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Belarus/Russia: CIS States Silent On Cooperation Pact

Prague, 3 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - There has been no reaction yet from any of the member-states of the Moscow-centered Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to the news that Russia and Belarus reached an accord to integrate in the future. But this silence is telling a lot by itself.

The Russian daily "Izvestiya" today reported that opinions about the accord differ from one to another CIS country: they "range from total rejection to tacit indifference."

The paper recalled that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma had said three days ago, shortly before the Russia-Belarus accord was signed in Moscow, that any move toward "reunification" by individual countries within the CIS was "a way to the destruction" of the organization. The subsequent statement by Ukraine's foreign ministry that "each country has a sovereign right" to sign such accords could hardly be regarded as an expression of support for the measure.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov was quoted by the paper as saying during the recent CIS summit that the members-states "should not be dragged back into the union."

And Kazakhstan also expressed concern. Kazak presidential spokesman Krymbek Kusherbayev told a Russian news agency two days ago that "there is a legal discrepancy" between the accord's premise of future single citizenship and unitary institutions, and its assertion that Russian and Belarus "will remain sovereign states."

Representatives of other CIS countries appear to be more cautious. President Lev Ter-Petrosyan of Armenia was reported to have said that the accord was "a matter between two sovereign states." Georgia's Eduard Shevardnadze was said to have remained "indifferent." Azerbaijan's Heydar Aliyev had already said last week that any integrative accord could be "premature." And Turkmenistan's Saparmurat Niyazov merely hinted that he would support any efforts "benefiting the people of the CIS."

Only Moldova's President Petru Lucinschi and Tajikistan's Imomali Rakhmonov were said to welcome the Russia-Belarus accord. Lucinschi was reported to have regarded the accord as a way to "strengthen integration processes within CIS," because "it is a good thing when the CIS is built on a basis of bilateral ties." Rakhmonov was reported to express hope that other CIS countries "will accede to the union sometime."

Kyrgystan was silent, but diplomats in both Moscow and Bishek were said to believe that it might be against the accord.

Established in 1991 following the demise of the Soviet Union, the CIS consists of 12 member-states. It is still trying to define its role. Its main problem is that Russia, the central element of the defunct Soviet Union, is too powerful to be just another member. Most other CIS member states have long been concerned that Russia would use the organization to maintain influence and control over them. They are, therefore, reluctant to support any integrative trends lest Russia should dominate them.

The Russia-Belarus accord, which is widely seen and acknowledged in both Moscow and Minsk as a blueprint for an eventual union of the two countries, only justifies that reluctance. There is little likelihood that this attitude will change any time soon. Indeed, it may contribute to the already existing centrifugal trends within the CIS.