The Commonwealth of Independent States, that loose association of post-Soviet republics, is fizzling. Last October, at a summit meeting in Moldova, the presidents of the CIS countries rebelled against Russia’s unsubtle attempts to dominate the organization and refused to accept any of the seventeen agreements that had been prepared for signature. With the assent of a stunned Boris Yeltsin, the summiteers remanded all the agreements to committees for remedial drafting and scheduled an out-of-cycle summit to consider the results on January 23.

But the rescue attempt appears to have failed. With just two weeks’ notice, Moscow canceled the extraordinary summit, and President Yeltsin confessed in televised remarks that "if we review the results of 1997, we must frankly acknowledge we have mismanaged the CIS. Some are even now keen to desert it."

What Yeltsin calls mismanagement others would call broken promises. Russia has played a double game with Georgia, promoting separatism in Abkhazia while keeping troops in the region as "peacekeepers." High-ranking Russian military officers have sold very large amounts of weaponry to Armenia and Karabakh, and an investigation promised to Azerbaijan proceeds at a pace so leisurely it might as well be motionless. High barriers to imports from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan remain in place, two years after the signing of a free-trade agreement. And throughout the CIS, Russia has fought furiously to prevent the construction of pipelines that would allow oil and gas from Central Asia and the Caspian Basin to reach international markets without passing through Russian territory.

An insulting questionnaire sent to each CIS head of state over Yeltsin’s autopen signature in December received only two replies. That made it clear even to Moscow that the January summit could end only in disaster, and the meeting was called off.

The next CIS summit is scheduled for March, and it may not take place. It is not clear perhaps even to Moscow what purpose the CIS serves, except to perpetuate Russian influence in countries that no longer want it. If the CIS should wither and die, the 2,000 bureaucrats who staff the Moscow headquarters would be the only mourners.


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