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Russia: CIS Summit Postponed For 'Health' Reasons

  • Floriana Fossato

Moscow, 17 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A summit meeting of the Council of Presidents of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) has been postponed until at least next month. The summit -- planned a long time ago -- had originally been set for February 26.

It is not the first time a CIS summit has been postponed. The precarious physical health of Russian President Boris Yeltsin has been one of the main causes in the past. This time, however, Russian media reports suggest that the political health of controversial CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky may be one of the reasons behind the delay.

Earlier this week, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov said the meeting will most likely take place sometime next month. Gustov -- who is in charge of relations with the former Soviet republics -- gave no specific reason for the postponement. He said only that officials are continuing to work on a plan to streamline the largely ineffective structures of the loose CIS alliance. Gustov said reform proposals include a new organizational chart. He said the number of people working for CIS coordinating structures will likely be cut from a current level of almost 2,400 to no more than 700. He added that quite a few of the 55 CIS coordinating structures could themselves be eliminated.

The Kremlin press service reported earlier this week that Yeltsin has told the government to consider a CIS reform plan recently proposed by Berezovsky.

A Kremlin statement said that if Russian government officials judge the CIS reform plan ready for consideration by CIS heads of state, then the government will propose -- "if necessary" -- a new date for the summit.

A Moscow daily -- "Vremya MN" -- writes that the vague presidential administration statement gives the impression that "the Kremlin pretends that no summit had been scheduled ... and the materials on the [CIS] reform that had already been examined by all 12 CIS countries, including Russia, will be considered again."

According to Gustov, the plan coordinated by Berezovsky for the reform of CIS structures is currently under discussion.

Gustov told Russian news agencies that he has met with Berezovsky twice to discuss his reform proposals and that there is no dispute between them. However, he says it is "another question" whether Berezovsky or someone else will head the CIS secretariat in the future.

Berezovsky reportedly enjoys the support of several CIS heads of state, and "Vremya MN" says the postponement of the summit may be linked to the ongoing conflict between Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and the financier-turned-politician.

An anti-corruption offensive announced by Primakov has so far largely centered on Berezovsky's business interests -- ranging from car-dealer LogoVAZ and the Russian public television station ORT to the Sibneft oil company and Aeroflot airlines.

In recent interviews, Primakov has made no secret of his dislike for Berezovsky, who is believed to have gained great influence over Yeltsin and his family as their financial advisor.

Last week, the popular daily "Moskovsky Komsomolets" printed the transcript of alleged telephone conversations in which Berezovsky lobbies Yeltsin's daughter and image advisor, Tatyana Dyachenko, for a tax amnesty.

Russian government officials -- including Primakov -- have not called for Berezovsky's replacement as the CIS executive secretary. However, lawmakers in the State Duma recently urged the leaders of the CIS states to dismiss him. Berezovsky can only be fired by a unanimous vote of CIS leaders. Some Russian political analysts hint that -- before the next CIS summit -- Russian officials will try to gather consensus among CIS leaders to oust him.

Analysts say recent announcements by Tashkent and Baku could also be behind the postponement of the CIS summit.

Two weeks ago, Uzbekistan declared that it does not intend to renew its membership in the CIS' Collective Security Treaty. The decision created widespread concern in Moscow. Last week, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroyev tried -- unsuccessfully -- to convince Uzbek President Islam Karimov to change his mind.

Azerbaijan said last week that it will base its decision on whether to continue its passive involvement in the Collective Security Treaty on Russia's stance regarding deliveries of modern arms to Armenia.

The CIS is a loose alliance of the 12 former Soviet republics. Most participant states have repeatedly complained that it has been largely ineffective since its creation in 1991, saying it has failed to carry out ambitious plans for closer economic and political cooperation. Some CIS leaders have also complained about what they say are Russia's attempts to dominate the alliance.