Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 18

Expectations that this summit would, at long last, observe the rule of annual rotation in electing the new chairman of the CIS Council of Heads of State were not borne out. Under the rotation rule, the Russian president should have been succeeded by Tajikistan’s, according to the Russian alphabetical order of the names of member countries. Before the summit, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma had called for the rotation rule to be observed, though not necessarily with Imomali Rahmonov in mind. Kuchma proposed that Putin serve as acting chairman for the remainder of Yeltsin’s chairmanship term–that is, until the presidential election in Russia, whereupon the CIS chair would pass to the president of another member country.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev was also in the running for the chairmanship. Rahmonov, on arrival in Moscow, declined the honor due him by the rotation and nominated Putin. So did Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, as part of a deal he had made with the Kremlin to bless Putin’s candidacy for the chair of the top CIS body, whereby he would become the nominal head of the Russia-Belarus union state. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze endorsed Putin on the consideration that Russia holds the key to the resolution of the Abkhaz problem, and that it takes a strong Russian president to restrain the Russian military’s and security agencies’ conduct with respect to Georgia. The ultimate decision in favor of Putin was unanimous, reflecting–as several presidents avowed–the certain prospect of his success in Russia’s upcoming presidential election. Yet at least some presidents were unwilling to be turned into electoral assets for Putin in Russia, as they had been in 1996 for Yeltsin. For that reason, a decision was made to hold the next summit after the Russian presidential election, rather than shortly before, as the Kremlin had proposed. Even so, an interval of only three months between summits would be highly unusual. If adhered to, it may presage an activist, change-oriented, and therefore potentially destabilizing Russian approach to the CIS during Putin’s presidency (Itar-Tass, Russian Public Television, DINAU, Prime-News, Tbilisi Radio, January 22-25).