Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 93

While Tbilisi seems prepared to leave the Commonwealth of Independent States altogether (see EDM, May 11), Kyiv is reducing its own participation in the organization to almost nil, while maximizing its criticism of it. Even the meager membership dues of “nearly $1 million” that Ukraine pays annually into the CIS budget is now deemed “wasteful spending that can be reallocated to other purposes” by Ukrainian officials (Interfax-Ukraine, May 5).

Ukraine’s situation vis-à-vis the CIS is more complicated than Georgia’s in two respects: First, a sizeable part of Ukraine’s population in the east of the country would not countenance an open abandonment of the CIS by Kyiv, equating such a move with abandonment of Russia. And, second, the Ukrainian presidency and parts of the government are interested in the country’s selective participation in the planned Single Economic Space of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

Legally, however, Kyiv’s official exit from the 12-country CIS would be a simple matter, because Ukraine technically is not a full member of the organization. Ukraine never became a party to the CIS Charter, ratification of which was the legal prerequisite to each member country’s membership. Thus, even though Ukraine was among the founder-states of the CIS (in December 1991), it has technically the status of a “participant state,” rather than a member state. Ukraine is also sometimes referred to as an “associate member” of the CIS. Apparently taking a cue from Kyiv, Turkmenistan last year lowered its status from full to “associate membership” in the CIS.

While a CIS “participant,” Ukraine does not take part in CIS joint activities related to foreign policy, defense, or security issues (with a few symbolic exceptions) while actually participating in NATO and U.S.-led peacekeeping and other activities in the sphere of international security, and is an official aspirant to NATO membership. When that membership draws within sight, Ukraine can be expected to make a full exit from the CIS.

At present, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the most active in preparing public and elite opinion for abandoning the CIS. First Deputy Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko made a series of statements to that effect in recent days, including some caustic remarks for the media in Moscow while on an official visit there. Ohryzko characterized the CIS as a “talk shop,” an “empty shell,” a “club that keeps busy chattering.” He announced that Ukraine is examining whether it is worth staying with the CIS at all. The conclusion of such examination seems almost foregone, based on the stated premises.

Ohryzko’s remarks are a continuation of those delivered by Minister of Foreign Affairs Borys Tarasyuk during the recent CIS ministerial conference in Moscow (see EDM, April 25), where Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Azerbaijan formed a common front to oppose Russian policies directed against their interests. On that occasion, Ukraine protested against Russia’s recent restrictions on the import of Ukrainian meat and dairy products to the Russian market and called in vain for a resumption of discussions on creating a CIS Free-Trade Zone, as distinct from the Moscow-promoted Single Economic Space. Moscow and its loyalists also blocked Kyiv’s proposal for the upcoming CIS summit to express its attitude to the 1930-33 famine and genocide in Ukraine (the Holodomor). In his concluding remarks, therefore, Tarasyuk described the CIS as “not a normal international organization” and “without a future.”

Officials in Ukraine’s presidency, however, sound more cautious in their comments on the CIS. According to Kostyantyn Tymoshenko, head of the Presidential Secretariat’s foreign policy section, Ukraine needs the agreements signed earlier in the framework of the CIS to start working. Only if that does not happen in the near future should Kyiv raise the question “whether the existence of the CIS makes any sense at all and take some appropriate steps.” In a similar vein, the presidential representative in the Cabinet of Ministers, Borys Bespalyy, downplays the issue of leaving the CIS as “not topical today or tomorrow.”

Such remarks seem at least in part to reflect President Viktor Yushchenko’s priorities, which include advancing coalition negotiations with the Party of Regions and — irrespective of the eventual shape of a coalition government — persuading Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit with Yushchenko in Ukraine. For the time being, Kyiv will not march with Tbilisi out of the CIS, but it will continue its decade-old, futile quest for a CIS free-trade zone while at the same time criticizing the organizations from the sidelines for its irrelevance.

(Interfax-Ukraine, UNIAN, Channel Five TV [Kyiv], May 2-10)