Leaders of various former Soviet states met in Minsk on May 23-24 to discuss the CIS Customs Union and the organization’s Collective Security Treaty. The CIS Customs Union summit included Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia, Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus, Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, Askar Akaev of Kyrgyzstan and Imomali Rahmonov of Tajikistan. The CIS Collective Security Treaty meeting included that same cast of characters, and also President Robert Kocharian of Armenia.

The two days of meetings yielded unequal results. Hopes for the Custom Union–already been scaled back since the signing in 1994 of a “free trade zone” treaty and the formation in 1996 of the Customs Union itself–remained elusive in Minsk. Putin and the other presidents did resolve to create a panel to look at issues related to the free trade zone and associated issues. They also called for the Customs Union to be upgraded politically and legally by giving the organization the status of an “international organization” and having it recognized as an entity under international law. But the organization’s continuing internal disarray, occasioned in large part by Moscow’s effort to dominate the union and to shape it in accordance with Russia’s own perceived economic needs, makes realization of any of these key goals unlikely.

The CIS Collective Security Treaty (CST) meeting was apparently somewhat more successful. Participants signed three documents aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of the CST. The move suggested that the CST is beginning to assume institutional shape and, if a top Russian official is to be believed, helped to lay the legal basis for the deployment of Russian troops or security forces on the territory of CST countries. The agreements could give priority access by CST countries to Russian arms deliveries (at lower prices) and promote coordination of member countries’ foreign policies. The summit came, moreover, amid Russian warnings of possible air attacks against Afghanistan. Those warnings–a response to Afghanistan’s alleged harboring of Chechen rebel forces–appear designed to suggest to Central Asian countries that Moscow is serious about assuming an exclusive role as their regional protector.


The Weekly Bulletin is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is written and edited by Harry Kopp (email: This issue was written by Stephen Foye.

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