In the current world crisis situation, the process of economic integration in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is taking on a contradictory dimension. On the one hand, we are dispensing enormous loans, and on the other hand, we are sharply reducing the quota of jobs for foreign workers who arrive with us from the main countries in the CIS.
Recently in the State Duma (the Lower House of Russian parliament), a parliamentary hearing took place which was devoted to examining the integration process in post-Soviet areas. The hearing took place in closed session, which some of its members later regretted. “Each statement was alright for the first period!” one of the national elected representatives lamented, leaving towards the journalists.
Generally speaking, the convergence of post-Soviet countries has recently begun to be a rather hot topic. As is generally known, Russia recently earmarked $2 billion of loans to Belorussia and $2 billion to Kirghizia. Next in line is Ukraine, whose own premier, Yulia Timoshenko, has already requested $5 billion from us. It is true that this has caused an ambiguous reaction from the Ukrainian establishment, which on its own is a revealing fact.
According to the results of talks which have just come to a close in Moscow, the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedyev and the president of Tajikistan, Emomali Rakhmon, were determined to continue with the development of bi-lateral economic relations, including such areas as hydropower engineering and co-operation in military technology. The day before Rakhmon’s visit to Moscow, the Russian gas giant Gazprom zarubezhneftegaz announced the start of large-scale work in Tajikistan on three promising sites with the anticipated reserves amount to 70 to 80 bcm of gas. However, the question regarding completion of the Rogun Hydropower plant, of vital importance to this country, is once again to all intents and purposes suspended in mid-air.
Yet reducing the quota of migrant workers from CIS countries strongly hits the economies of these countries. For example, transfers from Kirghiz gastarbeiter from Russia back to their homeland come to nearly $500 million per year, which is exactly half the annual budget of this small country, whereas monetary transfers from Tajik migrant workers in the past year came to $2.2 billion. In summary, equal to twice (!) the national budget. And this is only counting official transfer means, through banks. According to expert opinion, as much as 35-40% of the money from Tajik migrants is taken home from Russia and Kazakhstan in cash - so-called “black” money.
To compensate for this enormous loss, maybe our CIS neighbours should try, as they say, to stay in situ. That is, develop the economies of these countries, creating joint enterprises and additional work opportunities there. Evidence of a similar type of help is widespread enough throughout the world. Although it is obvious that the political will from the governments of underdeveloped countries must exist in order for this to happen, as carrying this out assumes that such projects (in particular, loans), usually infer there is a political component.
At the same time, according to data from Aleksei Ostrovsky, president of the State Duma Committee for Co-operation and Relations with Foreign Nationals, one of the problems for migrant workers from the CIS working in Russia is that 60% of them generally do not speak Russian. In his opinion, the appeal of all this to the governments of CIS countries lies in the fact that they are able to get work in our country, and the growth in the networks of Russian schools, and radio and television broadcasts in the Russian language in these states will be encouraged.
The deputy speaker of the State Duma, Nadezhda Gerasimova, cited the example of successful Russian-Belorussian co-operation in the sphere of economics. According to her, around three thousand businesses in Russia were linked in combined production with Belorussian businesses. So she feels that close co-operation provides work for Russian and for Belorussian workers.
Aleksander Karavayev, a research worker at the Information Analysis Centre of Moscow State University who is studying the social and political processes in post-Soviet areas, said about Russia that “from the crisis, which has barely begun to unfold, the problems of post-Soviet areas are not getting any worse, but they are also not being solved.” The expert believes that the crisis is indeed a crisis, but that “problems among countries which are in these areas are as if they are on a different plane.” At the same time, Karavayev considers that, connected with the depression, a few large infrastructure projects still will be frozen. However, it is now rather difficult to say which ones.
Russia and Kazakhstan - two of the most economically-developed countries in the CIS within the EurAsEC (Eurasian Economic Community) – set up a Crisis Management fund to the tune of $10 billion, into which Moscow has contributed $7.5 billion and Astana, for the time being, nothing. “It’s clear that some of the projects for this fund will be supported, but it is too early to say right now which ones", asserts Karavayev.
According to the expert, today we still do not know “which losses and gains” the CIS countries will struggle out of the crisis with. It is possible, he believes, that the gains will stem “from the cancellation of some unrealistic projects and political strategies”. Only by coming out of the current economic crisis can we say which prospects of integration are in question. Karavayev is certain that the problems which we have today in the CIS have nothing to do with the crisis. They were building up over a long time before it.
This can also be said about the problem of migrant workers which, he considers, is in no way connected to the crisis. Statements from the highest officials in Russia concerning the need to protect the Russian labour market from an influx of foreigners are considered to be rhetorical by Karavayev. In his opinion, the Russian government’s steps in that direction are “absolutely unconnected with the crisis”.
“The problem of migration was created long ago,” says the expert. In Russia there have been two points of view for many years. One is that we should not lose the links which exist between us and the post-Soviet area. According to this, all obstacles for migrants must be removed (except supervisory ones). The other point of view boils down to the fact that we have already accepted those that we can and now it is essential to begin tough filters on immigrants, in order that external migration will not take its toll on the Russian labour market. “The crisis has simply become a trigger for implementing the second notion”, believes Karavayev.
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