The CIS Factor in Russia-West Relations: Origins of Conflict

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2018-62-8-77-87

N. Arbatova (,
Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), 23, Profsoyuznaya Str., Moscow 117997, Russian Federation 


The research is dedicated to the role of the CIS factor in the relations between Russia and the West (USA/NATO and the EU). As the Caucasus crisis of 2008 and the conflict around Ukraine in 2014 showed, the post-Soviet space became an apple of discord and an arena of rivalry between Russia and the West. The analysis of the causes of this phenomenon, primarily the mistakes of Russia and its CIS partner countries, as well as of the West after the collapse of the USSR, is the main objective of this article. The current Russia- West crisis stems from the profound misunderstanding of each other’s views regarding acceptable foundations of European security and stakes across the post-Soviet space. There were continuous (albeit open-ended) debates on the former: Moscow was against the European security built on the EU and NATO, in which Russia had no direct influence on policy-making. But the post-Soviet space was never discussed openly and sincerely during the post-Cold War era. The Ukrainian conflict has brought the Russia-West relations to the edge of confrontation for the first time since the end of the Cold War. However, the reason for this confrontation goes much deeper than the clash over Ukraine and roots heavily in the 1990s. Therefore, Ukrainian conflict should be viewed as a quintessence of mutual disappointment between Russia and the West, resulted from their mistakes after the end of bipolarity. These mistakes are related to the uneven end of the bipolar world order and uneven dissolution of the USSR. The end of bipolarity embodied in the collapse of the Soviet Union did not lead to a new world order that should have replaced the old 40-year system based on confrontation and “balance of fear”. The way the USSR was dissolved – with a stroke of a pen by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Byelorussia in December 1991, without serious negotiations on what the Newly Independent States inherited from the USSR – largely predetermined the fate of the CIS and relations between Russia and its post-Soviet neighbours. This became clear much later when Russia plunged into never-ending tensions with its neighbours over territorial, economic, defense and minorities issues. These contradictions are still casting a long shadow over Russia’s foreign policy. The Caucasus conflict of 2008 was a creation of the Russia-NATO/US differences over the security arrangements in the post-bipolar Europe, while the conflict over Ukraine smashed to pieces the West-Russia “strategic partnership” based on four common spaces of co-operation, because none of these spaces addressed the CIS issue. onsidering the origins of today’s crisis is of utmost importance for the future of Europe, since the Ukrainian conflict clearly demonstrated the danger of the emergence of new dividing lines in Europe. Russia’s policy in the post-Soviet space has been and remains the main factor that will influence the evolution of Russia’s relations with the West. And, conversely, the West’s policy towards the CIS countries will determine its relations with Russia to a decisive degree. 

Acknowledgements. The article has been prepared within the Project “Prospects for Cooperation between the European Union and Russia in the CIS”, Program of Fundamental Research of OGPMO RAN “Analysis and Forecast of New Global Challenges and Opportunities for Russia”.


CIS, Russia, GUAM, European Union, European Neighborhood Policy, Eastern Partnership, Caucasian crisis, Ukrainian conflict, NATO expansion, U.S.A., models, scenarios, security strategy, defense, foreign policy 


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For citation:
Arbatova N. The CIS Factor in Russia-West Relations: Origins of Conflict. Mirovaya ekonomika i mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya, 2018, vol. 62, No 8, pp. 77-87.

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