CIS member countries’ reactions to the signing of the Russia-Belarus union treaty range from a complete lack of interest–in the case of Turkmenistan–to a conclusive no, albeit one colored by local nuances. (This story is continued from yesterday’s issue.)
From the Russian and Belarusan leaders’ standpoint, Ukraine was the great absentee at the signing of the Russia-Belarus union treaty. President Boris Yeltsin, praising the development of Russia’s relations with Belarus, remarked ruefully that “such a development is not occurring in the relations with Ukraine.” Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka sarcastically invited the president of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, to “go and play football if he can not play along with us.” Lukashenka was alluding to Kuchma’s interview with Le Monde in which the Ukrainian president declared that he would “not play along” with the Russia-Belarus union and that Russia will in any case be the loser economically in such a union. He stated that “the Ukrainian state follows the path of independent development and has no intention of straying from that path.” Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry asserted in a special statement that Kyiv will not deal with a “Russia-Belarus union” but only with Russia and Belarus as independent countries under international law.
Leftist forces in Ukraine used the opportunity to drum up support for their goal of taking the country into the Russian-Belarus union. That goal was part of the Communist and other Red parties’ program in the recent presidential election, in which Kuchma’s European orientation prevailed over the Russian orientation of his rivals. In the wake of the treaty signing in Moscow, the Ukrainian Communist Party and the Peasant Party led by the Verkhovna Rada’s Chairman Oleksandr Tkachenko issued appeals for Ukraine’s accession to the Russia-Belarus union. Reeling from their electoral defeat, the leftist parties are reduced to mere rhetoric on this issue (Le Monde, December 7; UNIAN, DINAU, Itar-Tass, December 8-11).
Sounded out for Kazakhstan’s attitude to the Russia-Belarus union, President Nursultan Nazarbaev responded that his country “would only be prepared to join on such terms as exist in the European Union.” Nazarbaev administered this rebuff to Georgy Tikhonov, chairman of the Duma’s CIS Affairs Committee and a proponent of recreating a downsized union of post-Soviet “republics” around the Russia-Belarus core. Nazarbaev briefly touched on that issue in two subsequent addresses on Kazakhstani statehood. On December 10 he ruled out Kazakhstan’s accession to any political union in the framework of the CIS, calling instead for “normal economic cooperation” within the CIS Customs Union. Kazakhstan considers the Customs Union stillborn, as do other CIS countries, a casualty of Russia’s protectionism–which the countries affected do not shrink from reciprocating. On December 15–the eve of Kazakhstan’s Independence Day, which commemorates the 1986 Almaty riots against control from Moscow–Nazarbaev underscored the significance of Kazakhstani independent statehood as “the basic guarantee that the wind of history will not wipe us off the face of the earth. Kazakhstan will be part of the world economic and political system,” Nazarbaev declared, implicitly if unmistakably distancing Kazakhstan from any Russian-led union.
Some opposition parties in Kazakhstan take the opposite view, however. The Communist Party–allied to the Republican People’s Party of former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin in the Republic bloc–calls for Kazakhstan’s accession to the Russia-Belarus Union and has attempted to mount a signature-collection campaign on its behalf, mainly in Russian-populated urban centers. The Union of Russian, Slavic and Cossack Associations–a coalition which also forms part of Kazhegeldin’s Republic Bloc–issued a statement congratulating Russia and Belarus on their union treaty and urging Nazarbaev and the Kazakhstani parliament to initiate Kazakhstan’s accession to that union (Itar-Tass, December 9-10, 13; Habar Television, December 13-15).
President Islam Karimov declined to discuss his country’s relations with either the Russia-Belarus union or the CIS during Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s December 11-12 visit to Tashkent. Karimov stuck to the position that Uzbekistan does not join supranational political, economic or military unions in the post-Soviet area and that it regards its relations with Russia as a purely bilateral matter. That relationship has warmed recently in its military and security aspect, owing to the Uzbek leadership’s sense of vulnerability in the face of Islamic fundamentalism. In his discussions with Putin, Karimov endorsed Russia’s “antiterrorist operation” in Chechnya and came out in favor of a more active Russian role in the containment of “extremism and terrorism” in Central Asia. Putin and Karimov signed a bilateral military cooperation agreement which marks a success for Russian policy in the region. Karimov in turn obtained from Putin a verbal recognition of Uzbekistan’s preeminence as a Central Asian power resisting “international terrorism” (Itar-Tass, December 11-12, 14).
Still reeling under the impact of the recent Islamic insurgency, fearing another outbreak and hoping for Russian assistance, the leadership of Kyrgyzstan decided to pay lip service to the Russia-Belarus initiative. President Askar Akaev’s newly appointed chief spokesman, Karybek Boybosunov, welcomed the signing of the union treaty as “an example to other CIS countries,” “stimulating the economic development not only of Russia and Belarus, but of the CIS in general”–a nonsequitur vying with that of the Moldovan president (see above). In an updated version of the Soviet-era homage to the Russian “elder brother,” Akaev’s spokesman praised the “Slavic initiative” to create a union and “show the way toward closer integration for the other CIS states.”
Such verbal obeisance need not be taken at face value and is in fact being poorly repaid by Moscow. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin yesterday criticized Kyrgyzstan for having joined the World Trade Organization and accepted its rules, “violating the terms of the CIS Customs Union and failing to coordinate its policy with Russia’s policy.” The remark, delivered by Putin during a session of Russia’s Security Council, echoes the recriminations of his predecessors Viktor Chernomyrdin, Yevgeny Primakov and Sergei Stepashin against Kyrgyzstan for having broken CIS precedent in joining the WTO. Putin’s stand suggests that Moscow will continue viewing CIS Customs Union membership as inconsistent with WTO membership (or WTO candidacy) and withholding the Customs Union’s putative benefits from the wayward member countries, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Moscow’s stance, however, skirts over the fact that a consistent implementation of the economic terms of the Russia-Belarus union would privilege Belarus over the other countries in the Customs Union and create a distinct customs territory within the latter (Itar-Tass, December 8-9, 15).
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