Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 122

On June 19-21, the defense ministers, foreign affairs ministers, prime ministers and presidents of CIS countries all held meetings, in that order, in Moscow. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin sought and got his opportunity to step onto the international stage in the role of “bloc leader.” Security and military issues dominated the agenda, illustrating the Kremlin’s current priorities in CIS relations and the ascent of KGB-bred intelligence officers to top policymaking posts. Economic issues, of primary concern to almost all the member countries, made little headway, raising fresh doubts about the raison d’etre of the CIS as a multilateral organization. Member countries did, however, manage to win a reprieve on Russia’s decision to withdraw from the 1992 Bishkek treaty on visa-free travel among CIS states. Russia’s introduction of visa requirements, should the stipulations go ahead as intended, would impose heavy economic costs throughout the CIS.

The summit also adopted a CIS Program to Combat Terrorism and Extremism for the period 2000-2003, created a CIS Antiterrorism Center, approved the center’s bylaws and accepted Putin’s nomination of Boris Melnikov to head the center. Melnikov, a lieutenant-general of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), has hitherto been the first deputy head of the FSB’s Constitutional Protection and Antiterrorism Department. The program and the center stem from Russian initiatives, which Putin first broached in September 1999 while prime minister of Russia, formally tabled by Kazakhstan at the January 2000 CIS summit and thrashed out at special meetings of CIS bodies in Moscow and Minsk under Russian-generated time pressure. The first-stage implementation, uniquely rapid by CIS standards, reflects the Putin team’s emphasis on security and intelligence bodies as policy instruments and influence levers.

Moscow hopes to use the antiterrorism program and center in order to line up the CIS countries’ intelligence services behind Russia’s. This much seems clear to most of the national leaderships, including those in Central Asia who are or feel threatened by terrorism. Most member countries have therefore sought to limit the mandate and resources of the antiterrorism center and to avoid Russia mobilizing its command. Ukraine introduced written reservations ruling out operations which contravene Ukraine’s laws and stating that the center’s bylaws are not to be interpreted as conferring on it legal international status. Several member countries successfully resisted Russian proposals which would have empowered the antiterrorism center to furnish information for collective decisionmaking by the CIS Council of Heads of State. Azerbaijan ruled out anything but consultative activities. Four Central Asian countries insisted that the antiterrorism center’s command be made up of “representatives of more than a single country”–in other words, that the command be shared rather than Russian. No member country is known to have supported Moscow’s wish to create, in a follow-up stage, joint special force units of the CIS.

To preclude the center from expanding unduly, member countries outvoted Russia in limiting the center’s budget to a meager US$3.3 million for the first year, placed an as yet undisclosed numerical limit on its staff and required that budget and that staff to be subtracted from the CIS Executive Committee’s resources, thereby ruling out any special allocations to the antiterrorism center–for the time being at least. The center’s mandate seems to center on exchanges of information and staff visits. Putin, Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Ivanov and FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev failed to name any operational tasks of the center during their respective briefings at the summit. The three-year antiterrorism program, as summarized for the public, seems declarative in the CIS tradition (Itar-Tass, RIA, June 19-21).

Intelligence cooperation seems set to continue between Russia and the individual CIS countries in the years ahead on a bilateral basis, reflecting the state of Moscow’s political relations with each member country. At the same time, Moscow will probably seek to expand the size and mandate of the antiterrorism center under its own leadership. Instead of assigning the External Intelligence Service (SVR) to that task, Putin has entrusted it to the FSB, Russia’s agency for internal security. This is a sign that the new team in the Kremlin does not regard the CIS countries’ independence as complete and irreversible.