With greater emphasis than he previously had, Putin again described subgroups within the CIS as legitimate, provided that they prove useful for the CIS as a whole and remain open for new member countries. Listing the Collective Security Treaty (Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), the five-country Eurasian Economic Community (same countries minus Armenia), and the Russia-Belarus Union, Putin described these subgroups as products of a natural division of labor within the CIS (see the Monitor, May 10, June 12, July 10).
In a significant change of attitude, Putin described the GUUAM group (Georgia-Ukraine-Uzbekistan-Azerbaijan-Moldova) as legitimate, inasmuch as it confines itself to economic cooperation among its members. Earlier insinuations that GUUAM is military-oriented and anti-Russian were no longer heard at this summit. Putin’s remarks on indicate acceptance of GUUAM in spite of the fact that it is the only group to exclude Russia. As recently as May-June of this year, Russia had sought observer status with GUUAM in order to listen in at the group’s summit in Yalta, Ukraine. President Leonid Kuchma used his prerogatives as host to deflect that Russian request, which now seems moot. The only pall on Putin’s concession is that he insists on GUUAM being “within the CIS,” whereas at least four of the group’s countries stake their future on close relations with the West and with their non-CIS neighbors.
The Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC) was barely mentioned at this summit. It had just held a fruitless meeting at deputy prime ministers’ level on July 26-27 in Almaty. Last year and this, the CIS had officially buried the long-defunct projects, Free Trade Zone (FTZ) and Customs Union (CU), in order to give birth to the EAEC (see the Monitor, October 10, 11, 2000, January 9, June 4-5). In Sochi, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev must have startled the non-EAEC countries when he urged implementation of certain goals of the FTZ, apparently ignoring the EAEC. Nazarbaev was apparently more familiar than were the other presidents with failure of the EAEC’s Almaty meeting. Both there and in Sochi, the EAEC member countries Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan sought in vain lower transport tariffs for their exports via Russia.
The dual union of Russia and Belarus received attention elsewhere–namely, at the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly (IPA) in St. Petersburg on August 1. There, IPA’s Chairman–as well as Russian Federation Council Chairman–Yegor Stroyev spoke of the “objective necessity” to turn the dual union state into a single state. With an eye to next month’s presidential election in Belarus, Stroyev proposed these follow-up steps: adopting a constitutional act of union, electing a joint legislature and creating “supranational bodies” to govern the single state. Such a scenario evidently presupposes that Lukashenka will be reelected. Stroyev expressed confidence that “there won’t be and can’t be any seriuos resistance from the Belarusans” (Habar, July 27; Itar-Tass, RIA, August 1-2).
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