FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTERS AGREEING TO DISAGREE.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 18

The CIS summit–the first to be chaired by Vladimir Putin as acting and prospective president of Russia–opened on Monday [January 24] in Moscow with a meeting of the Council of Foreign Affairs Ministers of the twelve member countries. Contrary to some expectations West and East, Moscow did not crack the whip, in any case did not crack it loudly enough to intimidate any countries into compliance or to push any into open defiance. Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry seemed content to seek consensus at the lowest common denominator while maintaining some appearance of Russian leadership.

At the concluding briefing, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Ivanov gave pride of place to a decision to coordinate the positions of CIS member countries and of certain countries outside the CIS in preparing for the next UN General Assembly session. That special session, to be held at the level of heads of state, is to debate the principles of the international order in the twenty-first century. Ivanov appealed for support to Russian draft documents concerning a “multipolar” order and a “concept of the use of force in the age of globalization,” documents presumably designed to restrict Western and specifically NATO latitude of action. Ivanov described this ministerial session as setting a two-fold example to other CIS forums: first, in terms of seeking intra-CIS consensus and, second, in terms of reaching beyond the organization to enlist support for “CIS positions”–that is, for Russian positions which are seconded by some CIS countries.

It is unlikely that Russia can present itself to the UN–or other international organizations–as the spokesman for a unified CIS position. Last year six CIS countries openly refused to sign Russian draft documents on the subjects that Ivanov again brought up the day before yesterday. At least three–Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine–display a keen interest in cooperation with NATO (see the Monitor, December 23, 1999, January 7, 25; the Fortnight in Review, January 7). Nor is Ivanov’s suggestion of an anti-Western front of CIS and non-CIS countries entirely novel. Boris Berezovsky, CIS executive secretary in 1998-99, had once proposed coopting Iran as an associate CIS member on the basis of “common [Russian-Iranian] interests” in international politics.

According to an elliptic official announcement, the first ministerial session decided to prolong the Russian chairmanship of the forum by three months. This means that some countries successfully opposed the continued, automatic, open-ended prolonging of Russia’s chairmanship, which has violated the official CIS rules stipulating rotation of the chairmanship of CIS bodies. A similar dispute was brewing in the Council of Heads of State, where pro-Moscow presidents proposed offering an open-ended chairmanship to Vladimir Putin as the successor to Boris Yeltsin, while others advocated rotating a non-Russian head of state into the post. The rotation advocates would have designated Putin as interim chairman, for the remainder of Yeltsin’s chairmanship term, until Russia’s presidential election, whereupon a rotation should take place (on “schedule”) in that chair as well.

The communique, issued in the Foreign Affairs Ministers’ name, praised the “coordination of CIS countries’ positions,” leading to “positive decisions,” at the recent summit in Istanbul of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This claim obscures the fact that Moscow tried in vain to oppose the main decisions taken during that summit–namely, on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova and Georgia and on the laying of export pipelines for Caspian oil and gas (see the Monitor, November 22, 29; the Fortnight in Review, December 3, 1999).

That sentence of the communique is revelatory of the modus operandi of the CIS Council of Foreign Affairs Ministers, the main role of which is to project an image of consensus around Russia as a would-be bloc leader. Its concluding documents are usually drafted and circulated by Russia “on behalf of” member countries, even though the most resolutely independent of these hardly ever go to the trouble of correcting the distortions. Such restraint reflects a diminishing interest in the workings of the Council and underscores the declining relevance of this would-be coordinating body (Itar-Tass, Federal News Service, January 24).

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