October 08, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Yaroslav Butakov


Crucial issues of post-Soviet community remain unresolved

Last week, Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, hosted a summit of ex-Soviet states, organized as three summit meetings of three alliances under the same auspices: namely, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Collective Defense Treaty, and the Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec).

After USSR's disintegration, the Commonwealth was supposed to serve as a new form of partnership and cooperation between newly-emerged economies, which had a lot of links between one another. Officially, CIS included all the former Soviet republics, except Baltic States. In fact, a number of new sovereign governments combined formal membership in the Moscow-centered Commonwealth with involvement in new political alliances, essentially established for the very purpose to undermine Russia's influence in the former Soviet political and economic space – namely, GUAM and the Community of Democratic Choice.

Turkmenistan, possessing a much larger potential of economic independence than the GUAM countries, practically suspended membership in CIS, neglecting summits of heads of states, as well as multilateral meetings of ministers and MPs. Only in 2006, under the leadership of Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Turkmenistan resumed its activity in the Commonwealth.

By that time, the most active partners of Moscow had established new forms of cooperation of post-Soviet states. Narrower circles of partnership were considered more workable, and expected to serve as a tool to stimulate the hesitating neighbors. In particular, the Eurasian Economic Community today includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The Collective Security Treaty Organization includes the same six countries plus Armenia.

The October summit of CIS states, prepared for several months in various frameworks, was supposed to overcome significant contradictions between the member states, and to reach a practical agreement between the CIS economies in the long-discussed but still non-existent Customs Union.

The result of this work looks impressing. The heads of states signed nineteen (of twenty) multilateral documents without a serious debate. The Collective Security Treaty Organization signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). This pact, as well as the agreement on preparation of the legal basis of the Customs Union (initially unifying Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan), is likely to be described in European and US media as a large-scale strategic deal in the expanse from Brest to Shanghai, designed as a formidable geopolitical rival of NATO. The selection of Sergey N. Lebedev, head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, for the post of CIS Executive Secretary, may be viewed as one more proof of a qualitative increase of security cooperation in Eurasia.

However, the summit was less representative than the meeting of CIS leaders in the framework of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2007: this time, Ukraine's President Victor Yushchenko did not take a risk of leaving Kiev in the situation of post-election uncertainty over the composition of the new national government; instead of him, Ukraine was represented by Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, known as a proponent of Ukraine's membership in NATO.

Some of the leaders of CIS states demonstrated reluctance to cooperate in many crucial fields. Georgia's president Mikhail Saakashvili agreed to sign only four of 20 documents, prepared for the event. He refused even to sign the agreement on joint preparation of the 65th V-Day celebration, despite the contribution of Georgians in the defeat of Nazism (one of the three soldiers who raised the Soviet banner on the Reichstag building in Berlin on May 1, 1945, was a Georgian). Saakashvili substantiated his affront with the argument that Russia is performing an "economic siege" of his country, and therefore, Georgia should refrain from any additional forms of political partnership. Similar reservations were expressed by Georgia, as well as Turkmenistan, Moldova and Azerbaijan, in the sphere of migration policies: these countries refused to sign an all-CIS agreement on regulation of inter-state migration.

The Concept of CIS Development, the major document of the summit, was not signed by Georgia and Turkmenistan, while Azerbaijan formulated an "opinion in dissent". The concept considers a change of management of CIS cooperation on the model of the EU, suggesting a rotating chairmanship of member states in all the bodies of the Commonwealth, including the Council of Heads of States, the Council of Heads of Governments, the Council of Prime Ministers, and the CIS Economic Council. At the same time, the document suggests liberalization of trade within the Commonwealth, with abolition of restrictions for import of raw materials and exports of finished goods.

The remaining disaccord on trade issues reflects a lack of mutual understanding in the aspect of the Commonwealth's relationship with WTO. A number of experts have lately tried to prove that individual entry in the WTO would be less favorable for any of the member states than a single representation of the Commonwealth in this international body. Actually, this view suggests that the CIS should be represented in WTO with its Customs Union, which is going to be established by 2012. Meanwhile, Russia and Ukraine are officially planning to join WTO in 2008.

Contradictions, related to the regime of trade and the character of representation in global institutions, are not the only obstacle for a productive unity of post-Soviet nations. Serious misunderstandings mount over exports of oil and gas. While Russia and Kazakhstan agree on transport of Central Asian gas along the coastline of the Caspian Sea and westward across Russia's territory, Azerbaijan (which thus finds itself alienated from transit incomes) tries to convince Turkmenistan of the benefits of the US-sponsored Trans-Caspian pipeline project, destined, on the contrary, to circumvent Russia along the way to the European markets. Not surprisingly, Azerbaijan was going to take part in the energy conference of East European states in Vilnius, convened for this very purpose.

In his speech, Kazakstan's leader Nursultan Nazarbayev reiterated the argument that in order to overcome "stagnation", the Commonwealth should implement large-scale development projects. However, the project of redistribution of the water resources of the region, greeted by Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, are not shared by their water-supplied partners – Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Thus, a number of strategic contradictions, preventing the Commonwealth from long-term workable cooperation, are still unresolved. Debates exist also over the military cooperation among CIS states, as Russia has not yet achieved durable political guarantees from its partners in the Collective Defense Treaty in exchange for its decisive financial and logistical contribution. The level of cooperation among CIS states is today not sufficient for reliable protection of every member states from geopolitical interventions from outside the Commonwealth. Moreover, the political situation in a number of CIS states raises doubts over efficiency of particular inter-state agreements, including the Customs Union.

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