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Russia: Sochi Summit Leaves Commentators Questioning Value Of CIS

  • Francesca Mereu

Moscow, 3 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A day after the conclusion of the informal CIS summit that drew leaders from 10 of the 12 member-states to the Black Sea town of Sochi, commentators in Moscow discussed whether the 10-year-old commonwealth has any practical significance.

Russian newspapers skimmed over the details of the one-day summit -- which focused largely on trade and collective-security issues like drug-trafficking and international terrorism. Instead, they poked gentle fun at the tenuous nature of the union and the relative unimportance of the Sochi gathering.

A commentary in the newspaper "Izvestiya" says: "It seems that the Commonwealth itself has gone on vacation, [so] little has been written or said about it in the newly independent states. The people simply do not feel that it exists."

The leaders of 10 members -- Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan -- attended the informal two-day summit.

Georgia and Turkmenistan were the only states not represented. Turkmenistan traditionally shuns CIS gatherings, while Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said he remained at home because of the recent murder of a popular Georgian journalist.

During the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin briefed the leaders on his recent participation at the gathering of the G-7 plus Russia group of industrialized nations in Genoa. During the summit the leaders held a series of bilateral and trilateral meetings. For example, Putin met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev to discuss the Caspian Sea, its legal status, and use of the sea's resources.

In remarks quoted by Interfax, Putin praised the CIS as "the only effective instrument" for dealing with what he called "the multitude of unresolved issues left over from the Soviet Union."

Vitaly Portnikov is a columnist with the Russian daily "Vedomosti" and a commentator for Radio Liberty. He says that the CIS is neither an international nor a homogenous structure:

"The CIS organization is only an instrument for bipolar cooperation and regional organizations. The commonwealth has never been an international structure and it never will be. In fact, some members look at the CIS as an instrument of future integration, [something that can help] form a kind of new Soviet Union. Other [members look at the CIS] as an element that can help former Soviet republics to develop. If you have such [different positions], it is logical that the CIS cannot have a serious [structure.]"

The Moscow daily "Vremya Novostei" used a remark by President Aliyev overheard at the summit for one of its headlines: "What about forming a new Soviet Union?" The paper went on to say that although Aliyev was joking, "it is known that politicians don't joke in vain."

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