Mistrust and hegemony: Regional institutional design, the FSU-CIS, and Russia

John P. Willerton, Gary Goertz, Michael O. Slobodchikoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Power inequalities and mistrust have characterized many relationships between states over the centuries. One approach that states can take to deal with these two, often interrelated, problems is to create intergovernmental institutions and arrangements designed to accommodate the interests of states with varied power capabilities. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) embodies an interesting institutional design in an effort by former Soviet Union (FSU) countries to address these dilemmas. The CIS was not only the first multilateral FSU organization created following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it also provided a necessary and important framework for the further construction of bilateral and multilateral relations among the former Soviet republics as they reengaged one another. CIS arrangements have been augmented by extensive bilateral negotiations and treaties and, brought together, these interconnected multilateral and bilateral instruments yield a system of cautious regional security governance and framework for international relations within the FSU. This paper analyzes three key features of this foundational CIS institutional design: (1) legalism, (2) an à la carte choice of treaty instruments, and (3) nested bilateralism, wherein many details of the regional, multilateral agreements are implemented via bilateral treaties (hence constituting a combination design feature). Empirically, the paper illuminates this institutional design using a unique dataset of all multilateral security treaties of the CIS (approximately 185) and all bilateral security treaties (more than 500) between the regional hegemon, Russia, and the smaller CIS members. We further investigate the causal mechanisms of the CIS institutional design as it copes with the conditions of hegemony and mistrust in two bilateral case studies, Russia–Armenia, and Russia–Ukraine (Black Sea Fleet status). We find the CIS institutional design, built upon by subsequent FSU regional organizations (including the Eurasian Economic Union and Shanghai Cooperation Organization), has permitted both more and less powerful states to advance their interrelated security interests in the face of considerable power asymmetry and mistrust. More than twenty years after the CIS’s formation, a patchwork of Eurasian regional organizations and numerous related bilateral treaties widen regional security and other arrangements. Meanwhile, the dramatic events surrounding the February 2014 Ukrainian coup and the joining of Crimea to the Russian Federation only reinforce the importance of understanding state treaty activity in channeling state action. Questions surround Russia respecting the 1992 treaty and protocol with Ukraine and the US on the removal of nuclear weapons from the territory of Ukraine and the joint recognition of Ukraine’s sovereign borders. But Russia’s spring 2014 actions involving Crimea and its Crimean bases accorded with the various treaties concluded with Ukraine in 1997; treaties addressing the Black Sea Fleet and the Crimean Peninsula that are a subject of our analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-52
Number of pages27
JournalInternational Area Studies Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015


  • Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)
  • Former Soviet Union (FSU)
  • Russian foreign policy
  • institutional design
  • regional organizations
  • treaties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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