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Russia: Berezovsky Calls For CIS Changes

Prague, 25 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky has recently unveiled his personal blueprint for reversing "seven years of disintegration" and breathing new life into the moribund Commonwealth of Independent States. The plan would seek to offer a palatable framework for mutually beneficial economic cooperation among its members.

Over the past week and a half, he has been touring the CIS states in an attempt to persuade their presidents to endorse that blueprint, which was recently published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta". To date, the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Tajikistan have expressed cautious support, while their Azerbaijani and Turkmen counterparts have been more skeptical.

A discussion of Berezovsky's proposals is expected at today's meetings in Moscow of CIS heads of government. It is also expected to be on the agenda for the upcoming CIS summit, scheduled for Dec. 11- 12, Russian President Boris Yeltsin's health permitting.

Berezovsky was appointed executive secretary of the CIS in April at a point when relations within the Commonwealth seemed to have come close to breaking point. Those tensions derived partly from the CIS's failure to preserve a single, efficient economic space and partly from Russia's desire to keep the Soviet successor states within its sphere of influence.

In his "Nezavisimaya gazeta" article Berezovsky expressed concern that widespread disenchantment with the CIS could evolve into anti-Russian sentiment in the non-Russian successor states and give rise to centrifugal tendencies within Russia itself. Berezovsky said that resurrecting the USSR is impossible, given that it was geared to a planned, not a market economy. But at the same time he argued that voluntary economic integration is in the interests of all CIS states, since it would expedite their integration into the global economy. But, Berezovsky argued that since the primary reason for the demise of the USSR was the failure of its Communist Party to address the grievances of the non-Russian republics, any attempt to rebuild the political foundations of the CIS should be undertaken with extreme caution so as not to impinge on the sovereignty and independence of the newly independent states.

As the first step towards reversing centrifugal economic trends, Berezovsky proposed creating one or several CIS free trade zones. The Special CIS Inter-State Forum created after the CIS Chisinau summit in October, 1997, also considered the possibility of free trade zones. But the special forum failed to make recommendations on fundamental issues, such as whether such zones should encompass only the movement of goods or also the service sector.

In this context, Berezovsky warned that "palliative measures" are dangerous. He argued that a flawed blueprint for economic integration might temporarily create the illusion that the CIS is functioning effectively as an economic organization, but the inevitable disillusion when that finally proved not to be the case would be so profound that it would pose a real threat to the Commonwealth's survival.

Berezovsky distinguished two approaches to economic integration: the "soft" model, as epitomized by the European Free Trade Association (created by countries that did not meet the criteria for entry into the European Community), and the "hard" model, as exemplified by the European Union, in which economic integration paves the way for the creation of supra-national structures, both economic and political. Berezovsky considered the "soft" model more appropriate for the CIS, and proposed a CIS free trade zone as the first step in that direction. But he also predicted that the "soft" model may acquire a momentum of its own: reversing the decline in intra-CIS trade would serve as the incentive for a CIS Customs Union, which in turn would engender moves to coordinate monetary policy and create a single market. Thus the "soft" model may in time result in the voluntary acceptance by its members of the "hard model".

But that envisaged transition from the "soft" to the "hard" model of economic integration may cause an acute allergic reaction among those non-Russians who are inclined to see neo-imperialist motives behind any Russian advocacy of supra-national structures. Such fears could jeopardize a free trade zone from the outset.

Berezovsky himself conceded that "introducing supra-national elements into CIS at the present stage would not correspond to the strategic interests of its members," but added that "without a certain degree of coordination it will be impossible to proceed further than creating a free trade zone." Berezovsky's success in selling his blueprint for integration to the skeptics among the CIS states will depend on his ability to persuade them that it is not intended ultimately to undermine their sovereignty.