Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 83

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev may have spoken for most of the other heads of CIS states when he described yesterday’s summit as “totally empty” and “leading nowhere.” The meeting was held in the long shadow of the October 1997 Chisinau summit, at which almost all presidents had stunned Boris Yeltsin through concentric criticism of Russian hegemonic policies (see The Monitor, October 24 and 25, 1987). A follow-up “extraordinary” summit, due in January, was supposed to summarize the criticisms presented in Chisinau and to consider remedial actions. All presidents were asked to submit detailed proposals to that end. Yet the follow-up summit was ultimately downgraded to an “ordinary” one, twice postponed and limited to barely three hours when held yesterday.

The agenda, prepared in Moscow, ignored the proposals duly submitted in advance by eleven presidents. A special report on that subject, prepared by Nazarbaev and still figuring on summit agenda as of April 27, was shelved without explanation. On a Russian initiative, the presidents agreed to defer that discussion to a special “interstate forum,” tentatively scheduled for July. But there was no consensus about the level and venue of that forum. While some presidents wanted it held at the highest level for maximum impact, most appeared to favor a ministerial-level affair for minimal risk to their countries’ national interests. This preference seemed to substantiate the observation made an the eve of the summit by Konstantin Zatulin, director of Russia’s government-sponsored Institute for CIS Affairs and a would-be empire-restorer. According to him, governing elites of most CIS countries “need the CIS mainly in order to confuse their electorates which long for the USSR. But each CIS member country seeks its own niche in the world economic system, and the real interests of national elites are in most cases far removed from a desire to unite in the CIS, Russia’s position in the CIS is supported only by Belarus; and to a lesser extent by Armenia because of historic necessity.” (Ekho Moskvy, April 27)

Russian control of the agenda and of the scheduling kept the meeting free from polemics as well as sterile of results, Just as in Chisinau–and, thus, for the second time in CIS history–no joint communique or statements were signed and no joint news conference held. Instead, some of the presidents held their own individual briefings. The “central” document, prepared in advance by the Russian staff, was a “Declaration on the Further Development of Equitable Partnership and Cooperation in the CIS.” It was not adopted because of objections from at least five countries–Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and almost certainly some others as well. Objections reportedly centered on the absence or insufficiency of references to international law as the basis for relations among CIS countries. (Russian agencies, Noyan-Tapan, April 28 and 29.)

The Russian side proposed discussing a program–so titled, and for the period 1998-2001–for the development of military cooperation. The program had already been watered down by some countries during the drafting work. Even so, the program did not pass at the summit. Russia’s First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov–who holds overall responsibility for relations with CIS countries, and who handles security issues directly–took issue with “totally imaginary accusations about Russian imperial behavior and ambitions.” But Pastukhov went on to describe the CIS as an arena of competition between Russia and the West: “Russia’s influence in the CIS has somewhat declined, but this phenomenon is temporary, Western and other countries are, understandably, eyeing the post-Soviet space. The struggle for markets and spheres of influence in the world has never ceased. We shall not allow this process to develop to the detriment of Russia’s interests.” Pastukhov’s analysis did not seem to include references to the CIS countries’ own interests and choices. (Russian agencies, April 29)

The surprise entrance of Russia’s financial magnate Boris Berezovsky is what drew media attention to this summit. At the Kremlin’s initiative, Berezovsky was appointed executive secretary of the CIS in place of Belarusan Ivan Korotchenya, who had held that position since 1992. Yeltsin thought it politic to disclaim responsibility for this initiative, crediting it to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma instead. However, neither Kuchma nor other Ukrainian officials confirmed this version. Yeltsin claimed that Berezovsky’s appointment was accepted “unanimously.” Other Russian officials, however, indicated that there was some opposition, notably from Armenian President Robert Kocharian.

The implications of Berezovsky’s appointment for the CIS as an organization are still far from clear. Some officials in the member countries regard this appointment as heralding a “strategic course correction” in Moscow, one which would stress the economic aspects of Russia’s policies toward CIS countries. (Monitor interviews, April 30) Berezovsky is expected to focus on promoting the participation of Russian capital in privatizing industrial assets in CIS countries. Berezovsky and Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin, who supervises CIS affairs in the Russian government, are political allies. The seat of the Executive Secretariat is in Minsk, and Belarusan president Alyaksandr Lukashenka declared yesterday, after the summit, that he had resisted a proposal to move that seat to Moscow. The CIS Executive Secretariat has always been merely secretarial, never executive; and its head until now has had the status of a civil servant. Berezovsky’s appointment is certain to result in attempts to give that body real executive powers in support of Russian government policies and the interests of Russian business groups. At the same time, the Russian side will almost certainly invite private-sector businessmen from CIS countries to join representatives of their governments on the Executive Secretariat’s board and staff.

As expected, the conclave confirmed Yeltsin in the post of Chairman of the Council of Heads of State until the year 2000. Uzbek Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov was designated as head of the Council of Heads of Government–a position formerly held by Russia’s Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, for which Chernomyrdin’s freshly confirmed successor Sergei Kirienko was clearly not an appropriate candidate. Kazakhstan’s Aucznur Kazhenov was confirmed as chairman of the CIS Economic Court. The latter two appointments represent a token of compliance with the statutory principle of rotating the chairmanships of CIS bodies among the member countries. From the inception of the CIS to date, Russia has virtually monopolized the chairmanships at all levels for itself. (Russian agencies, April 28 and 29, See also The Monitor, April 29, for the Customs Union summit held on April 28).