Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 221

The prime ministers’ meeting, its preliminaries and its aftermath highlighted two unprecedented trends in CIS politics, both testifying to the organization’s progressive debility. First, Russia’s internal power struggles divided what used to be the Russian side in the CIS. The split enabled most member countries to make common cause temporarily with one Russian side (Primakov’s) against another Russian side (Berezovsky’s). This purely tactical alignment may well change if the Russian government attempts to use the CIS Interstate Forum in the way Berezovsky has sought to use the Executive Committee–namely, as a vehicle for supranational centralization of the CIS. Certain countries–Georgia for one–will probably try again to play off Berezovsky against Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

The other trend involves a striking conceptual inversion on the part of both Russian groups. They described Russia’s economic and financial crisis as a compelling reason for “CIS integration.” “The economic-financial crisis is no reason for our countries to reorient themselves toward other partners. On the contrary, the crisis can stimulate the CIS countries’ economic integration” [Primakov]. “The present crisis shows the need for integration and coordination. Let no [CIS] country be under the illusion that it can stand aside from Russia’s crisis” [Pastukhov]. “The crisis will spur the CIS countries toward closer integration, because misfortune brings people together” [Berezovsky, who also spoke of the “agony of the CIS” in an interview published on the day of the prime ministers’ meeting] (AP, RTR, Itar-Tass and other Russian agencies, November 25, 26; Itar-Tass, November 17; Nezavisimaya gazeta, November 25).

Had Russia’s economy prospered, or had it at least functioned acceptably, it would undoubtedly have been described as a magnet for the “integration” of CIS countries. Today, Moscow has nothing better than a crisis to point to as a magnet to an agonizing CIS.