CIS – Rumours of CIS Death Greatly Exaggerated?

by CXW on 8/31/2005 · 3 comments

The future and purpose of the CIS has been the topic of much discussion lately, not least because of the summit of CIS leaders in Kazan last week that led Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to deny comments suggesting the summit was a funeral for the CIS (RIA Novosti).

Even so, even he admitted that the CIS had not fulfilled its potential, and this view is generally endorsed by analysts – at least the more optimistic ones, while others are already convinced that the CIS’s death is imminent. The question, therefore, is the eternal Russian one of “What To Do?”, and, perhaps more importantly, what will happen then? The first question, it seems, is relatively straight-forward: reform the CIS, which is what the CIS member state leaders have apparently decided to do, including the creation and acceptance of a joint border policy.

So far so good, but even so, could it be a case of too little too late? Certainly some CIS leaders and politicians have been at pains to stress that the CIS is not doomed and that they are in favour of the Commonwealth, including Armenia’s Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan:

All CIS leaders…said they would continue cooperation within the CIS framework … It is wrong to consider the CIS dead. The future reforms will certainly increase the effectiveness of the organization.

Georgia’s Foreign Minister, Salome Zurabishvili, was a little more cautious and circumspect in her appraisal, but was still positive about the CIS and its functions:

The current situation is not so to speak about a CIS breakup … As an organization, the CIS may not have a great significance, but it is playing a certain role in development of relations among the CIS states, primarily in economic cooperation

One of the more interesting and optimistic interpretations of the CIS’s future is as a way to achieve “managed democratisation” in member states, as posited by Peter Lavelle in an opinion and analysis piece for RIA Novosti:

Economic and political integration for the group of 12 is a dead letter, but managing the democratization of some member countries, with Western cooperation, is not.

Yet you could forgive people for being a little sceptical given reports last week that Georgia and Ukraine were looking at the possibility of founding a “CIS alternative” without Russia under the utopian name of the Commonwealth of Democratic Choice, which would, apparently, “unite all democratic states in the Baltic, Black Sea and Caspian regions”. Even with democracy being one of the most used and abused words in the post-Soviet sphere by politicians and academics alike, those qualifying for membership may well be few and far between for the time being. Nevertheless, differences between Georgia and Ukraine and other CIS members appears to have been smoothed over, with Turkmenistan’s request to “downgrade” its membership to associate level being seized on as concrete evidence of the CIS’s failing health, not least because such status is not provided for in CIS documentation, according to Vladimir Rushailo (RosBusinessConsulting short report).

Pragmatism, unexpectedly, is the name of the game at the moment, with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Loschinin leading the way by stressing role of the growing Russian economy:

“We have been speaking about pragmatism in recent years. Everything should be built on a base of regulations,” he said.

The diplomat said the future of the CIS as well as of other international organizations depended on the economy. “I feel the progress, and it is very potent,” Loshinin said.

The annual growth in trade between Russia and other CIS countries is 40%, he said. The growing Russian economy plays a dominant role in this process, the diplomat added.

As is so often the case, it seems a little too early to draw any conclusions one way or the other, bringing to mind the Russian “po zhivem, uvidem” – “wait and see” but with a slightly longer-term perspective. Certainly, as Eurasianet’s article by Sergei Blagov concludes, the CIS is likely to be a very different beast in the future.

One country that is hoping the outcome is positive is Kazakhstan, which is hoping to take the CIS Presidency over from Russia. The matter will apparently be discussed before the next CIS Summit, due to be held in Minsk in 2006, most probably after presidential elections there but no later than July 19 (RIA Novosti).

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Matt August 31, 2005 at 1:56 pm

Even this so called Utopia, Georgia and Ukraine speak of could turn into a CIS-style joke. President Saakashvili’s behaviour in recent months and the detaining of a journalist this week, on allegations of extortion, are hardly encouraging.

Dan September 2, 2005 at 7:41 am

Pedantry: Zurabishvili is female.

[and, incidentally, was a french diplomat until Saakashvili appointed her foreign minister last year]

CXW September 2, 2005 at 10:57 am

Not pedantry – factual inaccuracy on my part, now corrected. My apologies, and thanks for drawing my attention to it.

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