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Kazakhstan: President Supports CIS-Based Economic Union

By Edige Magauin

Prague, 22 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The presidents of the member states of the CIS Custom's Union, namely Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, meet in Moscow today (January 22). The most important topic on the agenda is a draft agreement for a single economic space between their four countries.

This concept reflects an idea which Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev espoused years ago, and it is Kazakhstan which drafted the document which will be considered.

Nazarbayev referred publicly to the possibility of a Eurasian Union only last week (January 16) at a meeting with students and staff of the Kazakh Military Academy. He expressed hope that the coming Moscow meeting will this time lend support to the idea of a common economic area.

Nazarbayev said his hopes in this regard had been raised by a telephone conversation with Russian President Yeltsin on the previous day. He said they had agreed that the main topic of the Moscow summit would be the creation of a common economic area. As Nazarbayev is to chair the Moscow meeting, the matter is sure to receive prominent attention.

But his present approach to the idea seems to represent a sharp change of view. Nazarnayev originally proposed an economic union of former Soviet states in 1994. But at the end of 1996, during news conference marking the fifth anniversary of the CIS, he called the proposal unfeasible -- at least for the time being. So does his latest line mean that the right time has arrived?

Last January Nazarbayev gave an interview to the Russian newspaper "Nezavisimaya Gazeta," which was headlined "Russia could have become a leading body of the Commonwealth, but did not." In this interview, the Kazakh President divided the history of the CIS to the two periods. The first period, 1991-1992, was, according to Nazarbayev, a time when a new union of former Soviet states could have become a reality. The second one, 1993 and after, was characterized as a time of decline.

Nazarbayev said his constant efforts had been to keep Kazakhstan at the same financial and technological level as Russia. But the Russian reformers had called all former Soviet republics "a superfluous weight" and were eager to lose this "weight". After taking account of all these facts, the Kazakh President came to the conclusion: "Russia could have become a leading body of the Commonwealth, but did not."

So just a year ago, Nazarbayev's conclusion was that the concept of economic union would not work. But now he has again strongly backed the idea. What is behind this resurrection? The Moscow meeting of the four could provide an answer.