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Russia: Commonwealth Of Independent States Await Reform

  • Floriana Fossato



Moscow, 9 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose grouping of 12 former Soviet republics, was formally created seven years ago today, but the anniversary went largely unnoticed in Moscow.

There were no official speeches or celebrations and only a handful of Moscow publications took notice of the date. The lack of fanfare may be a sign that Russia is too busy dealing with its growing economic and political crisis to deal with the moribund CIS.

The accord among Russia, Ukraine and Belarus that de facto ended the Soviet Union on Dec. 8, 1991, was only the beginning of the creation of the CIS. Most other ex-Soviet republics, with the notable exception of the three Baltic states, decided to join only 13 days later.

In recent years, calls for reform of the CIS have increased, following criticism by the leaders of member states that the body has become largely ineffectual. Some critics have said the CIS has failed to preserve a single and efficient economic space. Others have expressed concerns that Russia was aiming to keep CIS member states within its sphere of influence.

Since August, Russia's economic crisis, which has led to job losses, rising prices and food and fuel shortages, has spread to most of the former Soviet Union and has threatened to further strain relations within the CIS.

However, no CIS member state has so far expressed an open intention to declare the failure of the experiment and the end of the organization. Coinciding with Russia's economic crisis, CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky has launched a new initiative to reform the group.

Berezovsky, who became CIS secretary in April, has recently visited nine of the 12 member states to present a reform plan that he says should improve efficiency.

Berezovsky has said he hopes the CIS heads of state will endorse his plan, but so far only a handful have expressed cautious support. Among them are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Tajikistan. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have remained skeptical.

Berezovsky reminded journalists (Oct. 7) that Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov has endorsed his plan.

Last month, at a meeting of top CIS officials, Primakov said Russia's economic crisis had forced CIS members to work together to find a solution to their shared financial troubles.

Primakov urged the member states to accelerate the creation of a free economic zone in the CIS and a new committee to coordinate a regional anti-crisis program.

According to Berezovsky, the plan seeks to offer an acceptable framework for mutually beneficial economic cooperation among CIS members. As the first step, Berezovsky has proposed the creation of one or several CIS free trade zones, insisting that voluntary economic integration would be the only way to help CIS states' integration into the world economy.

Berezovsky has been careful to assure CIS member states that the plan has a primary economic goal and that it would not threaten the sovereignty of any nation.

In Minsk, he said again (Oct. 7) that the Soviet Union cannot be resurrected -- a constant concern of CIS states. But he acknowledged that "All (CIS) presidents view with concern Russia's growing chauvinism." He added that "this (chauvinism) is probably the biggest concern for each CIS state, because it would affect all of them without an exception."

However, Interfax news agency quoted Berezovsky also saying that "to a very large extent" he is satisfied with the way the discussion of reform is proceeding. He said that "from the language of ultimatums, we have moved to a real analysis of the matter."

Berezovsky said a meeting of CIS heads of states to discuss future developments would probably take place in February. He said the process of CIS reform would continue for the next year to year and a half.

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