International and Comparative Law Quarterly

Research Article

The Legal Regime for Free Trade in the Commonwealth of Independent States

Rilka Dragneva* and Joop De Kort**


Whether through the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) or outside of it, the former Soviet republics continue to seek and depend on economic cooperation with each other, particularly in the area of trade in goods. This article examines the legal framework for free trade in the post-Soviet space and discusses its role in fostering effective regional cooperation. The focus is on the multiplication of regimes at the bilateral and multilateral (CIS) level—a particular blend of ‘à; la carte multilateralism’ and multiple bilateralism—and their respective features in terms of legal nature, substantive scope, and disciplining mechanisms, as well as the implications of their overlap. We find that both the bilateral and the multilateral regimes have undergone significant (often underestimated) development, and that the multilateral regime has generally sought to be more ambitious both in its substantive and institutional reach. Yet, both regimes can be described as ultimately weak and their overlap confusing. While a higher juridicization and comprehensive consolidation at the multilateral level of the CIS free trade regime may be recommended, we remain sceptical about its likelihood in the short and medium term.


* Lecturer, School of Law, University of Manchester, UK and Faculty of Law, University of Leiden, Netherlands <>. The research on which this article is based was funded by the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). The authors thank the members of the Leiden Institute of East European Law and Russian Studies for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article, and the anonymous referee(s) for the suggestions for improvement.

** Lecturer, Department of Tax Law and Economics, Faculty of Law, Department of Russian Studies and Slavic Languages and Cultures, Faculty of Arts, University of Leiden <j.f.dekort@law.leidenuniv.n1>.