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  20 years of CIS. What’s next? (1)

Vaiva Sapetkaitë, Institute of International Relations and Political Science Vilnius University
2012 03 26

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), established in 1991 after the collapse of the USSR, celebrated its 20th anniversary (8 December 2011). The initial aim of the organization was to mitigate the consequences of the collapse of USSR, and promote cooperation among former USSR republics. Unfortunately the CIS didn’t manage to become an effective commonwealth of the brotherly states.

What could be expected from the organization stricken by stagnation and disagreements (only few agreements signed by member states have been accomplished)? Yet, the CIS proceeds to exist and function/simulate work.

A scandalous Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky once said: “CIS gets everything from us, yet we get nothing from anyone”. He has the reason to say that: the Russian economy account for 80 percent of the CIS’s combined DGP.

Disagreements between the CIS states (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus,Kazakhstan, Kirgizia, Moldova,Russia, Tadzhikistan, Turkmenistan (an associated member) Uzbekistan,Ukraine, and Georgia (until 2008) are likely to continue. Cooperation in the field of project implementation often gets stuck, is delayed or projects simply remain unrealized. Some states are reluctant to take part in the CIS initiatives; the institutional cooperation is weak and ineffective, whereas the CIS is defined neither as a state nor as a supra-national organization. Moreover, some states are inclined to pursue other geopolitical trends, e.g. integration to Western structures. The best example is Ukrainewhich is still wandering between the East and the West.

Another factor complicating the situation is the lack of clarity surrounding the role of Russia in the CIS: quite often Russia considers the matters with member states not within the CIS framework but on the basis of bilateral agreements.

Russia can realize its interests more effectively via other, more effective organizations, e.g. the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Eurasian Economic Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Customs Union between Russia, Belarusand Kazakhstan.

In October 2011, Russia, Ukraine,Belarus, Armenia, Kirgizia,Moldova and Tadzhikistansigned the Free Trade Zone Treaty. Negotiations on ratification of the Treaty lasted for almost a decade, though actually it was signed in 1994. According to the sources in Russian Government, this Treaty “will be more systematic, it’ll replace a number of bilateral agreements and will be adjusted to the contemporary realia related to the process of CIS membership in the WTO and to the establishment of the Customs Union”.

It seems that CIS is more optimistic about its activity and future than the remaining world. According to the document “Results of the Activity of the CIS over the Past Twenty Years and Perspective Tasks”, the CIS played a very important role in considering both the global and regional political and economic issues. With regard to the CIS’s perspectives it is highlighted that key objectives of the CIS is enhancement of regional integration and cooperation, including: development of free trade regime under the WTO rules, better settlement of trading and accounting mechanisms between the member states, establishment of the common electricity market, improvement of communication among the CIS member states, the focus on environmental issues, establishment of the single information space etc.

Thus, CIS future guidelines are under development. Prior to publishing the above document, in October 2007, the CIS summit in Dushanbe approved the draft concept of further development of the CIS and the Action Plan for its implementation; in 2008 the leaders of CIS member countries approved the organization’s Economic Development Strategy for the period until 2010 during the session in Chisinau; in 2009 the focus was given to the optimization of institutional work and procedural changes within the CIS.

Thus, future plans are quite ambitious, however, there is lack of solidarity and political will. Though efforts are taken to optimize the activity of the CIS structures, the question arises: is it worth doing? The organization receives little support among the member states and plays a very minor role on the international stage.

Yet, it wouldn’t be right to speak about the collapse of the CIS. The Commonwealth was functioning and will continue to function for years to come. Therefore, the CIS leaders must have their Meeting Club.

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