Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 142

Devalued by an unusually low attendance — only eight out of twelve presidents — the CIS informal summit in Moscow on July 21-22 marks the official transition of this organization to a “lite” version of its former self. With Russian President Vladimir Putin’s acquiescence, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev presented a set of proposals to reduce the CIS to a few functions, mainly in the sphere of social projects. Moreover, Putin blinked before the absent Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, by eschewing a discussion on Russian “peacekeeping” in Abkhazia, even though the Kremlin itself and all of Russia’s officialdom insisted all along that this issue belongs to the CIS competency.

The summit’s agenda included a CIS “assessment of world developments” — the usual exercise to line up the presidents behind a Kremlin-drafted statement on international issues — as well as CIS reform. In view of the low attendance, however, the Kremlin decided to drop the joint statement at the last moment on July 21. The following day, Putin asked Nazarbayev to present proposals for CIS reform that Nazarbayev had been authorized to prepare in his capacity as chairman of the CIS Council of Heads of State.

Nazarbayev’s report acknowledges that the CIS does not meet the requirements of an integration organization, having failed to create even a free-trade zone, let alone a customs or monetary union or a common security policy. He proposes that the CIS henceforth focus on harmonizing member states’ policies on five issues: a) regulating migration; b) developing transport links; c) promoting exchanges in the sphere of education; d) dealing with cultural and humanitarian issues [often a euphemism for maintaining a Russian-language cultural environment]; and e) tackling trans-border criminality.

Moreover, Nazarbayev proposes continuing cuts in the personnel of Moscow-based CIS structures and transferring their functions to “national coordinators” who would reside in the member countries’ capitals. Reducing the budget and personnel of CIS offices in Moscow is a trademark Nazarbayev idea, and it is partly thanks to his insistence that those structures have been cut radically in recent years. Any further cut would almost certainly bring their final demise. The proposed institution of nationally based coordinators seems inspired by the GUAM model used by Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. Although GUAM is not yet functional, its national coordinators at least provide a flexible and cost-effective mechanism for development and implementation of policy decisions.

The report has on the whole been accepted as a basis for further discussion, but could not be seriously discussed because the document was belatedly circulated on the summit’s opening day. The presidents are to submit their suggestions to Nazarbayev for further development of the proposals. Nazarbayev will retain his chairmanship of the presidents’ conclave (temporarily suspending the rotation in that chair) in order to finalize his report. He concluded, “Everyone knows that the CIS states are unhappy about the work of this organization, and some are very unhappy . . . The CIS has actually turned into a club for the presidents’ meetings” (NTV Mir, July 22).

The club function is supposed to enable the presidents to hold bilateral or small-format meetings on the summit’s sidelines. However, even the club function is questionable with only eight presidents in attendance, and Putin declining to meet bilaterally with the two presidents who had wanted such meetings: Georgia’s Saakashvili, who was refused one day before the summit, and Moldova’s Vladimir Voronin who was denied a bilateral meeting with Putin while the summit was in progress.

The gist of what Voronin might have told Putin can be gauged from the Moldovan president’s interview with the liberal Ekho Moskvy radio — one of the few Moscow media outlets still open to him — on the summit’s opening day, when he was still hoping for a bilateral meeting with the Russian president. Voronin pointed to Russia’s recruitment of Transnistria’s leaders “in the Siberian Taiga and [Soviet] Riga special police [reference to these leaders’ actual backgrounds]; called for replacement of Russia’s “peacekeeping” operations with an international mission of observers, both military and civilian; ridiculed Moscow’s claim that Transnistria’s authorities “do not permit” Russia to remove its arsenals and troops from the area (a claim repeated on July 20 by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov); protested against Russia’s politically motivated embargo on Moldovan wines (50% market share in Russia prior to the ban); and deplored Russia’s “destruction” of what Voronin described as centuries-old Moldovan good will toward Russia (Ekho Moskvy, July 21).

Putin pointedly expressed his “thanks to those who found it possible to come to Moscow.” Among those who did not find it possible, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov is often absent from CIS summits; this time, however, he is openly in conflict with Moscow over the price of Turkmen gas deliveries to Gazprom.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko canceled his attendance with less than 24 hours’ advance notice, citing the complicated political situation in the country. A presidential communiqué went out of its way to assure Russia and Putin personally of the “sincerity of Ukraine’s relations with Russia as well as of the fact that Russia is a strategic partner of Ukraine” and invited Putin to visit Ukraine. A further invitation will follow by official letter from Yushchenko, his office announced (Interfax-Ukraine, July 21). This marks at least the fifth public and somewhat supplicating invitation from Yushchenko to Putin to visit Ukraine. Yushchenko previously issued such invitations in August, November, and December 2005 and January 2006 publicly, and was also hoping to receive Putin in Ukraine ahead of the March 26 parliamentary elections.

Armenian President Robert Kocharian was set to attend and likely to meet with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in Putin’s presence at this summit. However, Kocharian canceled his attendance at the summit only hours before its opening on July 21, citing a viral respiratory problem. In any case, he faces an internal political problem, as Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian seems set to launch a bid for supreme power.

(Interfax, Khabar, Mediamax, Arminfo, July 21, 22)