|CIS: HARD TO DRAG ON, PITY TO DROP
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kolesnikov)
CIS summit participants did not admit Kremlin pool journalists to the
forum, a blunder the jubilee gathering of the Commonwealth of Independent
States will be possibly remembered by.
In fact, there was nothing more memorable about the event. The agenda
reflected the uncertain state the CIS is presently in. The summiteers did
not make any notable decisions, merely acknowledging its numerous
problems. The key issue – Commonwealth reforms – was put off until the
nearest summit, due next summer.
The way it now is, the CIS is not unlike a suitcase without handles: hard
to drag along, and pity to drop. A ghost of the Soviet Union, it is
rapidly losing its practical functions. It, however, retains a symbolism
that keeps post-Soviet leaders from saying out loud that the Commonwealth
has, in fact, fallen apart. Meanwhile, nothing but toasts they say in
Russian during formal banquets and informal meals brings them together —
the time of agreements and far-reaching joint resolutions is past.
The CIS was initially regarded as a civilized divorce of Soviet republics.
They have long separated, and now engage in global, regional and
sub-regional developments with a greater or lesser degree of independence.
Post-Soviet countries’ interest in preserving contacts the way they were
14-15 years ago is naturally shrinking. They no longer feel they are
fragments of a collapsed empire. They gain more with bilateral links and
new alliances than with the CIS. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev,
current CIS Chairman, de facto ascertained the point as he referred to
Commonwealth free trade zones as distant future.
WTO membership further hinders mutual contacts — some CIS countries have
joined the World Trade Organization, others are on its threshold, still
others about to apply — to make trade patterns within the CIS mutually
Russia was interested in the Commonwealth more than any other country as
the CIS was emerging in the early 1990s. In fact, it was from the start
the Russian way to preserve geopolitical supremacy in the post-Soviet
area. Now, both objective and subjective reasons for such supremacy are
receding into the past. Some of the post-Soviet countries are racing for
leadership in their own sub-regions. Others justly regard links with East
and West bypassing Russia as a must for economic survival, and focus their
policies on such links. The other CIS countries are no longer oriented
towards Russia alone, with varying geopolitical vectors.
Gas extraction and transits present a special problem. Ukraine and Belarus
are transit countries for Russian exports. To other states, Russia is
itself a transit country. National interests are too complicated, with
varied points of attraction, to tolerate Russia or any other country
taking a dominant position. None is any longer able to impose its will on
others, with the economic and geopolitical situation changed beyond
recognition. That is why the Commonwealth is running idle with its
Russian opinions on the CIS vary widely. The Public Opinion Foundation
conducted a poll last year with a question: is the Commonwealth bearing
good or bad fruit? 30% of respondents were at a loss, while 37% said the
CIS was playing a positive role, and 11% negative — which means that the
public is neutral toward the CIS, and not sure what to expect of it.
The same poll asked about CIS country leaders the respondents liked most.
Nursultan Nazarbayev led with 27% approving. Alexander Lukashenko,
President of Belarus, was slightly behind with 25%. Both largely owed
their beneficial public image to television news. 35% against Ukrainian
President Viktor Yushchenko, and 24% against Georgia’s Mikhail
Saakashvili proved the point. So, if the media now become more skeptical
in the coverage of Lukashenko, due to Russia’s gas controversy with
Belarus, his public approval rating in Russia will certainly slump.
Be all that as it may, the CIS still carries a symbolical message and so
retains a potential, however short-lived — but then, as the generations
brought up in the Soviet Union leave the political scene, there will be no
one to carry the suitcase without handles in 15 years.