Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he is pleased with the success of the “triple summit” of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEc) last week in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and he described them as “most fruitful” (Itar-Tass, October 6).
CIS leaders agreed to appoint the former Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) chief, Army General Sergei Lebedev, as the new CIS executive secretary, replacing another four-star general, Vladimir Rushailo, the former Russian Security Council secretary and interior minister. Former prime minister Mikhail Fradkov, in turn, became SVR chief. Participants approved a new CIS “Development Concept,” and other documents.
Lebedev is a professional intelligence officer, who has worked for the KGB and its successor, the FSB, since 1973. He served as an intelligence officer in Germany and West Berlin around the same time that Putin was posted in East Germany. He will turn 60 in April 2008. The position of CIS executive secretary generally has been an insignificant, backwater position since it was created in 1993. The only exception was the flamboyant businessman, oligarch, and politician Boris Berezovsky, now exiled in Great Britain, who was appointed to the post in 1998. Berezovsky announced his intention to remodel the CIS as an economic and currency union similar to the EU. However, he annoyed the CIS leaders and was dismissed in 1999 by President Boris Yeltsin for “repeatedly overstepping the powers of CIS executive secretary” (Kommersant, October 8).
Last June the Kremlin wanted to appoint Russia’s former Central Election Commission chief Alexander Veshnyakov as CIS executive secretary, but Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka blocked this move. Lebedev, a seasoned professional KGB spy working toward retirement, fits the job much better. Most likely, he will be an unassuming figurehead executive secretary in line with the overall dysfunctional nature of the CIS.
Since its creation after the demise of the USSR in 1991, the CIS has produced numerous agreements on cooperation in different spheres among the 12 former Soviet republics (the Balts never joined), while, in fact, they were drifting in different directions politically and economically. At the Dushanbe summit, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told journalists that he did not sign most of the CIS documents, including the new CIS Development Concept, in order to protest the air and land blockade of his country by Russia (RIA-Novosti, October 7).
To bypass CIS deadlocks, Moscow has been forming other alliances, economic and military, with willing former Soviet republics. In Dushanbe at the EurAsEc summit, the leaders of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan signed an agreement to form a Customs Union. Putin called the result “almost revolutionary.” The Customs Union is planned to begin operating in 2010, Putin added, “If all the needed documents are signed and ratified” (Itar-Tass, October 6). Tajikistan has also expressed interest in joining the Customs Union after it begins to function. But Ukraine, the second-largest economy within the CIS after Russia, aspires to join the EU and is not interested in a Customs Union.
Kommersant newspaper described the CSTO summit of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan as an effort to form a “powerful military and political bloc to maintain order in former Soviet republics and boost Russia’s influence. Documents have been signed that allow the creation of joint peacekeeping CSTO forces. Russia has also agreed to sell other CSTO states Russian arms “at Russia’s domestic prices” (Kommersant, October 8).
Before 1991 “internal” and “export” arms prices were indeed different. In the rigid Soviet planned economy money did not mean much, and the Defense Ministry procured weapons at ridiculously low official prices. When tanks or jets were sent abroad, there was a rule that export prices in U.S. dollars were set 10 times higher than “internal” ones in Soviet rubles. Most Soviet client states repaid very little, but some — Libya, Iraq, India, and Egypt — eventually reimbursed billions of dollars.
Today, most Russian arms prices are kept secret. Still, there is evidence that export and “internal” prices are more or less the same, since Russia today is largely a market economy. According to First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, the new Su-34 jet bomber will cost the Russian Defense Ministry over $40 million each (RIA-Novosti, March 22, 2006). In 2007 the Russian arms procurement budget is over $12 billion, but the Defense Ministry has been complaining of high prices that do not allow it buy significant amounts of new weapons.
CSTO member states, according to the Rosoboronexport arms export monopoly, already enjoy “special rates” (Kommersant, October 8). The Dushanbe declaration will not change much, since Russia has often handed out free arms from its arsenals to client CIS states.
Joint CIS peacekeeping forces were deployed Tajikistan in the 1990s to support President Emomali Rakhmon in that country’s civil war. The core of the joint peacekeeping force was the Russian 201st motor-rifle division, supported by an air attack air force regiment. Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan deployed battalion-size contingents that did not play any significant role (Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, July 10, 1998). CSTO joint peacekeeping, if it ever happens, will hardly be any different. The Belarus constitution forbids deployment of troops abroad. Central Asian states will not send any troops to the Caucasus, nor will Armenia send troops to Central Asia. An alliance of Russia and several militarily week states with diverse interests may never become a “powerful military and political bloc,” despite all the hype.
As leaders departed the Dushanbe meetings, they were left with more rhetoric than results.