Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 13

A regular meeting of prime ministers from the CIS countries, held on January 17 in Moscow, was marked by "sharp exchanges of views," according to CIS executive secretary Ivan Korotchenya. Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan rejected the main document, a medium-term "Concept of CIS Economic Integration" prepared by the Russian side. Ukraine introduced amendments to the document, returning it for rewriting and further discussion at follow-up meetings.

At least five countries — Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan — adhered to their usual position of not discussing military and "political-military" issues or supranational institutions. Ukraine, for example, signed eight agreements, mainly of a commercial and technical character. But Kiev declined to sign eight politically-colored agreements prepared by Moscow, including accords on common rules of travel for CIS countries’ citizens to non-CIS countries, formation of CIS capital and labor markets, development of CIS transport, customs, currency, and education systems, and operation of the CIS television company MIR. Ukrainian prime minister Pavlo Lazarenko reaffirmed that his country would not sign documents which contravene its sovereignty, constitution, and legislation. Other delegations at the meeting also signed only those agreements that they found consistent with their own countries’ interests.

Apparently reacting to what he termed "widespread criticism," Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin announced after the meeting that he favored reconsidering Moscow’s recent decision to impose a special "border tax" on goods imported from all countries, including CIS members. Officially intended to finance in part expenses for Russia’s Federal Border Service, the tax looks to many in the CIS like a forced contribution to Russia’s budget and as yet another Russian protectionist barrier.

In a bow to Russia’s ailing president Boris Yeltsin, Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma proposed from afar that Russia’s chairmanship of the CIS be extended for another year. Some months ago, before Yeltsin’s illness had become manifest, Ukraine and Uzbekistan had begun canvassing support for implementing the rotation rule, which Moscow had disregarded in monopolizing the chairmanship of CIS bodies.

A follow-up meeting of the prime ministers has been tentatively scheduled for January 28 to reconsider the amended Integration Concept, in preparation for the CIS summit tentatively scheduled for the 29th. But Chernomyrdin cast doubt on the summit’s date — and, obliquely, on Yeltsin’s recovery — by stating that the summit may also be held "at some other date." If so, it will be the third rescheduling of an event originally set for early December. (Interfax, January 17-18)

Moscow Mayor Inflames Passions in Sevastopol.