The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is the name given to the loose association of former Soviet republics. All of the Soviet republics except Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are CIS members. The CIS has a name and a staff of 2,000 in Moscow, but little content: a collective security treaty that collapsed when key countries would not join or withdrew, a customs union that scarcely exists even on paper, an abandoned free-trade agreement, a visa agreement from which Russia has withdrawn and a schedule of meetings that are regularly postponed.
Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov hopes to resuscitate–or more accurately just suscitate–the organization by converting the moribund customs union into a “Eurasian Economic Community” (EAEC). At Russia’s initiative, the five countries that belong to the customs union, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, approved the EAEC founding documents on October 6.
The EAEC’s stated goals are to “bring the customs union to fruition by establishing, on its basis, a single economic space, a functioning common market and coordinated economic policies.” A common market requires elimination of internal barriers to trade and adoption of a common external tariff and other common rules governing imports from nonmember countries.
Strong Russian diplomacy produced a weighted-voting formula in the Integration Committee, as the chief executive body of the EAEC will be known. The formula gives Russia four votes, Kazakhstan and Belarus two votes each and Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan one vote each. But the decisions of the Integration Committee are not final. They require approval by the Interstate Council, where members meet at the level of head of government and take decisions only by consensus.
Russia may hope to have the EAEC recognized in time as an international organization capable of negotiating on behalf of its members, for example on accession to the World Trade Organization. Of the five founding EAEC members, only Kyrgyzstan belongs to the WTO. As little as Kyrgyzstan matters to global trade (it accounts for less than one 1/100th of 1 percent of world exports), the potential conflicts for Kyrgyzstan between its WTO obligations and the demands of a Eurasian Economic Community could lead to tortuous international negotiations.