Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 226

Russia’s Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev yesterday offered the unprecedented admission that “the CIS as such does not exist. It is only an outward form.” To predict its prospects, he said, is “to gaze into the coffee dregs.” Stroev, who chairs the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly (IPA), was speaking in St. Petersburg, where several CIS interparliamentary meetings are due to be held, consecutively, this week. The IPA is scheduled to discuss conservation of energy and raw materials in the CIS countries–an ignominious downgrading of its once-exalted aspiration to pass “model laws” for the CIS countries as an avenue toward their “integration.”

In Tbilisi on the same day, visiting Ukrainian Prime Minister Valery Pustovoytenko warned that “the CIS must reform or else it has no future.” Pustovoytenko defined reform as the introduction of free intra-CIS trade–a narrow economic definition in keeping with Ukraine’s refusal of political integration. Also yesterday, President Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan echoed the demand for unimpeded intra-CIS trade in an electoral speech in Kazakhstan’s industrial heartland, Karaganda. Nazarbaev acknowledged the complaints of Karaganda’s mostly Russian managers and workers, that neighboring Russia hurts their interests through excessive customs and transit tariffs. “As members of the CIS Customs Union we ought to have a single tariff system,” Nazarbaev pointed out, “but they [Moscow] are not asking anybody when reducing tariffs for Russia’s enterprises and hurting those of Kazakhstan.”

These complaints follow the meeting of the CIS countries’ prime ministers, which failed to adopt a reform concept or to respond to member countries’ concerns over economics and trade (see the Monitor, November 30 and December 1). The chance that these issues might receive a serious airing at the presidents’ meeting receded even further yesterday, as CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovsky announced another postponement of that summit. Originally due to have been held in autumn 1998, the summit has now been rescheduled for February–a date that looks as tentative as those set earlier and not kept (Russian agencies, December 7).