Commonwealth of Independent States

Commonwealth of Independent States
an alliance of former Soviet republics formed in December 1991, including: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. Abbr.: C.I.S.

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Free association of sovereign states formed in 1991, comprising Russia and 11 other republics that were formerly part of the Soviet Union.

Members are Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova. Its administrative center is in Minsk, Belarus. The Commonwealth's functions are to coordinate its members' policies regarding their economies, foreign relations, defense, immigration policies, environmental protection, and law enforcement.

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▪ 1999

      In its most crisis-ridden year since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia careened from political shakeups to economic meltdown. The nation's severe problems weakened its position in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and in the world at large. On March 23 Russian Pres. Boris Yeltsin fired his entire Cabinet, including Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Chernomyrdin's replacement, Sergey Kiriyenko, was unable to prevent Russia's descent to total financial collapse. On August 17, with state coffers empty, Moscow devalued the ruble and imposed a moratorium on repayment of foreign debts. Within days the country defaulted on billions of dollars in treasury bills and bonds, banks lost liquidity, and millions of Russians lost savings and wages. Kiriyenko was sacked. Russia's drama, against the background of the Asian economic crisis, exacerbated an ongoing flight of Western capital from the less-developed nations. The effect on other CIS economies was widespread.

      Ukraine held parliamentary elections in March. The Communist Party and its allies significantly increased their representation by capturing 40% of the seats in the 450-member parliament. Both the democrats in the centrist Ukrainian Popular Movement and the party of Pres. Leonid Kuchma fared poorly (32 and 17 seats, respectively). The results, coupled with an upcoming presidential election in 1999, left Ukrainian politics in a stalemate.

      Armenian Pres. Levon Ter-Petrosyan resigned in February over disagreements with an international peace plan for Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory within Azerbaijan inhabited mostly by Armenians. Calls by his successor, Robert Kocharyan, to resume peace talks were rejected by Azerbaijan in this long-standing conflict. Nevertheless, except for a violent interlude in Georgia's Abkhazia republic, the Caucasus nations as a whole passed a year of relative calm.

      Among the Central Asian nations, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan joined with Russia in calling for a united front against the militant Islamic Taliban rulers in Afghanistan. The idea foundered, however, because of a lack of interest in other Central Asian nations. The Central Asians did, however, continue to explore common action against such regional problems as drug trafficking. An evolving development at the year's end was moves against his political opposition by Pres. Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakstan, who was running for reelection in 1999.

      Russia's post-August prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov (see BIOGRAPHIES (Primakov, Yevgeny Maksimovich )), late in the year appeared to be setting a lower priority on Moscow's relations with the West. Concurrently, his officials sought to restore Russia's standing in the CIS with promises of Commonwealth-wide reform. Continuing instability in Russia, however, accentuated by President Yeltsin's apparently failing health, caused the assurances to fall on skeptical ears.

      In December Yeltsin and Belarusian Pres. Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed an agreement to begin unification of the two countries' currencies and create a common citizenship.


▪ 1998

      The borders of the Western alliance drew closer to the former Soviet Union in 1997 as Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, all formerly included in the Warsaw Pact, were formally invited to join NATO, with a target date of April 1999. This historic development raised questions about how Russia would protect its geostrategic interests in the CIS and beyond. For 1997, at least, Moscow answered the challenge by trying to put its diplomatic house in order.

      In May, Russian Pres. Boris Yeltsin signed a charter establishing a NATO-Russia council with representation in Brussels. Also concluded was a peace accord with Pres. Aslan Maskhadov of the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya, almost three years after the start of hostilities that left the Caucasian republic in ruins. The accord helped clear the way for the conclusion in July of a crucial agreement on the export of oil from Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea fields through Chechnya to Russia. After five years of stalling, Yeltsin traveled to Kiev in May to sign a far-reaching treaty recognizing Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty over Crimea. With Moscow's agreement to the terms of the lease on the key naval base at Sevastopol, a settlement was also reached on the disposition of the Black Sea Fleet. Upon the conclusion in June of a bilateral treaty with Romania, Ukraine achieved what it had sought since the CIS was formed: recognition of its borders by all neighbouring countries. At the same time, Ukraine rejected a Russian offer of security guarantees. Rather, at the NATO summit in Madrid, it accepted an invitation to form a NATO-Ukraine consultative council similar in intent and purpose to the NATO-Russia council.

      In a case of déjà vu, Russia and its closest ally, Belarus, agreed in April to integrate their states into a "union" open to the participation of other CIS countries. There were no takers, and pan-CIS initiatives were limited by and large to continued peacekeeping in Georgia's secessionist Abkhazia republic. Disquiet was evident in the Russian-Belarusian alliance itself when Moscow protested the mistreatment of Russian journalists in Belarus. The deteriorating civil rights situation in that country raised alarm in Western capitals.

      In Central Asia attention was focused on the radical Taliban's advance into northern Afghanistan and the dual spectre of destabilization and refugees in that region. The Afghanistan situation was partly responsible for prompting the warring sides in Tajikistan's civil conflict—the Russian-backed government and the Afghan-based United Tajik Opposition—to sit down at the peace table in June in order to sign a power-sharing agreement.

      The CIS as a whole achieved positive economic growth (a projected 0.4%) in 1997, although figures varied greatly by country. The highest growth rates (over 4%) were posted in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan; the lowest was posted in Turkmenistan, where gross domestic product declined by 14.5%. Ukraine's performance was stagnant owing to the slow pace of reforms. A survey by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development found that the CIS ranked highest in the world for corruption.


▪ 1997

      There were few dramatic developments in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in 1996 as most member states focused attention on pressing domestic concerns. In January Russia's foreign counterintelligence chief Yevgeny Primakov replaced Andrey Kozyrev, a Western-oriented diplomat, as minister of foreign affairs. Primakov ushered in a certain reorientation of priorities away from the West and toward a fortification of Moscow's relations with, and influence over, the CIS states, under the banner of "reintegrating" the former Soviet republics. This approach reflected Moscow's growing dissatisfaction with the five-year-old Commonwealth structure and its ability to safeguard Russia's strategic interests.

      The Russian State Duma, at Communist Party urging, expressed its disaffection in more extreme form when it passed a resolution in March renouncing the agreements of December 1991 that dissolved the U.S.S.R. and established the CIS. Although Russian Pres. Boris Yeltsin (as well as most CIS member states, the Baltic republics, and Western leaders) decried the resolution, which had no legal force, many non-Communist policy makers voiced support for the Commonwealth's transformation into a close-knit "confederation" centred in Moscow as a means to restore Russia's global authority.

      The much-ballyhooed economic union of the CIS states foreseen in the treaty signed in Moscow on March 29 by the leaders of Russia, Belarus, Kazakstan, and Kyrgyzstan remained largely on paper, but Russia succeeded in bolstering its presence outside its own territory by establishing joint border patrols along much of the southern flank of the former U.S.S.R., from Armenia to China. A CIS peacekeeping force of about 1,500 Russian troops continued its presence in the Abkhazia region of Georgia.

      On April 2 Yeltsin, facing a viable challenge for the presidency from Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov, signed a bilateral confederation agreement with Belarus. Democratic forces in both countries condemned the move, citing Belarus's negative human rights record under the Soviet-style authoritarianism of Pres. Alyaksandr Lukashenka. There were protest demonstrations in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, and other cities. A CIS summit meeting in Moscow in May expressed support for democratic reforms in Russia and for Yeltsin's reelection bid.

      The violent takeover of Afghanistan by the Islamist Taliban faction perplexed the states of the CIS. At their October summit in Almaty, Kazakstan, CIS officials warned of Central Asia's potential destabilization with the Taliban in power across the border, and Russian defense authorities characterized the Afghan situation as second only to NATO expansion as a paramount national security concern. Recurring differences between Russia and Ukraine, one of the more reluctant members of the Commonwealth, over the disposition of the Black Sea Fleet delayed signing of a long-awaited friendship treaty. (KATHLEEN MIHALISKO)

▪ 1996

      In 1995 Russia continued its efforts to integrate member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Its appeals were welcomed by Belarus and often by Kazakhstan but were resolutely rebuffed by Ukraine. At a summit meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in February, little progress was made on creating common external borders to be guarded by CIS troops. Russian Pres. Boris Yeltsin expressed his frustration at the slow pace of CIS integration and criticized those states that signed agreements but were very lax in implementing them. He received support from Kazakh Pres. Nursultan Nazarbayev. At a meeting in Minsk, Belarus, in May, Russia and Ukraine clashed over closer ties. Ukraine headed a group of states (including Moldova, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan) that refused to sign accords on closer political and military integration. Relations improved somewhat in June after Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement on the division of the Black Sea Fleet. Russia and Belarus signed an agreement that removed all customs barriers. There was also agreement on a customs union between Russia and Kazakhstan, and the Central Asian states had expressed interest in a customs union.

      After a meeting of foreign ministers in October to discuss peacekeeping operations, economic cooperation, and joint border security, Russian Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev stated that a whole packet of documents on a collective CIS security system had been adopted. The Georgian minister of defense, Varido Nadibaidze, was of the opinion that a CIS military bloc was "inevitable," but Pres. Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine made it clear that Ukraine opposed a "Europe split into two camps" and would not join a CIS bloc. In November, however, agreements were signed on the creation of a joint CIS air defense system and on the integration of certain nonmilitary activities. The rise in organized crime led Gen. Anatoly Kulikov, Russian minister of internal affairs, at a CIS conference in Yerevan, Armenia, in October to propose a CIS Council of Interior Ministers to coordinate the battle with organized crime.

      Moscow was widely criticized, especially in the Muslim states, for its ongoing war in Chechnya. In Ankara, Turkey, in October, a conference of Muslim clergy from the CIS and the Balkan states ended with the signing of a declaration advocating the formation of a Eurasian Islamic Council.

      After declining in 1992-94, Russia's trade within the CIS began to recover during the first half of 1995; exports rose by 10% and imports by 6%. Russian trade with non-CIS states rose faster, however, so that overall Russian trade with the CIS declined from 25% in 1994 to 23% during the first half of 1995. (MARTIN McCAULEY)

▪ 1995

      Russian influence in the CIS continued to increase during 1994. CIS states owed Russia 3.5 trillion rubles at the end of 1993, 1.5 trillion of which was for products in the fuel and energy complex. During 1994 Russia cut back deliveries of oil and natural gas to CIS states, and this led to periodic confrontations with Ukraine.

      At a summit in Moscow on April 15, Russia gained approval for its role as peacekeeper and guardian of CIS borders. The Central Asian states, as well as Armenia and Georgia, formally agreed that Russian troops should police their borders jointly with local forces. Ukraine and Moldova signed a memorandum that also moved in this direction. All states agreed that Russia should send troops to the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia and urged the UN to support this move. CIS forces, mainly Russian, remained in Tajikistan. Russia was less successful in getting CIS states to contribute to the costs of the peacekeeping forces. Russia won control of about 80% of the Black Sea Fleet from Ukraine. At the April meeting Ukraine became an associate member of the CIS economic union that was formed in September 1993. The planned economic union between Russia and Belarus, welcomed at this summit, did not materialize, however.

      On September 9, 10 of the 12 CIS states agreed to form a payments union and an Interstate Economic Committee to deepen economic links. The union represented an attempt to settle payments between member states, many of whom did not have convertible currencies. Aleksandr Shokhin, the Russian deputy prime minister, described the Interstate Economic Committee as an embryonic European Commission. Its main task was to integrate economies and ensure that the multitude of agreements that had been signed by CIS states were implemented. Russia would control 50% of the votes in the committee, with 80% required for passage. Customs barriers were to be lowered, with the eventual goal of a customs union. Ukraine and Turkmenistan expressed reservations about the commitments, however, regarding them as a diminution of national sovereignty.

      Leonid Kuchma (see BIOGRAPHIES (Kuchma, Leonid Danylovych )), who had replaced Leonid Kravchuk as president of Ukraine in July, turned out to be less pro-Russian than expected, adopted a reformist stance, and did not commit Ukraine to the payments union, since it assumed the free convertibility of national currencies at market rates. With its limited associate membership in the CIS, Ukraine enjoyed limited status on the Interstate Economic Committee and participated only in certain discussions. Another CIS summit in October moved cautiously toward closer integration, and a proposed payments and customs union was initiated. Russia and Moldova agreed that Russian troops would leave Moldova by 1997.


▪ 1994

      (CIS) In the course of the year, if it had not been so earlier, Russia became the dominant force in the Commonwealth of Independent States. The CIS armed forces became the collective name for military contingents from various CIS states, and Russia also promoted a collective security pact. In October Azerbaijan and Georgia requested membership in the CIS. Russia intervened decisively in Tajikistan and Georgia, and Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev asserted Russia's right to a special role in the "near abroad," the former Soviet republics. During the armed rebellion of October 3-4, no CIS state sided with the Russian Parliament against Pres. Boris Yeltsin, and most came out strongly in his support.

      The uprising strengthened the position of the Russian military and its desire to play a more important role in the "near abroad." The last Russian troops left Lithuania in September, but negotiations for withdrawal from Latvia and Estonia were proving difficult. Eduard Shevardnadze's desperate position in Georgia led to an appeal for military assistance in October, and Russia became the arbiter of the Georgian leader's fate. Abkhazia, Adzharia, and South Ossetia became virtual Russian protectorates. Russian army and air force units were stationed in Tajikistan and participated in fighting with rebels. The Azerbaijan Popular Front accused the Russian military of assisting the opposition and paving the way for the return of Geidar Aliev (see BIOGRAPHIES (Aliev, Geidar )) as president. Fighting continued between Azeri and Armenian forces near the Iranian border after the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. The long-running dispute between Russia and Ukraine over the Black Sea Fleet first appeared to have been resolved in September when Ukraine traded the fleet for the cancellation of debts, but the agreement appeared to be unraveling later in the year. (See also Military Affairs .) In December the 12 CIS members, concerned about renewed Russian nationalism, declined Yeltsin's request for special status for Russians living on their territories.

      The September 24 agreement of nine republics to establish an economic union aimed at "gradually building a common economic space on the basis of market relations." The agreement envisaged, for instance, the promotion of joint-owned enterprises (as a way of paying for Russian energy and raw materials) and a multicurrency clearing system administered by an Interstate Bank (which was established in mid-December). The arrangement would lead to a monetary union with currencies floating against the ruble. Because of the size of its economy, Russia controlled about 70% of the votes in the new union. (MARTIN McCAULEY)

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Russian  Sodruzhestvo Nezavisimykh Gosudarstv 

      free association of sovereign states formed in 1991 by Russia and 11 other republics that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had its origins on Dec. 8, 1991, when the elected leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus (Belorussia) signed an agreement forming a new association to replace the crumbling Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.). The three Slavic republics were subsequently joined by the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, by the Transcaucasian republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and by Moldova. (The remaining former Soviet republics— Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia—declined to join the new organization.) The CIS formally came into being on Dec. 21, 1991, and began operations the following month, with the city of Minsk in Belarus designated as its administrative centre. In August 2008, following an escalation of hostilities between Russia and Georgia over the separatist region of South Ossetia, Georgia announced its intention to withdraw from the CIS. The withdrawal was expected to take effect in August 2009.

      The CIS's functions are to coordinate its members' policies regarding their economies, foreign relations, defense, immigration policies, environmental protection, and law enforcement. Its top governmental body is a council composed of the member republics' heads of state (i.e., presidents) and of government (prime ministers), who are assisted by committees of republic cabinet ministers in key areas such as economics and defense. The CIS's members pledged to keep both their armed forces and the former Soviet nuclear weapons stationed on their territories under a single unified command. In practice this proved difficult, however, as did the members' efforts to coordinate the introduction of market-type mechanisms and private ownership into their respective economies.

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Universalium. 2010.

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