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The East: Analysis From Washington -- Looking Beyond The CIS

Washington, 12 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Mounting opposition to the extension of the current collective security treaty of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) points toward the transformation if not degeneration of an organization which has linked together the 12 former Soviet republics since 1991.

As the security treaty's expiration date of April 15 approaches, six of the 12 CIS member states have said they will agree to sign an extension of that document only if it is fundamentally changed to reflect the needs of all its members and not simply those of the Russian Federation and its closest allies.

Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Ukraine have been particularly critical. Uzbek President Islam Karimov, for example, said this week that the current security accord had not worked and that any new treaty must "be based on different foundations." Moreover, he said that "the CIS will work only when the union meets the interests of all member countries."

That position was echoed by Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev's national security advisor Wafa Guluzade. He said on Wednesday that the current pact was "aimed against the interests of Azerbaijan." And he noted that Baku might remain formally part of the CIS security arrangements but would in no case be an active participant.

And also on Wednesday, Ukrainian authorities were hosting a NATO delegation in the hopes that the Western alliance would make use of a former Soviet military base as a training facility, something that Russian officials have said would violate the existing CIS collective security arrangement.

While Moscow, which supports the current arrangement, can still count on the support of five of the other CIS member countries, Russian leaders are clearly concerned about the implications both for the CIS and Russian security if the current security accord is discarded or even seriously modified.

Speaking on Moscow's Ekho Moskvy on Wednesday, Ivan Rybkin, Russian President Boris Yeltsin's plenipotentiary representative to the CIS, noted that the question of the legal underpinnings of Russian military bases on the territory of Commonwealth countries continued to be "rather difficult."

Rybkin said that Moscow had a legally fixed arrangement only with Armenia. Elsewhere, he acknowledged, Russian bases have been set up on the basis of special and often multilateral accords, a clear reference to the CIS collective security agreement that is now being questioned.

Some observers have suggested that challenges to the extension of this accord constitute a major blow to the continued existence of the Commonwealth of Independent States as an institution. But for three reasons, such suggestions are almost certainly premature.

First, precisely because this accord is so important to Moscow, the Russian government is likely to be able to pressure most if not all of the current CIS members into going along.

On the one hand, most of these countries have already concluded that the costs of leaving the CIS would be much greater in terms of Russian anger and Western concern than the benefits of enhanced freedom of action. On the other, all recognize that signing a CIS agreement does not necessarily mean that they will have to live up to its provisions.

Consequently, the amount of opposition to signing the extension of the collective security accord may actually fall rather than rise over the next six weeks.

Second, even the leaders of those countries most opposed to an extension of the CIS collective security agreement have gone out of their way to suggest that they want to see that institution continue, albeit in a new way.

Thus, even as he said he did not like the current collective security accord, Uzbekistan's Karimov hastened to say that he did not want to be "misinterpreted." And he said he had "absolutely nothing against the CIS and against serving common interests."

His only concern, the Uzbek president said, was that "a union should be based on real grounds" such as economic cooperation rather than on rhetorical ones as he suggested the CIS currently operated.

And third, both opponents and supporters of the extension of the CIS collective security accord have repeatedly said that they want to expand their cooperation in other areas, regardless of what may take place in the security arena.

Thus, many CIS states welcomed the announcement on Thursday of a Russian treaty draft that would dramatically expand their cooperation in fighting organized crime, international corruption and money laundering.

Consequently, the debate over the extension of the CIS collective security treaty is likely to transform rather than destroy that institution, reducing the activities of the Commonwealth in some areas such as security but actually expanding them in others such as economic and legal cooperation.

To the extent that happens, the CIS may continue to exist for some time, but its future will be very different than its past, a reflection of the increasing independence of the states of the commonwealth.