Russia ruled at the June 19 summit of the twelve members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The country may be no more than a middleweight now among the nations of the world, but around the likes of Georgia, Tajikistan or Moldova, the ex-superpower still packs a mean wallop.

The Russian imperial instinct was most fully on display in the reworking of the justification for keeping Russian forces on what is now foreign soil. Russian troops are in Georgia supposedly under a 1994 CIS mandate to keep the peace between loyalist forces and separatists in Abkhazia. But Russian delegates were unable to explain how the CIS was empowered to establish such a mission, or to describe the decision-making process, or to identify the countries that approved the mission. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, who knows he lacks the capacity to force the Russians out, agreed in a bilateral meeting with President Putin that Russian troops could stay a while longer. But he rejected any role for the CIS in mediating the conflict.

Russian forces were introduced to Tajikistan as “CIS peacekeepers” but acquired new status under a bilateral basing-rights treaty signed last year. Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov, who owes his office to Russian support, said during the summit that the change from “CIS peacekeeping operation” to “Russian base” makes no practical difference.

Russia has three battalions in Moldova, to keep the peace between the central government and the ethnic Russian breakaway province of Transdniester. There are also some 2,500 troops from the old Soviet 14th Army which do not claim a peacekeeping mandate. Whatever justification Russia may cite for its military presence, Moldova has never accepted any CIS role or Russian intervention. As in Georgia and Tajikistan, President Putin is seeking bilateral agreement to a Russian role. With the leverage of control of gas supplies, a strong position as a creditor, and a powerful political influence over both the country’s overlapping Russian and Communist minorities, Putin hopes to compel Moldova’s consent to Russian mediation of Moldova’s separatist conflicts.