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The Twenty-Fifth Jubilee of the CIS: The Cart is Creaking, Falling Apart, But Not Moving

“The CIS as an international organization has an insufficient number of “common points”. Experts believe that by building a rigid power vertical, Russia, with its excessive ambitions deters CIS allies”- Professor Zainidin Kurmanov, specially for cabar.asia, writes about the outcomes of the CIS activities.

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lgkftshhmThe organization was founded on December 8, 1991 by the heads of the three republics – the Russian RSFSR, Ukraine and Belarus, who signed an agreement on the creation of the CIS in Viskuli (Belarus), named “Belovezha Accords”. This act that caused the Soviet citizens conflicting feelings, was not ratified by some of the republics of the former USSR, namely, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

On December 21, 1991, representatives of 12 former Soviet republics (except for Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia) met in Alma-Ata and adopted a declaration, which set out the objectives and principles of the CIS. In it, a provision was established that the interaction of members of the organization “will be carried out on the principle of equality through coordinating institutions formed on a parity basis and operating in the manner determined by agreements between the members of the Commonwealth, which is neither a state nor a supranational entity”. It was a desperate attempt to preserve at least something from the disintegrating Soviet legacy, as well as a reflection of the fear of the ruling elites of the Union republics to gain full independence. And yet, there is a reverse view, stating that the CIS was created for the collapse. Hence some CIS members never ratified the signed documents.

The Commonwealth of the Unequal

On January 22, 1993, the CIS Charter was adopted in Minsk. Thus, the founding states of the CIS were those who at the time of the adoption of the Charter signed and ratified the Agreement on the creation of the CIS, dated December 8, 1991 and its Protocol of December 21, 1991. Since not all of the countries had signed or ratified these documents, not all of them are the founding countries (Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova).

The spheres of joint activity of the CIS were supposed to include a wide range of matters from ensuring human rights and freedoms to cooperation in defense policy and protection of external borders. Under the organization 20 entities were founded, the highest of which was the Council of CIS Heads of State, including The Council of Heads of Government, Council of Foreign Ministers, Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, the Economic Court, the Interstate Bank, the Commission on Human Rights and others. But it was not possible to create an effective alliance of states, for some CIS countries only accept certain types of co-operation and will not accept a political dictate.

The most loyal to the idea of the Commonwealth country, as Kyrgyzstan, has not ratified the “Beloveza Accords”, but joined the Protocol of 21 December 1991 and, on December 18, 1993 ratified the CIS Charter, receiving the status of a founding state.

During the period of the organization’s existence from 1991 to 2016, 27 meetings of the heads of CIS states took place, of which two were held in Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek chaired the CIS Heads of State Council twice, in 2007-2008 and 2016.

CIS as an international organization has an insufficient number of “common points.” Experts believe that by building a rigid power vertical, Russia, for its excessive ambitions deters allies in the CIS. It is due to this that in the mid-1990s, a division began to show among its members along with two options of development.

If you go to the left, you will find yourself in the USSR, to the right – you will arrive in Europe

The first option became a continuation of efforts to sustain integration within the Commonwealth, which required the adoption of numerous documents that are not always binding, and having protocol and informal meetings. Thus, within the CIS spaces, several organizations with more specific common goals and objectives were formed, such as the CSTO, EurAsEU, the Customs Union, the Common Economic Space, the CAU, SCO, EAEU, the Union State of Russia and Belarus, where a dominant position, with the exception of the SCO, is assumed by the Russian Federation. The second option followed the development of practical sub-regional cooperation in the economic and / or military-political spheres with the participation of groups of states with common interests indeed seeking to deepen integration. Just such an organization became GUAM – Regional Organization for Democracy and Economic Development, created in 1997 by Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova. From 1999 to 2005 it also included Uzbekistan, and the organization was acronymed as GUUAM after the first letter in each country’s name and was thus called for some time. The initiators of this union acted outside of the CIS framework, and its characteristic feature was the focus on the European and international structures. In general, the Russian media have a tendency to assess GUAM as an anti-Russian bloc, or “organizations of orange nations”.

Union of Frustration and Anxiety

In 1999, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan withdrew from the CIS Treaty on Collective Security. Each country had its own reasons for that, claims and even grievances. For example, Azerbaijan retains membership in the CIS, but it does not have allied relations with Russia. Military and political functions of the CIS has gradually moved to the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a member of which Azerbaijan once was, but withdrew from it, dissatisfied by the fact that Russia as the CIS leader cannot positively influence the solution of the Karabakh problem. This convoluted tangle of contradictions, forces Kyrgyzstan, in particular, to “oscillate” at all times between fraternal Azerbaijan and its military ally Russia on the Karabakh issue. Incidentally, the same confusing situation arose as a result of the conflict between Turkey and the Russian Federation over the downed military aircraft in Syria in the spring of 2016. Russia demanded from its CSTO allies to condemn Turkey, but the status of “brotherly relations” required a different approach. As a result of a number of insufficiently thought-out and imbalanced foreign policy steps, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey worsened relations between themselves, while these diplomatic fluctuations left Russia with a deep sense of frustration and anxiety over the reliability of its strategic allies in the future.

To date, the CIS comprises eleven countries, two of which are on the verge of exit. Over the past 25 years, it saw a lot of significant events, shocks and disappointments associated with the loss of its former confidence, enthusiasm and the emergence of new interests. Every time, there are predictions of the imminent disintegration of the Commonwealth. However, CIS continues to live and play a certain role in the post-Soviet space.

A number of experts, bearing in mind the experience of the dramatic collapse of the socialist Yugoslavia, consider it a great merit of the CIS that the disintegration of the USSR was relatively bloodless and peaceful. Yet I think that, the reason for the creation of the CIS and the relatively peaceful disintegration was political naivety and the affection of the national leaders for the ideals of proletarian internationalism.                                                     

Deprival and Losses

There were losses in the CIS also. As of 2005, Turkmenistan withdrew from full membership and participates in the work of the CIS in the status of an associate member. Provoked by the “Caucasian war”, the Commonwealth was officially exited by Georgia in August 2009, which was recently given the right to visa-free regime with the EU. Yet back in 2010, the first Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov set the goal for the Commonwealth to create a space without barriers and visa regimes, but to no avail.

This is particularly felt by Kyrgyzstan, which in the summer of 2014 became a “fully-fledged” member of the CU, and then of the EAEU. So many laudatory odes, vows and assurances have been spoken… The year 2016 is coming to an end, but on the border with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz citizens still face many obstacles to get into the neighboring republic. Once rushing into alliance Tajikistan, seeing the experience of Kyrgyzstan suddenly slowed down its zeal. And in Armenia, there are protests to push for the country’s exit from the EAEU, though merely a year has gone by since its entry.

Experts believe that the CIS implemented too many multi-level and multi-format models of interaction. The international associations functioning across Eurasian spaces have certain resources to deepen the process of regional integration in various areas, with relevance to its members. But this requires an active support by the Russian Federation of the CIS countries and their initiatives, taking into account their specific national interests and foreign policy. However, too different, in terms of cultural and religious belonging, peoples are trying to unite in the Commonwealth, which experts also call the Inland Empire of Russia.

The Talkfest

That is why some analysts are predicting the future of its further disintegration and the loss of the status of association of sovereign states with numerous common goals and responsibilities. Today much goes on in the organization that is not leading to anything other than a general talk about the deepening of integration, its advantages and new promises. Most of the agreements and contracts signed in the CIS did not and are not working.

The bottom line is that the CIS is now necessary in order to maintain a good partnership with its neighbors. And this task, however partially, it manages, providing a civilized dialogue with its members, promoting a common set of productive work of enterprises, supporting a favorable investment climate and revitalizing entire sectors of economy of the Commonwealth countries. At the summit of Heads of Governments, held in Bishkek in June of 2016, the Kyrgyz side did not hide the hopes for strengthening trade and economic cooperation between CIS and EAEU.

This Celebration with Tears in the Eyes…

The twenty-fifth jubilee of CIS heads of state summit, which took place on September 16, 2016 in Bishkek, was not attended by the heads of Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Moldova and Turkmenistan, who sent their representatives to the summit: Prime Minister of Moldova, Turkmenistan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan . Ukraine was only represented at the summit by its ambassador to Kyrgyzstan. One of the items on the agenda was: the reform of bodies of the Commonwealth and its adaptation to modern realities.

The summit took place rather efficiently. The participants of the summit signed 16 documents, including a statement on the 25th anniversary of the Commonwealth and two international agreements. The countries will take joint measures to combat terrorism, extremism and cybercrime. The President of Kazakhstan proposed to adopt an appeal to the people of Uzbekistan to hold presidential elections in “a calm atmosphere.” Summing up the meeting, the Chairman of the CIS Executive Committee Sergey Lebedev said that “all heads of the CIS noted the importance of preservation, development and increase of efficiency of CIS activities … Any talk of a dissolution is out of the question”.

Peau de Chagrin

The United Kingdom, long before the collapse of its Empire created the Commonwealth of Nations—a kind of a union of states, which included all of its colonies and semi-colonies. They were given dominion status—autonomous quasi-public entities (later, in fact, independent states). At the same time they became part of the British Commonwealth of Nations—a union, designed to unite a vast empire, where all were “equal in status and not subordinate one to another”. Each Commonwealth country has the unconditional right to unilateral withdrawal from it. But no one of them can ever be excluded due to any shortcomings that there might be or a dispute with Britain. The worst penalty—a suspension of membership or work in the organization. South Africa, for example, in 1996, resumed its work in the organization following the abolishment of the apartheid system. And in 2013 the Commonwealth was exited by The Gambia.

But the organization is alive and well and is not going to break up, in spite of a greater mosaic and complexity than that of the CIS. Apparently, this is the result of unusually high English talent to combine diversity, something not everyone could shoulder, for some reason. The French, too, would have liked, for example, to create in place of their empire a commonwealth (French Union), but it fell apart after three years (1958-1960) as soon as the last colony gained its independence. Neither anything remained of the Spanish, Portuguese, Ottoman, Dutch and Belgian empires. Proving to be economically and civilizationally weak, the Mother countries became unattractive to the formerly dependent peoples and countries.

Today, the British Commonwealth encompasses 54 countries with a total population at 2.245 billion people, i.e. approximately 30% of the world’s population. It is open to free and voluntary accession of those countries which share the goals of the organization and have been associated with the metropolitan state. But even those who belonged to others are managing to join the Commonwealth (Namibia, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Mozambique). In 2009, the Commonwealth accepted Rwanda, former colony of Germany and Belgium. The Commonwealth was even wanted to be joined by a country as grand as France (under President de Gaulle) and the State of Israel … Because the number of countries wishing to join the Commonwealth is still considerable, its members decided to once again restore the rule prohibiting the admittance to the Commonwealth of countries with no links to Great Britain .

However, there are departees from the CIS, and its space is shrinking as “Peau de chagrin”. In reality only 5-6 countries are engaged in work. This is exactly the number of signatures of the Heads of State put under the absolute majority of its contracts. But even there, no desired consensus is to be seen. The next real candidates for departure are—Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, the latter having little confidence in unions, gives priority to bilateral relations in foreign policy. Only “hard-headed” optimists and CIS bureaucrats believe in the future of the CIS, in whose ranks I do not belong.

Author: Zainidin Kurmanov, Doctor of History, Professor of the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University (Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek)

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect that of cabar.asia

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