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ЕС-Россия » Публикации » Еженедельная колонка » CIS: Is it Almost Dead?

Георгий Бовт

CIS: Is it Almost Dead?

15 Окт 2009 — Георгий Бовт, Независимый журналист
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Some observers have already labelled the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) summit in Chisinau, Moldova, as the funeral of the Commonwealth. Not only because there three acting presidents of the CIS-member states were absent, (the first time since the collapse of the USSR, when the CIS was established); but also because the organisation has proved itself incapable of setting out and following any common agenda, as well using any kind of effective mechanism of multilateral cooperation, never mind any thoughts of integration.

The most striking feature of the meeting in Chisinau was the absence of the Presidents of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. The only guest from the Central Asian region of the former Soviet Union was president of Kyrgyzstan. Kurmanbeck Bakyev’s motive for being there was quite clear: Russia had promised him a loan of $1.7 billion to finance the construction of several hydroelectric power stations in the republic. However, the process was put on hold after it became evident to Moscow that Bakyev was cheating Russia with a promise to close the American air force in his country.

The most annoying surprise for Russia was the absence of Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbaev, perhaps the biggest supporter of the CIS, after Russia.

There was no public or official explanation offered for his absence. Some analysts thought that Nazarbaev had, in turn, probably been annoyed by Russia’s sudden move earlier this year, announced by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, to seek “collective entry to the WTO”, meaning Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan would enter as a “combined” customs union. But Nazarbaev definitely does not belong to the group of politicians who like others to make decisions for them.

As for Turkmenistan, this country is unhappy with the state of its dealings on natural-gas with Moscow and is waiting for a key gas pipeline that exploded in early April to reopened – for which it blames Russia’s Gazprom. Gazprom is in no rush to resume consumption of Turkmen gas (which it then resells to Ukraine) because it appears unprofitable amid falling world gas prices and reduced consumption of gas in Ukraine.

Turkmenistan used to supply between 40 to 50 billion cubic metres of gas to Russia annually.
Last year, when world gas prices were high, Gazprom promised to pay the Central Asians “European prices.” European prices for gas when contracts were signed exceeded $300 per 1,000 cubic metres. Now the price is somewhere around $200 and falling, prompting Gazprom to advise the Central Asians to lower their selling prices. So, Gazprom is treating Turkmenistan in the same way that Ukraine behaves in dealing with Russia. Turkmenistan objected to that treatment. Then, the pipeline exploded, Turkmen gas exports to Russia came to a complete halt. The issue is yet to be resolved.

Tajikistan wants Russia to pay rent on military bases which Kremlin forces have used since the last days of World War II and recent incidents involving some of those Russian troops have angered Tajik communities. Representing the best-trained and best-equipped fighting force in Central Asia, the Russian 201st Division has had a presence in Tajikistan for decades. It provided great comfort to the Tajik government during the 1992-97 Tajik civil war and when the Taliban started operating just across the Tajik border. But seeing NATO and U.S. forces paying high rents for bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan needed for the Afghan military operation, and Russia paying rent for its military base in Kant, in Kyrgyzstan, Dushanbe is now setting terms for the 201st Division’s continued use of its base, including the payment of rent.

The rent demand comes at an especially sensitive time for the Russian troops. In September, two of the division’s soldiers killed a taxi driver and dumped his body in a Tajik river. Just days later, a truck from the 201st Division collided with a minibus. Five people were killed in the crash, including three civilians, but Russian soldiers are not subject to Tajik law and thus cannot be prosecuted.

Much has been made of Tajikistan’s approval last week of a law that dropped Russian as an official language in the country, while designating Tajik as the sole “language for interethnic communication.” The new law, which states that all official papers and education in the country should be conducted only in the Tajik language, prompted Moscow to warn that the law could negatively affect minorities living in Tajikistan. Moscow is very sensitive about any pressure against Russian-speaking minorities in the post-Soviet space.

Russia probably has its biggest problem in Central Asia with Uzbekistan. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has long been known for resisting the encroachment of any Russian influence as well as his efforts to bolster his own country’s regional influence (historically, the Uzbeks had been the dominating nation in the region for centuries). Recently, Uzbekistan abruptly reduced its participation in the Russian-led CIS Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). Uzbekistan is also scaling back participation in another multilateral organisation influenced by Moscow — the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Tashkent announced it was going to sit out on the upcoming SCO military exercises. In late August, Uzbekistan’s parliament passed legislation imposing an excise tax of 25 per cent on the cost of natural gas for “nonresident” participants in production-sharing agreements (PSA). This measure was targeted at Russia LUKoil, which has a number of energy projects in the republic.

Russia has also received some unpleasant reactions from the Slavic Presidents. For instance, Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus has been playing the “Western card” against Moscow increasingly openly. He has not hidden his annoyance at Russia’s refusal to provide a loan to Minsk, openly blaming Russian finance minister, Alexey Kudrin, as well as the earlier personal criticism of Putin for the deterioration of bilateral relations. He felt uneasy with the CIS and openly shared his concerns in Chisinau. He stated that, “the agenda {of the summit} was being formulated with difficulty”. Speaking about the combined CIS efforts to fight the economic crisis, he also sounded quite sceptical: “A year ago an order was made to prepare a relevant plan, a year has passed, and nothing has been done…. The crisis is over, and they are still talking about how to boost, increase, lower”.

But even these rather tense Russian-Belarus relations could be seen as almost friendly when compared to those between Russia and Ukraine today. Despite the pressing requests made by the Ukrainian president to hold bilateral meeting with Dmitry Medvedev to resolve at least some of the problems between the countries, the requests were declined by Moscow. Medvedev and Yuschenko only calmly greeted each other when the final collective photo of the participants of the two-hour summit was taken.

No one can predict how many more years the CIS will last. Buy it is quite clear that the CIS has failed completely in creating any kind of cooperative model that even partly resembles that of the European Union. This is probably mostly Russia’s fault. Russia itself has failed to create an attractive model of national progressive development, which could make the country a natural leader for all the other post-Soviet states. Including even Georgia, which left the Commonwealth after the war with Russia last August.

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