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Russia: Analysis From Washington -- The End Of The CIS

Washington, 26 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Plans for increased security cooperation among six members of the Commonwealth of Independent States announced on Wednesday in Minsk may ultimately prove to be the death knell for the larger and looser organization of the 12 former Soviet republics.

Meeting this week for the first time in four years, the presidents of the six countries which are signatories to the 1992 Collective Security Treaty (CST) -- Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan -- agreed to expand "collective action" to combat international terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking, and illegal arms trade.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has made such cooperation the centerpiece of his policies toward the CIS countries, said that the new memorandum of understanding among the six "sets a mechanism in motion to react to changes in the world, not only today but also in the future."

And his national security aide, Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov, added that the new accord will mean that Moscow has the resources to provide more assistance financially and otherwise to these six than to the other six CIS countries.

"Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are no less concerned over the threat of terrorism than Russia," Ivanov continued, but "Russia has enough resources to solve the Chechnya problem on its own" while the other countries, he said, do not.

Many of the leaders attending this meeting echoed these sentiments. Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev called the Minsk meeting "a landmark event." And Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev thanked his colleagues for their "moral, political and military-technological support" in his country's struggle with Islamist insurgents.

But this upbeat language failed to conceal three fundamental problems with what the leaders of this region now call the CST group.

First, three CIS member states -- Moldova, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine -- never signed the accord in the first place, and three original CST signatories -- Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan -- withdrew from the treaty a year ago. As a result, the CST now includes only half of the 12 former Soviet republics, thus reducing still further the importance of the CIS.

After the Wednesday meeting, Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that he believed that Uzbekistan's leaders were reconsidering their position and noted that he would "try to change the mind of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma."

And Ivanov's suggestion that Moscow will give more aid to those who join CST than to those who don't is clearly intended as part of a broader effort to pressure the other CIS states into signing on. Such pressure, the record of the last decade suggests, is likely to backfire.

Second, the CST is even more obviously than the CIS an instrument of Moscow's policies rather than being a collective enterprise. Russia's Putin is providing not only the resources, something which might be expected and tolerated, but also the direction of the entire entity, something many may be less willing to accept.

Those who are not willing to accept Moscow's lead in this area are thus now more likely to seek other arrangements, including both an upgrading of GUUAM, the organization which includes Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova and expanded security arrangements with the West.

And third, the CST is explicitly committed to opposing Western influence. As Lukashenka noted, "Russia, Armenia, and Belarus all border NATO, and we are not going to sit and wait for something to happen." Instead, he said, "we are going to arrange our own security and that is why we are strengthening and adapting the treaty to a changing world."

Many Western governments have viewed the CIS as a potentially useful forum for the post-Soviet states, and some of them continue to structure their foreign policy institutions to take the CIS into account. The results of the Minsk meeting may lead more people to question this arrangement.

For all these reasons, the Minsk meeting may have given birth to a new institution, one better fitted to Putin's approach to the world. But at the same time, the six leaders meeting there unintentionally but almost certainly have undermined the chances that the CIS will have the kind of future so many have wanted or predicted.