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Georgia/Ukraine: Russia's Role In CIS Criticized

Prague, 14 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - Georgia and Ukraine yesterday went public with harsh criticism of Russia's dominant role in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), setting a stage for a possibly contentious summit of the group's leaders next week.

Speaking on a nation-wide radio program, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze blamed Russia for the CIS' ineffectiveness and said that Georgia may turn to other partners in search for a more fruitful cooperation.

Shevardnadze said that the CIS has proved to be of little value to his country, largely because of Russia's restrictive policies. "Virtually none of numerous CIS resolutions has been implemented," Shevardnadze said, adding that "We must consider whether Russia's policy here is competitive and attractive enough for us." Moreover, Shevardnadze announced that "Georgia decided not to take part in some of the (integrative, Russian-proposed CIS) projects," deeming them to be harmful to Georgia's national interests.

These are said to include proposals for a single economic space under a common administration, a common market and a single tax system. They were apparently proposed by Russia last week at a CIS heads-of-governments meeting in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. Georgian state minister Niko Lekishvili, who represented Georgia at the meeting, was reported to have described the proposals as "an attempt at recreating an economic system with the trappings typical of the Soviet economic structure."

Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma was equally dismissive of Russia's role in the CIS. Addressing a group of Kazakh journalists, Kuchma said in televised remarks that, while all CIS members could be "blamed to some degree for the fact that the CIS has turned into such an amorphous organization, most of all Russia itself is at fault."

Kuchma also said -- without mentioning Russia by name but clearly hinting that he had Moscow on his mind -- that "an attempt was made through this organization to solve one's internal programs in a unilateral fashion." He went on to say that "this created a feeling of inner resistance in all of us," and continued that, "we did not feel equal, as the countries in the European Union do, large or small. This feeling has forced the leaders of all the countries to approach cautiously the problems and issues that were discussed."

Kuchma's giving the European Union as an example of a cooperative international organization has corresponded to Kiev's long standing policy orientation. Ukraine has made consistent efforts, during the last few years, to develop ties with Western political, economic and military organizations, seeing them as vital to the country's national interests, if not the preservation of its national identity.

In August, Ukraine hosted an international military exercise, SeaBreeze 97, which brought U.S. ships and troops to the Crimean coast. Yesterday, the flagship of the U.S. Navy's Mediterranean (Sixth) Fleet sailed into the Crimean port of Yalta for a three-day visit. Both events have testified to developing cooperative relations between Ukraine and the West.

Georgia's Shevardnadze also invoked the desirability of developing links to the West. "Europe is a shelter for us," he told the radio audience, "providing the most reliable guarantee for the preservation of our national identity."

And he went on to say that "Russia is not the only country with interests in the region," emphasizing that the EU, NATO and the Council of Europe have already shown their concern about the Caucasus. Shevardnadze said that other countries demonstrating their interests there include Turkey and Iran, the Baltic states and Italy, and also Japan, China and South Korea.

His remarks, and those of Ukraine's Kuchma, have acquired an added poignancy and sharpness when viewed against the background of an approaching CIS summit to be held next week in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau.

Established in December 1991, following the demise of the Soviet Union, the CIS is still trying to define its role. Its fundamental problem is that Russia is too powerful to be just another member. Most other CIS members are clearly concerned Russia would use the organization to maintain influence and control over them. They are, therefore, reluctant to do anything lest Russia should dominate them.

Shevardnadze's and Kuchma's remarks yesterday illustrate this feeling. It does not augur well for the Chisinau summit.