Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 46

In a follow-up move, Yeltsin instructed Russia’s Foreign Ministry to forward his decision to the presidents of eleven CIS countries and have it endorsed by them. Yeltsin’s cover letter asked the presidents to “forward the written approval without delay.” On March 5 and 6, Yeltsin telephoned the eleven presidents in an effort to expedite the formalities. Initial reports seemed to suggest that Yeltsin’s move encountered objections in most capitals, one notable exception being Kyiv.

Yeltsin’s move interrupted Berezovsky’s tour of South Caucasus and Central Asian countries, in preparation for a long-overdue summit of the CIS. The news caught up with Berezovsky while he was en route from Dushanbe to Baku. He instantly contested the legality of Yeltsin’s step and invoked the authority of the eleven other presidents of CIS countries. Yet the Kremlin’s decision is clearly irreversible, and hardly any president would stand up for Berezovsky, though several of them seem prepared to protest against the arbitrary procedure by which the CIS head was replaced.

Although Berezovsky was hardly more popular with CIS country heads than he was in Moscow, his brusque removal by Russian fiat and the appointment of a Russian-picked successor shocked most of the CIS countries’ leaders. Reactions ranged from stunned silence to open indignation at Moscow’s disrespect to a purportedly multilateral organization, whose elected leaders Moscow feels free to treat as mere functionaries of the Russian state. Few if any leaders of CIS countries will regret Berezovsky’s departure. Most of them, however, will redouble their precautions against arbitrary Russian policies and unpredictable moves, which often treat CIS institutions as extensions of the Russian state, blurring the distinctions between Russia and the newly independent countries (Itar-Tass and other Russian agencies, Russian TV, March 5-7).