Prague, 24 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin says that the latest Commonwealth of Independent States' (CIS) summit was "difficult" for him.
Russia was subjected to "serious criticism," he said yesterday at a press conference held shortly after the conclusion of the one-day summit of the CIS nations in the Moldovan capital Chisinau. And so was Yeltsin himself as chairman of the CIS Heads-of-State Council.
The criticism was openly voiced, both by those who complained about the organization's ineffectiveness, as by those who saw it as an instrument advancing Russia's aspirations to control.
Georgia's Eduard Shevardnadze was reported to have complained about Russia's ambiguity in the conflict over Abkhazia. Armenia demanded Russian explicit support for its position on the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, prompting a rebuke from Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev, and Moldovan President Petru Luchinschi criticized Moscow's alleged failure to end the separatist ambitions of the breakaway Trans-Dniestr region.
Yeltsin accepted the criticism. He was then reported to have supported at the summit the territorial integrity of Georgia and Moldova, and reiterated Moscow's determination to help resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. But no decision was taken on any of these problems -- the summit merely extended the mandate of peace-keeping forces in the Abkhazia dispute -- and no agreement was signed.
Moscow failed in particular to win support for its proposal to set up a committee to deal with regional conflicts. Azerbaijan's Aliyev was openly opposed and Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov flatly said that "This question is not fully worked out yet."
Neither was there any agreement reached on the sensitive issue of further economic integration within CIS.
"The most important issues are the custom union and the joint customs taxes," Yeltsin was reported to have argued. Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have already created a customs union.
But Uzbekistan president Islam Karimov was reported to have retorted that while economic cooperation within CIS should be expanded, it ought to take place "without creating more unions within" the organization.
At the heart of the CIS problems appears to be tension between Russia, the dominant regional power, and the smaller and weaker CIS states concerned over their independence. This tension has been apparent for some time. It has been most recently invoked in separate public pronouncements by Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma and Georgia's Shevardnadze.
Yeltsin has clearly been aware of the tension. "Shortage of mutual trust still exists among us in spite of everything," he told the summit in a close session. He went on to note that "there are fears that someone will take away from the other some of his sovereignty."
Yeltsin said that "nobody should be afraid of Russia," that Moscow is interested in being surrounded by "stable, economically developed and politically independent friendly states." There was no clear indication that those exhortations influenced other CIS presidents.
The only clear decision taken at the Chisinau summit was that the CIS Heads of States would meet in an special session next January 23 to draw an outline of changes to make the organization more cooperative and efficient. But they failed to announce the venue of this special session, although Yeltsin's spokesman (Sergei Yastrzhembsky) subsequently said it could take place in Moscow.