Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed yesterday that the participants in a CIS defense ministers’ meeting had “denounced” U.S. and British air strikes against Iraq as an “act of aggression which seriously aggravated the military-political situation in the world.” According to Russia’s Defense Ministry, this represents an “official statement” of the meeting, held on December 21 in Moscow (Itar-Tass, December 22).
It is, in fact, highly unlikely that the meeting adopted such a statement. According to one participant, “the positions on the air strikes against Iraq differed, as they differ in CIS countries in general. [Delegations of] some countries condemned the air strikes, others said nothing while weighing their position, and yet others silently supported that action.” The meeting concerned itself with routine matters, not least the failure of most countries to finance activities mandated by the Defense Ministers’ Council and its Moscow staff. Russia’s defense minister, Marshal Igor Sergeev, called for working out a joint position on the issue of Iraq on behalf of the CIS as a “regional organization”–a goal also of Russia’s Foreign Ministry (Itar-Tass and other Russian agencies, December 21).
The post-meeting communique from Moscow undoubtedly reflects Sergeev’s desideratum rather than any consensus among the participants. The unilateral communique shows that recognition of the CIS as a “regional organization” would facilitate Moscow’s aspiration to substitute its own voice for that of the organization.