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CIS: Heads Of State Order Overhaul Of Commonwealth

The CIS presidents assembling today in Minsk (ITAR-TASS) MINSK, November 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Today's summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States brought no great revelations -- just a pledge from the gathered heads of state to push for reforming the largely ineffectual 15-year-old body.

Year after year, officials at CIS summits seem to spend more time questioning the body's existence than advancing its agenda as the largest post-Soviet regional grouping.

This year's summit, in the Belarusian capital Minsk, was no different.

No Cause Celebre

With the CIS about to celebrate the 15th anniversary of its creation on December 8, talk was not about celebration -- just reformation.

The summit's host, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, opened today's summit with warm words about the CIS. But, he added, the grouping was far from perfect.

"It must be acknowledged that some of our goals have not been met," Lukashenka told the assembled heads of state."
Nazarbaev says CIS leaders have ordered their foreign ministers to submit a proposal for reforming the grouping by June 1, 2007.

This does not mean that they have lost their relevance. We should work more actively in deepening integration, developing economic cooperation, first and foremost, and collectively safeguarding the social rights and guarantees of CIS citizens."

The CIS was established in 1991 with the goal of replacing the defunct USSR with a working economic alliance that would keep the neighborhood stable in the political aftermath of the Soviet collapse.

But the grouping has never found its footing. Meanwhile, other regional bodies like GUAM and the Collective Security Treaty Organization have gained greater momentum. Some began to wonder if it was time for the CIS to disband.

Russian President Putin (center) and Foreign Minister Lavrov (right) arriving in Minsk today (RFE/RL)

Summit participants appeared to have other plans. Nursultan Nazarbaev, the president of Kazakhstan, said today that CIS leaders had ordered their foreign ministers to submit a proposal for reforming the grouping by June 1, 2007.

"Today's summit gives us a good chance to discuss in detail the future of the CIS, in particular the question of raising the effectiveness of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the prospects for its development," Nazarbaev said.

Earlier, the Kazakh leader had proposed that energy-producing countries within the CIS -- including his own -- should be given greater power within the grouping. It was unclear if that proposal was among the issues discussed today.

On The Sidelines

In the end, talks on the sidelines of the summit may have been of greater consequence.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili reportedly had what Nazarbaev characterized as a "very positive" exchange of opinions during the summit, although the two leaders did not meet separately.

Ties between the two leaders have been chilly following Moscow's decision to impose an economic blockade against Tbilisi in September. The Georgian parliament has questioned the merits of remaining in the CIS, and there were doubts whether Saakashvili would even attend the Minsk summit.

In the end, however, Saakashvili said that Georgia "has no right to ignore any rostrum," despite what he termed its "ineffective" nature.

Putin met individually with Lukashenka and Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin.

Lukashenka, a stalwart Russian ally, surprised many in recent days when he suggested he would pursue talks with Ukrainian officials on establishing a Belarus-Ukraine relationship much like the long-dormant Russia-Belarus Union.

One of the reasons for the new proposal might have been the threat by Russia's Gazprom to drastically hike gas prices for its CIS neighbors.

The presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia, Ilham Aliyev and Robert Kocharian, were also due to meet on the sidelines of the Minsk summit to discuss a possible resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Despite this and other weighty issues on the Minsk agenda, however, most eyes were elsewhere -- namely, on the two-day NATO summit currently under way in Riga.

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