Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 5

Yeltsin gets less than he wanted at CIS Summit

by Vladimir Socor

The May 26 summit meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent Statesin Minsk was a measure of how great a difference remains betweenthe declared goals of the CIS and actual reality. The sessionlasted slightly more than half a day, instead of the planned twodays, and was not attended by all who were invited. Turkmenistan’sSaparmurat Niyazov chose to go on a visit to Israel instead ofto Minsk, Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev pleaded a cold, Georgia’sEduard Shevardnadze shared his time that day between the Minsksummit and Georgia’s independence anniversary celebrations backhome, and Russia’s Boris Yeltsin, apparently anticipating modestresults, cut short his initially scheduled stay in Minsk.

Ever More Centrifugal Movements. Voicing his frustration withthe reluctance of most member states to agree even on Moscow’sagenda for this meeting, Russian president Yeltsin from the outsetadmonished those present that they "cannot indefinitely putoff" the creation of a CIS customs union and of a commoncurrency of accounting, the total opening of intra-CIS borders,the adoption of a single currency (implying the Russian ruble),and the establishment of an effective CIS human rights monitoringmechanism, the lack of which Yeltsin termed "impermissible."

Yeltsin’s exhortations regarding a customs union and unimpededtrade flows could have appealed to member states highly dependenton the Russian market for their exports. But the Russian presidentundermined his own case by insisting that a CIS customs unionand open "intra-CIS borders" must entail unificationof national legislations, coordination of economic relations withnon-CIS countries, "effective joint (i.e. Russian-led) protectionof CIS external borders," "mutual utilization of militaryfacilities on the terms set for (each country’s) national forces…andjoint operation of defense facilities," these being "maintasks for safeguarding a unified customs system."(Segodnya,May 30; Kommersant and Interfax, May 27, 1995).

Such obvious linkages force most member states to weigh any commercialadvantages against the loss of sovereignty, and can only leadthem to conclude that Moscow’s proposals for economic integrationactually pursue political and military hegemony. Not surprisingly,therefore, most of Moscow’s two dozen proposals, including somelong-standing ones, either failed to make it to the summit’s agendaor failed to advance at the summit. Most countries felt that theproposals sought to create supranational decision-making mechanisms,or other forms of Russian leverage, designed to dilute the countries’sovereignty. Some delegations objected to the proposals directly,while others preferred to hide behind those who resisted. As Segodnyaconcluded in its May 30 analysis of this summit, "a centrifugalmovement has developed in the CIS."

Summing up the argument against a CIS customs union, Ukrainiandeputy prime minister and foreign economic relations ministerSerhii Osyka observed that joining such a union would jeopardizeUkraine’s cooperation with individual CIS states and, above all,with Western states, other groupings of states, and internationaleconomic institutions, "since such cooperation presupposesfreedom to trade." Ukraine will join the Central EuropeanInitiative and is holding talks with the European Union, Osykapointed out. Ukraine will not join a CIS customs union unlessit is based on truly equal partnership and advances Ukraine’sown national interests, seconded Ukraine’s Customs Committee chairmanYurii Kravchenko, Interfax-Ukraine reported May 28.

Little Progress Even on Economic Questions. The session did approvea few Russian initiatives of limited scope. One sets up an InterstateCurrency Committee to regulate exchange rates of the member countries’soft currencies and to facilitate the mutual settling of commercialaccounts. The committee will be comprised of senior representativesof the Finance Ministries and National Banks. But this decisioncame only after two years of Russian pressure, and the versionapproved at Minsk gives the new body essentially consultativefunctions, and provides for only two annual meetings. The otheragreement approved at the summit concerned security regulationsfor shipments of "special" (i.e. dangerous) cargoesand military-related transports. This agreement in practice willbe relevant only to the countries which are already members ofthe three-years old collective security system and could potentiallybenefit some other CIS countries, such as Moldova or Ukraine,in their effort to have residual Russian forces and arsenals removedfrom their territories. An as yet undetermined number of interestedcountries signed an agreement to jointly create an automobilefactory in Yelabuga (Tatarstan). More importantly, however, mostdelegations sidestepped Moscow’s initiative to create a CIS InterstateBank.

Political Disagreements. Six countries approved and six othersrejected a Moscow-prepared convention on human rights and freedoms,an accord seen by all concerned as a legal justification for Moscowoversight on the fate of ethnic Russians in the newly independentcountries. Although the agreement lacks an enforcement mechanism,it is significant that the three countries in which the overwhelmingmajority of the Russian diaspora lives–Ukraine, Kazakhstan, andUzbekistan–were among those which rejected the document, fearingits political misuse by Moscow. Seven countries endorsed and fiverejected a proposal to draw up a document supposed to enable theCIS Interparliamentary Assembly to promote the coordination ofnational legislation. Most countries turned down a Kazakh proposalthat would have enabled citizens of a CIS member country residingin another to easily acquire the latter’s citizenship. (Kazakhstan’sleadership hopes in this way to secure the loyalty of the largeRussian diaspora in the country). The proposal appeared designedas a half-way station toward the dual citizenship sought by Moscowbut avoided by even loyalist countries. The opponents successfullyargued at this summit that such matters should only be addressedbilaterally by interested parties. These disagreements in themultilateral CIS context have in fact been exacerbated by Moscow’scontinuing effort to develop distinctive bilateral relationshipswith each of the 11 other member states.

Disagreements on Border Protection. As expected, Moscow scoredits chief success at this meeting when the seven signatory countriesto the 1992 CIS collective security treaty endorsed the draftconcept of common protection of borders between CIS member countriesand with countries outside the CIS, and signed a framework treatyon cooperation in border protection. Proposed by Moscow since1993, these documents provide for creating joint regional commandsand border troop contingents and conducting "joint borderoperations" to protect border sections. The significanceof this development is, however, sharply limited by the fact thatthe non-signatories include Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, andUzbekistan. This situation denies Moscow the ability to controlmost sensitive sectors of the "CIS outer borders" facingtoward the West, where Moscow resists NATO’s enlargement, andtoward Iran and Afghanistan abutting on Tajikistan and the CIS’southern tier. At the Minsk summit, Basarpress reported May 30,Ukraine and Moldova took the position that they do not have "internal"and "external" borders but only national borders, whichthey protect with their own means; while Uzbekistan has itselfa relatively large military establishment. The seven signatoriescountries also adopted documents on working procedures of theCollective Security Council and on the functions of its secretary-general.But they declined to consider proposals on the Council’s collectivefinancing and on the organization of its Secretariat. The Councilthus continues to lack an effective institutional structure andstaff.

Peacekeeping Debated. The countries which had signed the collectivesecurity treaty decided, upon Georgia’s proposal, to prolong untilDecember 31 the mandate of Russian peacekeeping forces in theGeorgian-Abkhazian conflict theater. Georgia’s ostensible initiativereflected Shevardnadze’s relatively recent course toward rapprochementwith Russia–a bilateral process stemming from Russian leverageover Georgia, rather than from any integration process in theCIS. Having under pressure accepted in principle Georgia’s federalization,Shevardnadze pronounced himself satisfied with the Minsk summit’sendorsement of Georgia’s territorial integrity–a propositionwhich may remain purely theoretical if Moscow fails to curb thedemands of its Abkhaz and South Ossetian allies.

The parties to the collective security treaty also prolonged thepresence of CIS "peacekeeping" forces in Tajikistan,and appointed Russian Lt.-General Valentin Bobryshev as commander,replacing Col.-General Valerii Patrikeev (who had served threeyears in that post). They also adopted an as yet unspecified "complexplan for settling the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border."The collective endorsement, however insignificant militarily,came with an unprecedented qualification which diminished itspolitical value to Moscow. The Uzbek and Kazakh presidents, IslamKarimov and Nursultan Nazarbayev, threatened to withdraw theirrespective contingents from the collective force if the Tajikgovernment remains inflexible in the negotiations with the armedopposition. "Although they are small," observed theRussian government newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta on May 30, "thosecontingents make the force deployed in Tajikistan into a multinationalone, enabling Russia to avoid the routine accusations of neo-imperialism."But the Russian paper accused the Central Asian presidents of"engaging in an increasingly active game for influence inthe region" and predicted that they will keep up pressureon Tajikistan’s government to share power with the opposition.

Indeed, in another unprecedented development for a CIS summit,Kyrgyz president Askar Akaev, acting with Nazarbayev’s and Karimov’sprior assent, read an appeal from the armed Tajik opposition tothe CIS summit, outlining its peace proposals which, it said,had been misrepresented by Dushanbe. The opposition called forthe formation of a national conciliation council to draw up anew electoral law and the necessary amendments to the constitution,a politically neutral (as distinct from coalition) governmentto prepare for new elections, the establishment of demilitarized,UN-supervised security zones to enable the refugees from Afghanistanto return, a stay of the execution of its supporters sentencedto death by Dushanbe, and an exchange of prisoners through theRed Cross. Karimov also spoke at the Minsk summit, on Nazarbayev’sbehalf as well as his own, to criticize Tajik president ImammaliRakhmonov for failing to agree to sharing power with the opposition.Nazarbayev, hosting a round of inter-Tajik talks in Almaty despitehis alleged cold, endorsed most of the opposition’s agenda andberated Rakhmonov and his delegation for their inflexibility atthe talks. The Minsk summit, however, adjourned too quickly toseriously address the problem, sparing the Russian delegationanother embarrassment. Moreover, as the Central Asian presidentspromptly told the Tajik opposition’s delegation, Yeltsin appearedpoorly informed about the situation in Tajikistan. (Interfax,May 27 through 31, and Segodnya, May 30, 1995).

The disagreements over border protection and peacekeeping, aswell as over legal-political documents, at the Minsk summit markedthe first major departure of hitherto loyalist Kazakhstan andUzbekistan from Russian positions on issues of central importanceto the CIS and to Moscow itself.

"The Struggle Continues." Acknowledging his personalnostalgia for the former USSR, Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdintold the closing press conference that he was confident the Unionwould be reborn albeit on "normal, civilized, market principles."Chernomyrdin’s optimism appeared inspired by the recent stridesin Belarus-Russian bilateral integration, but bore no relationto trends in the CIS or to the Minsk summit. The Chernomyrdingovernment’s own Rossiiskaya gazeta on May 30 concluded not withoutunderstatement that "there was no choir behind the sound"at Minsk. But the same commentary also predicted that "thestruggle for advancing the development of the CIS…will continue."The next CIS summit is scheduled for November at Sochi, Yeltsin’sfavorite retreat.

Vladimir Socor is a Senior Analyst at the Jamestown Foundation