Uzbekistan announced its intentions to join the agreement as well. We really hope that a relevant document will be signed at the Minsk meeting of the Council of CIS Heads of Governments to be held on May 31.

We also need to continue the dialogue on cancellation of reciprocal limitations and on rapprochement of trade regimes. Thus, Armenia, for example, is considering the issue of exclusions of goods and services. The talks are scheduled for mid-April, and if Armenia decides to cancel the exclusion for cigarettes, it will have no more exclusion from the agreement. Indeed, the primary goal of the free trade agreement is "zero" customs regimes. Ukraine is also interested in changing the situation, as Ukrainian principal export product - sugar- is now excluded from the FTA regime. At the same time, Ukraine has restrictions on import of a number of commodity goods  from Customs Union members.  

- Considering the formation of closer integration projects, like Single Economic Area, Eurasian economic union, Customs Union, don't you think that CIS as a format has already played its role and it is time for it to leave?

- Formation of new structures within the Commonwealth does not mean it grows out-of-date. On the contrary, it proves successful development of economic integration among its members. Five states work within Eurasian union; three states have formed Customs Union; other countries are considering options. However, CIS is the only organization uniting all eleven states and enabling them to work together on solving common issues.

Moreover, I believe that formation of closer unions within the Commonwealth promotes the development of the Commonwealth itself, especially the development of economy and humanitarian cooperation. 

- What is the main purpose of the adopted Strategy of CIS economic development until 2020?

- It is aimed at finding mutually acceptable solutions for a number of economic problems. It specifies current and long-term interests of the CIS countries, determines the directions of cooperation and creates proper conditions for successful work in such sphere as trade, fuel and energy complex, agriculture, transport, innovations.

The Strategy includes three stages: the first - until 2011, the second - until 2015 and the third - until 2020. At the second stage, it is planned to realize the Action Plan on exploration, use and protection of mineral resources, to activate the work of the Council on consumer rights protection, to prepare and implement the Concept of cooperation on use of renewable energy sources, etc. In other words, the Strategy is being implemented gradually and systematically.

- Speaking about integration formats, what are the prospects of Ukraine's close cooperation with or even joining the CU and Eurasian union?

- Ukraine should hold talks directly with the bodies if the Customs Union. However, I am convinced that such format of integration is the most advantageous and beneficial for all CIS countries. I remind that Ukraine is an associated member of the Eurasian union, and was one of the initiators of the formation of the Single Economic Area.

Kyiv has a specific position. Ukraine, for example, is a founder and developer of the CIS Statute, but has never ratified it.  Ukraine is an integral and important part of the post-soviet space. Eurasian project is incomplete without Ukraine.

- Is there a possibility that Georgia returns to the union?

- It would be a logical step. There are several factors speaking in favor of such move: geographical proximity, historical commonality, close economic and humanitarian ties. After its withdrawal from CIS, Georgia wanted to remain in the economic agreements of the Commonwealth, and CIS members satisfied the request. Now Georgia participates in 75 various agreements. In April, Moscow will host Georgian-Russian economic forum, where the parties will discuss cooperation in the spheres of transport, energy, metallurgy, banking sector, tourism, agriculture. Many Georgian companies, including Airzena-Georgian Airways, Bank Association, wine exporters and tour operators have already applied for participation.

The doors are open for Georgia, and if its authorities think fit to come back to the Commonwealth, I am sure CIS members will consider the appeal, and there will be no obstacles for the return. At the moment, Tbilisi declare no intention to come back, but the time will show.

- Speaking about expansion, is there a chance new states may join the organization?

- At this stage it is more important to solve the problems of the current format, thus the issue of expansion is not on the table. However, in the long-term perspective there is possible integration of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Baltic countries. We should consider variants of cross-border cooperation, elements of free trade, revival of cultural and social exchange, tourism.

Andriy Boyarunets


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