Opening yesterday a policy conference of Russian ambassadors to CIS member countries, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin termed the CIS a "zone of vital Russian interests… not only economic but also long-term military-political interests. Russia’s geopolitical location and economic and military power make it the center of gravity of the CIS and a stabilizing force within it." Chernomyrdin identified the priority goals as "ensuring the security of CIS external borders," preserving the position of Russian-language education in CIS countries, and achieving quantitative growth in Russia’s trade with the member countries, rather than nominal growth resulting from price increases. Calling for a "clear-cut policy agenda in relation to each individual member country," Chernomyrdin said that Russia is prepared to strengthen relations to the extent acceptable to each. "Our resources and our time are both limited," he said. (Itar-Tass, Interfax, July 29)
Other top Russian officials are also scheduled to address the three-day conference, called to discuss the implementation of president Boris Yeltsin’s September 1995 decree on "The strategic orientation of Russia’s relations with CIS countries." That decree had described CIS integration around Russia as virtually predetermined while leaving room for pressure and coercion to achieve it. Chernomyrdin’s address reaffirms the overall quest for Russian hegemony along with the more recent emphasis on a policy of differentiation, which translates into acceptance of a "variable-speed integration" and a "multi-level CIS" as long as Russia’s lacks the means for pursuing rapid reintegration across the board.
Aleksandr Lebed and Russia’s New Defense Council.