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Georgia Finalizes Withdrawal From CIS

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili: "We certainly have to leave..."
(RFE/RL) -- Georgia has completed the process of withdrawing from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the 18-year-old regional grouping of former Soviet republics.

It's the final step in a process that began one year ago, during the Russia-Georgia war.

It was August 12, 2008, and the battle for Tskhinvali, the capital of the breakaway region of South Ossetia, was just ending. Russian forces were in control of the city, and Russian troops and armor had entered even undisputed Georgian territory.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili announced his intention to withdraw Georgia from the CIS, which he blamed for failing to prevent the conflict.

"We certainly have to leave the CIS," he said. "The CIS totally failed as an international organization. It is some kind of post-Soviet kind of thing, that basically could not do anything to prevent this tragedy from happening. And, you know, by leaving the CIS, we are giving final [goodbyes] to the Soviet Union."

The CIS was founded in 1991 as a post-Soviet regional grouping that ultimately brought together all but three of the former Soviet republics.

Through the years, the group has been seen as an instrument for Moscow to maintain its influence over the former Soviet space. The body, however, is not always viewed as well-managed or efficient, and Saakashvili's announcement last year stirred debate about the group's relevance.

New Agreements Pledged

Announcing the completion of the withdrawal process today, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister David Jalagania told journalists that Georgia will remain party to several CIS agreements, such as those relating to free trade and visa-free travel within the CIS.

Georgia will also forge a number of bilateral agreements with its former CIS partners. Georgian officials have said that it will make a priority of signing new agreements with its two main economic partners, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Georgian political analyst Tornike Sharashenidze said it was necessary to withdraw from the CIS after Russia chose to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and a second Georgian breakaway, Abkhazia.

"It is unthinkable to stay within an organization in which a leading member does not respect your territorial integrity," Sharashenidze said. "Remaining in the CIS would have meant our capitulation, and acceptance of the reality created by Russia. We left in a timely and correct manner. Had we left before -- this probably would have been perceived as a confrontational and provocative gesture."

Russia's initial reaction to the formal Georgian withdrawal has been muted.

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said it's the sovereign right of any country to join or leave whichever organization it wants. But at the same time, the ministry suggested that it might be the Georgian people who suffer most from this decision.

More direct criticism came from the first deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, Leonid Slutsky. The French news agency AFP quotes him as saying that Georgia's secession from the CIS is "imprudent."

He said the move will only cause practical difficulties for the Georgian people, without bringing any political advantage.

Georgia's withdrawal leaves 11 countries in the CIS -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

RFE/RL correspondent Breffni O'Rourke contributed to this story.

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