Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 18

Vladimir Putin’s first CIS summit, which convened in Moscow yesterday, did not continue for another day as originally planned, and fell well short of covering the ambitious agenda originally announced. In some ways, the summit resembled those held under Boris Yeltsin. Like them, yesterday’s yielded the signing of numerous documents on inconsequential issues destined for quick oblivion; failed to address pressing economic concerns of the member countries, or–worse, from their standpoint–deferred to Russia’s unilateral interests at the expense of those countries; substituted tired slogans and ossified hierarchy for genuine partnership; and ignored CIS rules of procedure by installing the Kremlin’s new occupant as symbolic head of the organization.

Yet Putin put his own, heavy stamp on the summit, a stamp which differs significantly from Yeltsin’s. Putin fell back on Soviet nostalgia and Russian nationalism in redefining Russia’s attitude and overall policies toward CIS countries, and described the CIS as a “mechanism for preserving all of the better elements that existed in the framework of the single state”–that is, of the Soviet Union. He cited the presence of Russian, or “Russian-speaking,” populations in the newly independent countries as a central consideration behind Moscow’s policy in the CIS from now on: “We are prepared for multilateral cooperation, and it should be obvious why: Millions of Russians live on the territory of the former Union.”

Putin, moreover, traced Russia’s “terrorism” problem to the fact that the Soviet Union no longer exists: “Following [its] disintegration… certain foreign centers have acted on the illusion that the post-Soviet space has weak spots where international terrorism and extremism can actively develop. We shall give them no chance; our joint efforts will be effective and decisive.” (Itar-Tass, Russian Public Television, January 25). Such remarks suggest that Putin may be inclined to carry the banner of “antiterrorism” beyond Russia’s borders into the territories of some CIS countries, and use that banner for pulling those countries into Russian-led military and security arrangements. Georgia is, at the moment, the main target of Russian probing and pressure (see the Monitor, November 12, December 2, 13, 21, 1999; January 7, 13; the Fortnight in Review, November 19, December 3, 1999, January 21).