CIS finds time for introspection

The Messenger, Georgia
Sept 2 2005

The Kazan CIS summit has concluded, but speculation over the future
of the tenuous alliance continues. The summit showed that despite
negative forecasts, the CIS has not died, though it has become clear
to all that the practice of hiding from problems by postponing measures
to deal with them cannot go on for ever.

More importantly, this type of postponement no longer figures into the
interests of Russia. In the estimation of Russian politicians, Moscow
is fast losing its influence in CIS space and if certain measures
are not taken, the "symbolic union" will become a thing of the past.

Moscow's concern over the current situation in the CIS was aroused
by the recent wave of "velvet revolutions" in the area. While it
was being founded under Yeltsin, the CIS was construed as a way for
Russia to declare its "sphere of influence," where no outside force
would stick its nose - not the United States, the European Union, nor
any regional power. Within the alliance itself, integration processes
were to gradually take shape, on the basis of which a single military,
political and economic bloc and perhaps even a united state would
be created. The revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, the continuance
of revolutionary processes in Central Asia and the anticipation of
similar events in Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan have made it clear
to Moscow that no one recognizes its exclusive influence on the CIS
any more. These velvet developments are seen by many in Moscow not as
"people's revolts," but rather the U.S. achieving its geopolitical
goals in the region by means of "election technologies," at the expense
of curtailing Russia's influence and driving it out of regions where
just a few years ago, its dominance could not be disputed.

Prior to the Kazan summit, the Borjomi Declaration signed by Georgian
and Ukrainian Presidents Mikheil Saakashvili and Viktor Yushchenko on
creating a new alliance of democratically oriented countries in the
Black, Caspian and Baltic Sea basins caused a great amount of uproar.
This group is expected to consist of Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan,
and potentially Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and Romania.

True, Saakashvili and Yushchenko say they are not considering
withdrawal from the CIS and that the alliance envisaged by the
Borjomi Declaration will be of an informal character, but Moscow
is still highly suspicious about the upcoming meeting to discuss
the creation of the Community for Democratic Choice" scheduled this
month in Ukraine. The Russian newspaper Moskovskie Novosti reports
that Russian President Vladimir Putin received an invitation to
participate in the conference, but refused, as that day he has a
scheduled meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan.

The Russian media characterizes Saakashvili's and Yushchenko's
presence at the Kazan summit as that of "strangers," saying that the
remaining presidents "eyed them with suspicion." Likewise regarded
as less than entirely trustworthy were the presidents of Moldova and
Kyrgyzstan. Indeed, many problems showed themselves at the summit
- the adoption of several documents required great effort and the
participants failed to elect a new CIS chair. The acting chair, Putin,
was to have been replaced by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev,
but Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov objected, as the former had
apparently said of him that "he's originally from a village." Putin
retained his chairmanship.

Interestingly, the next summit of CIS presidents will take place in
Belarus. Many wonder just how the "velvet presidents" will be greeted
in Minsk or how they will be received by Belarussian chief Aleksandr
Lukashenko, who has been labeled "the last dictator in Europe." But
speculation now is useless, as much time remains before the Minsk
summit and the wave of revolutions has yet to subside.

Moscow, meanwhile, is busy thinking about implementing fundamental
reforms in the CIS. Russians consider that the best way to encourage
these countries to remain loyal to Moscow is to make cooperation
with that country more attractive. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
mentioned that Russia must become more competitive and speed up its
development. But time is necessary in order to achieve this. The
best illustration of the attractiveness of cooperation with Russia
is the low energy prices offered to CIS states. "Whoever is not in
the CIS will not be able to take advantage of the economic benefits"
- such is the essence of Russia's policy. Being in the CIS, in turn,
will imply active participation in its reformation. It is time for
Georgia to pick a course and stay with it, for ultimately, integration
into NATO and European structures, together with remaining the CIS
will not prove possible.