CIS heads of state gathered in Astana on September 15-16 for a scheduled Commonwealth of Independent States summit meeting. Such meetings usually serve as a forum that projects a semblance of former Soviet unity but renders few practical achievements. This meeting, however, witnessed renewed hopes in many CIS countries that progress toward genuine security throughout the former Soviet space is possible. The meeting took place against the backdrop of the Beslan tragedy, and participants were well aware of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent emphasis on tightening domestic security within Russia. His counterparts well understood that such efforts could be undermined without real cross-border cooperation through a commonly agreed stance on anti-terrorism and stemming the growth of separatism.
Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev had intimated his own personal hopes for the summit in his message of sympathy to Putin concerning Beslan, “I am ready to discuss the elaboration of specific measures for combating this global evil at the upcoming summit in Astana” (Kuranty, September 8-12). Referring obliquely to the threat of terrorism and what measures could be adopted to counter the varied manifestations of the terrorist threat within the CIS, Nazarbayev proposed radical reform of the CIS in order to foster real progress in countering terrorism within its territories. His message also called on the CIS to abandon its tendencies to produce endless paper agreements. The Russian vision for enhanced security cooperation with its neighbors in the wake of Beslan was thus furthered at the Astana summit. But other CIS leaders may be less willing in real terms to agree on any positive action aimed at cooperating too readily with Moscow, preferring to wait to see how Russian planning develops in the coming months.
Putin needed the CIS summit, coming so soon after Beslan offered evidence of Russia’s deteriorating security, to steady the nerves of some CIS heads of state, who had become anxious that their strongest neighbor might no longer be a credible source of security. All parties recognized that they would have to deal with Russia in their political and security futures. Though some may instead prefer to look to Western organizations such as NATO, Putin gambled on and received support from the majority of the CIS faithful. Georgia, cast as skeptics from the outset for questioning Russia’s political agenda, acceded to the joint statement against terrorism, while others emerged as clear backers of the new Putin line.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenka was one clear and predictable supporter of Russia’s policy in the CIS, stating that the post-Soviet republics must unite in the fight against the causes of terrorism, rather than merely limiting themselves to stemming its worst consequences. However, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, with his own aspirations for the summit, agreed that the topic of finding new approaches to security within CIS territory is a critical part of the organization’s future agenda (Novye izvestiya, September 7; RTR Russia TV, September 16).
Within Central Asia, support for Putin’s security drive beyond Russia’s external borders was forthcoming. In particular, Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev offered steadfast support for launching preemptive military strikes against terrorists. Recent CSTO military exercises involving the use of Russian precision-guided munitions had convinced him that it is possible to launch such a strike against terrorists. Economically dependent states, such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, have become more involved in U.S. security assistance programs and also seek increased economic assistance from America. Kazakhstan may prove Russia’s most reliable partner in the region, as Nazarbayev could utilize this opportunity to allay Russian fears about Kazakhstan’s growing security partnerships with NATO and the United States.
One thing is abundantly clear, the time for producing mere paper agreements that pay lip service to some vague notion of CIS unity ended in Beslan. The CIS leaders are keen to move beyond simply discussing terrorism and separatism and begin finding dynamic, integrated ways of countering terrorism. None of the security initiatives alluded to by Putin in his recent statements is capable of success unless he can establish wider cooperation in the former Soviet space. Putin has gained endorsement of his plans and must now demonstrate the practical implications of that support. The measures agreed at the CIS summit simultaneously risk splitting the CIS along lines of those willing to consent to a Sovietization of security, and those less comfortable with such arrangements. Putin must present himself, beyond the tight state-controlled Russian media, to his CIS counterparts as a strong leader of an emerging anti-terrorist coalition. As the chairman of the CIS Council for the next 12 months, Putin has made security and strengthening the cohesion of the CIS against international terrorism his priority tasks. But his central aims and objectives are yet to be unambiguously defined. Russia’s close allies within the CIS nervously await Moscow’s next move (Itar-Tass, Interfax, RTR, Russia TV, September 16).