The likely departure of Boris Berezovsky will not leave a gaping hole. So decrepit is the Commonwealth of Independent States there may be no need to replace him. The CIS, once thought of as a kind of counterweight to NATO and an economic ruble bloc, is essentially defunct. Scheduled meetings of CIS prime ministers and heads of state are routinely postponed. Agreements to lower trade barriers are routinely ignored, and trade routinely shrinks. As Berezovsky himself acknowledged, the CIS is “incapable of formulating common goals” because its members “have contradictory interests.”
Those contradictory interests are most sharply visible in the most fundamental areas of national policy: security and defense. The CIS Collective Security Treaty dates from May 1992. It is now up for renewal, and members are peeling away. President Haidar Aliev of Azerbaijan, facing a hostile Armenia supported by Russian troops and Russian arms, says the treaty misses the point: There is no threat from outside but no security inside the CIS region. The treaty, he says, is useless and he will let it lapse. He wants Turkish troops and NATO bases to defend his country’s sovereignty. President Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia, with unwanted Russian troops in his country, says the treaty “is not working,” has “brought no good to Georgia” and “contributes to sharpening conflicts,” not resolving them. Shevardnadze and the leader of separatist Ajaria were in Ankara last week to discuss possible Turkish mediation of their dispute, which the Russian presence has only exacerbated. Uzbekistan announced last month that it will not renew its participation in the treaty. Moldova, still occupied by Russian forces, never signed the treaty. Neither did Ukraine or Turkmenistan.
Very much in the Russian camp are Belarus and Armenia. Kazakhstan, with its large Russian minority, is also close to Moscow. But the remaining states of the CIS are actively seeking to reduce their ties to Russia and increase their engagement with the rest of the world. For most members of the CIS, “Independent” is its middle name.