Washington, Apri1 1 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris
Yeltsin and the leaders of those former Soviet republics interested
in closer relations all have stressed that any new union will be
completely voluntary. And Western governments, including the US,
have said that any broader and closer grouping of states will be
legitimate only if it is formed on a voluntary basis.
But no one in any of the countries involved has defined just what
voluntary means in this context.
Already, there are some disturbing signs that what some would call
"voluntary," others would label "coerced." Russian officials, for
example, routinely insist that the 1940 Soviet incorporation of the
three Baltic countries was completely "voluntary." No one - except
perhaps those making this claim - would agree with that assessment.
In fact as the entire world knows, Moscow used a great deal of force
to achieve this "voluntary" joining of the Balts to the USSR.
Even if one dismisses that historical precedent, there are some
disturbing signs that the new cooperation agreements among the former
Soviet republics may not be all that "voluntary" either.
Many in Moscow openly talk about using force or the threat of force
and economic sanctions to get their way. And simply by virtue of its
size and the history of the former Soviet Union, Russia is in a
position to have what many would call undue influence in any
discussions with the former Soviet republics.
Indeed, some both in the region and more generally have argued that
the Russian propensity for flaunting its power in this way
necessarily means that any agreements between Russia and her
neighbors will be less than fully "voluntary."
But there is another aspect of the problem that has attracted
relatively little attention up to now. That concerns the ways in
which the agreements are reached and the ways in which they are
ratified. In a democratic context, procedure is critical.
Unfortunately, both the negotiations over such new unions and the
ways in which the former Soviet republic leaders have suggested they
should be ratified raise some serious questions.
It has long been a principle of international affairs that
international agreements should be openly arrived at. But the recent
Russian-Belarusian accord hardly met that standard, and the accords
between Russia and several of her Central Asian neighbors also appear
to fall short in that regard. Not only was a copy of the agreement
reached between Yeltsin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr
Lukashenka not immediately published in Minsk, but it appears that it
was not even made immediately available to all the members of the
Belarusian parliament who were asked to consider it.
More generally, agreements among the CIS countries have often been
simply agreements among presidents. One Russian analyst recently
suggested that the CIS was in fact a "club of presidents" rather than
an organization of countries. Even if new accords are ratified by the
respective parliaments, there are questions about just how
representative of the population some of these bodies are. And a
referendum, which some in the West have suggested should be used, is
also subject to pressure and manipulation.
Beyond these considerations, however, there remains a more
fundamental one. The constant discussion of reunification of these
countries and the ways in which it might be legitimated has the
effect of depriving these countries of the very legitimacy that they
as members of the international community deserve.
That, in fact, may be the intention of some of the participants in
these discussions, but if it is, it is an intention that should be