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Perspectives of CIS development

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Igor Botan / October 14, 2002
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The great majority of domestic observers view as very modest not to say null the impact of the Community of Independent States (CIS) Summit hosted in Chisinau on October 6–7. On the other hand, as Summit organizers Moldovan authorities see as positive the impact of the event and are overoptimistic about its future. Furthermore, official press undertook considerable efforts to highlight the “innovatory” and even “savable” proposals made by the President of the Republic of Moldova, Vladimir Voronin, which are to have a crucial impact on the CIS future.

Pessimistic forecasts voiced by domestic observers are inspired by the statistics of previous Summits, indicating periodically either the end of the Commonwealth or its revival. And there are enough grounds for this. Firstly, never there was a clear-cut concept on how CIS should look like, namely ideology, structure, institutions and activities. After the URSS Slavic founding countries (Russia, Ukraine and Belarus) decided in 1991 to dissolve the union they launched another idea, namely to establish the Commonwealth of Independent States, which was to replace the URSS. The aim of the union was to diminish the shock soviet citizens would have upon the collapse of the “socialist motherland” and to preserve the economic ties between the former Soviet Republics, excessively centralized during soviet times. According to the memoirs of the former soviet high rank officials CIS was seen by the Russian leadership, which had the decisive contribution to the collapse of the soviet empire, as an intermediary short-term stage in the process of restoring the common state. An illustration of this is the statement made in 1993 by the most liberal Foreign Affairs Minister of Russia, Andrei Kozirev, reading that CIS would be a region under Russia’s exclusive sphere of interest. The economic and political problems Russia created, rather intentionally, to the former Republics in order to keep them under the same sphere of interest is one of the methods employed to achieve the said strategy.

It’s easy to understand then why Russia opposed the establishment of a “free economic zone” within CIS, and preferred to keep the former Soviet Republics in a economic and infrastructure dependence to the former metropolis. An illustration of this is the monetary reform, secret and rapid introduction of a new Russian Ruble on January 1, 1992 only several weeks after the official establishment of CIS at Alma-Ata. The move greatly hit the financial systems of the CIS member states and was probably intended to prove that the newly independent states wouldn’t survive on their own and that restoration of a single state was binding.

This is in short the background of CIS. If Moldovan political elite believes that a viable and promising structure could be based on such a foundation, one may only wonder what are its perspectives. Distortion of the events leading to the establishment of CIS won’t mask its real origin. For example the argument brought up by Moldovan authorities that the introduction of the national currency led to the devaluation of citizens’ deposits and that they intend to repay them within 15 years is a mere propaganda. It’s known for a fact that the introduction of the national currency was the last-ditch to save the financial system of the Republic of Moldova hit by the Russian monetary reform. This was proven once again in 1998 when the Russian financial crisis seriously damaged, but didn’t ruin Republic of Moldova’s economy.

The examples cited above explain why the 1,300 documents adopted during the more than 60 Summits haven’t been enforced so far. CIS officials do not believe that the Commonwealth is viable. Another argument in this respect, is the fact that none of the existing conflicts was settled, rather a moratorium was set on them so as to allow space for maneuvers to “the main strategic partner” in achieving the objectives highlighted in the aforesaid memories of the soviet moguls. Consequently, one may say CIS member states are kept together rather by the inner conflicts then by the vision of a common future. The recent conflict between Russia and Georgia indicates that the former views the rest of member states as mere hostages. The decision of the Georgian Parliament to leave CIS was annihilated by a simple mention of the fact that 70% of breakaway regions Abhazia and South Osetia are citizens of Russia. Republic of Moldova found itself in a similar situation. Leaving CIS might intensify the conflicts within the member states and eventually lead to the dissolution of those states. That is why pro-CIS statements aren’t inspired by a vision of a common future, but rather by the need to prevent a worse situation become a catastrophe. In this respect solutions are being sought and initiatives of gradual or multi-dimensional integration based on bilateral relations have been launched. New unions occurred within CIS having different or even opposite interests, namely Russia — Belarus Union, GUUAM, Central Asian Community, Customs Union, and Euro-Asian Community. Indeed, after Alma-Ata Summit Russian leadership called member states to define their interests in CIS so that the Commonwealth could be restructured accordingly. However, the disputes between Russia and Belarus, continuous commercial conflicts between Russia and Ukraine, tensed relations between Russia and Georgia prove that the pragmatism within CIS has only generated new conflicts. Coupled with the periodic conflicts between Moldova and Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and would-be conflicts between Caspian countries, one may conclude that the Community has very meager chances to survive.

It’s an illusion to believe that the “innovatory ideas” launched by the President of the Republic of Moldova would save the CIS. After all, CIS is deemed to have one single purpose, namely to remain Russia’s sphere of interest. But this cannot last forever and there is some evidence to this. On the one hand, Central Asia countries having no joint borders with Russia and managed to avoid breakaway conflicts are now becoming increasingly independent. Thus, Turkmenia continues to ignore CIS Summits. Uzbekistan and Kyrgyztan allowed US military to station on their soil. Interestingly enough, on the eve of Chisinau Summit Uzbekistan Prezident Islam Karimov stated that he would allow US Forces to be stationed in the country for an unlimited period of time.

On the other hand, NATO and EU extension, besides bringing welfare to the associated countries, also opens new opportunities for the citizens of neighboring CIS countries. That is why orientation towards EU would be very difficult to annihilate in the neighborhood CIS countries. EU has already launched the idea to establish a special neighborhood status for the following countries: Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova. However, it seems this is only an intermediary measure. The said countries themselves come to the understanding that EU enlargement would bring new opportunities, but also new challenges. In this respect Belarus President indicated a possible orientation of his country towards the West should the Russian President insist on the unification of the countries under federalist principles. Ukrainian authorities also indicated their interest in European integration. It seems that the figures of Lukashenko and Cucima compromised in the eyes of the international community are one of the most important obstacles in promotion of a serious pro-UE policy. Consequently, in order to stay in power the two have to mock a pro-CIS option.

Obviously a community run by compromised leaders do not inspire much credibility. Even Moldovan leadership understands this fact. On the eve of the Summit Moldovan President insisted on establishing a special commission responsible for EU integration, idea launched long-time ago by the center-right political parties. It is very unlikely the President would have insisted on such a structure if he had been confident CIS might become a viable political and economic unit. Indeed, claims made by some politicians that Russia might become attractive from political and military point of view are rather illusory. Let’s just say that Russian economy represents 3% of the American one and equals Portuguese one, whereas military expenses equal those of Switzerland. Let aside serious demographic problems, it is a huge challenge for Russia to catch up the strongest world economies such as US, EU or China, even if it scores economic breakthrough. Given Russia’s declared intentions of European integration, its claims to become a separate center of attraction would place it at the EU outskirts. Consequently, Russia’s satellites would be deemed to be at the outskirts of the outskirts, even if some of them would lie between EU and Russia. Furthermore, Baltic States showed that breaking the ties with the metropolis might be benefic. And there are the Asian Republics examples tending to have a higher degree of independence.

Given the above said, one may salute the initiative of President Voronin to reform CIS based on the legal framework adjusted to the EU one. This is the least CIS countries could get — a legal framework adjusted to the EU — after compromised leaders and those bearing old ideologies leave. This would aid CIS countries to readjust their strategic orientation based on an economic assessment and examples set by the neighborhood countries. If CIS countries take Voronin’s recommendations seriously, then one may say Chisinau Summit was indeed of crucial importance. It remains to be seen how those initiatives will be enforced and whether the 23% personnel cut would contribute to it. However, Voronin’s initiative bears some risks as well. The fact is that EU laws are based on liberal and not on communist doctrine. Consequently, if implemented the initiative may ruin the Communist party run by the President Voronin, if not it may ruin CIS. Let’s see then who survives the Communist party or CIS?

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