Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 220

The CIS countries’ presidents without exception welcomed Berezovsky’s proposal to establish a “free-trade area.” A decision to that effect–with inherent disadvantages to non-CIS countries–had been taken as far back as 1994 and was restated at subsequent CIS summits. Like most CIS decisions, however, it was never implemented–in this case owing partly to Russian protectionism and partly to member countries’ unwillingness to sacrifice their growing economic relations outside the CIS. Yet all CIS countries irrespective of their political attitudes toward Russia continue to demand unimpeded access to the Russian market and transit facilities for their goods.

Almost all countries rejected or sidestepped Berezovsky’s scheme to reorganize the CIS. Ukraine, Moldova and Uzbekistan are known to have submitted official objections to the proposed creation of “supranational structures” endowed with political decision-making powers. Presidents Leonid Kuchma and Petru Lucinschi cited those objections when receiving Berezovsky. The Ukrainian and Moldovan presidents also insisted on their countries’ full freedom to associate with countries and organizations outside the CIS. Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka simply refused to receive Berezovsky. The gesture demonstrated support for Berezovsky’s political adversaries in Russia, but also expressed Lukashenka’s displeasure with Berezovsky’s plan to transfer the CIS Executive Secretariat and other bodies from Minsk to Moscow.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze offered to support Berezovsky’s plan, hoping to stimulate a more active personal intercession by Berezovsky in the Georgian-Abkhaz negotiations. Shevardnadze hopes that Berezovsky’s influence–and the proposed CIS Committee on Conflict Situations under his aegis–might help offset the Russian Foreign Ministry’s pro-Abkhaz stand. However, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has thus far managed to squash Berezovsky’s diplomatic aspirations. Azerbaijani President Haidar Aliev told Berezovsky that “in its current condition the CIS does no good, it only discredits itself…. Certain decisions are imposed from above while the organization is idle.” Aliev called for an emphasis on bilateral relations, as opposed to multilateral relations and structures within the CIS.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niazov described the reorganization plan as irrelevant to his country because Turkmenistan does not participate in CIS committees and activities. Niazov even declared that “the CIS’ failure to become a reality does not alarm us–it was an impossibility to begin with.” The presidents of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Nursultan Nazarbaev and Askar Akaev, supported the “free-trade” aspect of Berezovsky’s initiative while ignoring the proposed organizational streamlining. Those two countries seem in any case unwilling to wait for the Russian market to open up to them. Kyrgyzstan recently became the first CIS country to gain admission to the World Trade Organization, and Kazakhstan seems poised to follow suit. By their readiness to accept WTO rules, both countries are distancing themselves from a hypothetical CIS “free-trade area” and the CIS Customs Union (DINAU, Basapress, November 17; Prime-News, Iprinda, November 18; Turan, AzadInform, November 19; Radio Tbilisi, November 23; Itar-Tass and other Russian agencies, November 17-23).