MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kolesnikov)

The text of the agreement singed in Belovezhskaya Pushcha in Belarus 15 years ago, on December 8, 1991, by the leaders of three Slavic republics of the Soviet Union – Russia, Belarus and Ukraine – was written by Yegor Gaidar, whose alleged poisoning in Dublin made international news this week.
The legal aspects of the agreement were coordinated by Sergei Shakhrai, who later co-authored Russia’s 1993 Constitution. He argued that Russia, Belarus and Ukraine (disregarding the Transcaucasian Federation) set up the Soviet Union in 1922, and therefore they had the legal right to dissolve it.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the first and last president of the USSR, has denounced the agreement as a betrayal and violation of the law and the so-called Novo-Ogaryovo process, which had started months before to reform the Soviet Union into a looser and more flexible structure.
He is both right and wrong.
He is right if we assume that the Soviet legislation remained effective at that time, which it was not for the Union republics that had announced their independence.
He is right if we assume that the Soviet Union could have been saved by sheer willpower, because the majority of leaders of Union republics welcomed the dissolution agreement. In fact, the country died several months before, when the anti-Gorbachev coup failed in August 1991.
At that time, Gorbachev intended to convene an extraordinary, 29th congress of the Soviet Communist Party, and his advisors planned to split the party into a democratic and an orthodox parties. It was a belated response to events that were taking place irrespective of the will of the party and government. The party, which was equated to the state, no longer controlled the country, which means that the country was dead, because it could not survive without the party.
On August 24, 1991, Gorbachev made a pragmatic decision to leave the post of general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party because he felt that the party as “the controlling and guiding force” of society, as a structure that influenced history, was dead. Gorbachev remained the USSR president only formally, because in the Soviet political system the posts of general secretary and president were indivisible, just like the party and the state.
The empire was in its death throes in the autumn of 1991, and nobody could stop that process which had begun in April 1985, when Gorbachev announced perestroika. The agreement singed in the Belarusian preserve only confirmed the truth that every member of the Soviet elite and public knew: the Soviet Union was dead.
Its dissolution was a geopolitical reality, and it was logical (although contrary to political etiquette) that U.S. President George Bush Sr. was the first foreign leader the three conspirators phoned after talking to Kazakhstan’s leader Nursultan Nazarbayev. It was only after speaking with Bush that Belarusian leader Stanislav Shushkevich and Russian leader Boris Yeltsin took the news to Gorbachev.
The agreement on the USSR’s demise heralded Russia’s independence and the birth of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which still lives.
It is interesting that the constitutive documents of the CIS, which has changed dramatically since 2001, let alone in the last 15 years, and in which Russia no longer plays the leading geopolitical role, have not been revised. Despite changes in the world and in the former Soviet states since 1991, the CIS has proved to be a surprisingly stable structure.
The signing of the agreement in Belarus can be described as “a major geopolitical disaster”, or as the only possible, justified and pragmatic decision. It was a sensible decision economically, because the agreement gave Russia a chance to implement liberal reforms that saved it from hunger and riots, and later became know as Gaidar reforms.
There is no conjunctive mood in history, and therefore it is no use asking “What if?” questions about the agreement signed in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The Soviet Union and communism “with the human face” (to quote Mikhail Gorbachev) could not have been resuscitated. They died, giving way to an era of resounding change. –0-