Crimean Summit Ushers in CIS Integration

The CIS summit which ended in the Crimea (Ukraine) late last week (the Commonwealth of Independent States unites 12 former Soviet republics - Ed.) could be called a routine event but for two circumstances. First of all, the Yalta summit involved Azeri Prime Minister Ilkham Aliyev, the son of ailing President Geidar Aliyev. The people of Azerbaijan are to elect their next president less than a month from now. Moreover, Aliyev Jr. is also running for president. Consequently, his appearance in Yalta was quite meaningful. The young Azeri Prime Minister was received rather warmly by other CIS leaders, including President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation. This can therefore be perceived as their covert support or even as a veritable blessing.

Second, the Yalta summit stands out among all other ineffective and inexpressive CIS summits of the last few years because the Presidents of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan have signed an agreement on establishing a common economic infrastructure. This agreement states expressly that the common economic infrastructure shall be formed stage by stage, with due account taken of specific multi-tier and multi-speed integration opportunities. In other words, the document explains that each party concerned shall independently choose the relevant integration options and the extent of its participation.

A reservation to the effect that countries, parties to this document, shall approve all agreements and decisions in line with national legislation was added to the agreement virtually at the last moment. Looks like this decision can be explained by Ukraine's special position. The thing is that President Leonid Kuchma is being subjected to extremely strong pressure by Ukrainian national-democrats, who believe that the Yalta agreement betrays Ukraine's national interests, that it runs counter to the Euro-Atlantic integration line, and that it might even cause Ukraine to lose its independence. Kuchma insisted on the afore-said reservation for the sake of calming down the opposition. However, this reservation makes the agreement somewhat vague and unclear because the primacy of national legislation tends to belittle the role of supra-national bodies.

Ukrainian legislation expressly forbids the delegation of any national powers whatsoever to supra-national bodies.

Consequently, Ukraine would be able to boycott certain decisions being adopted by such bodies and being perceived as mandatory by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

No matter what Ukrainian national-democrats and other opponents of this integration concept from other countries may say, the establishment of the common economic infrastructure matches the interests of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan to an equal extent. Most citizens of these four countries understand this quite well. Opinion polls show that 70 percent of all Ukrainians support these plans making it possible to ensure the free movement of goods, services and workforce. Meanwhile the Ukrainian public did oppose Kuchma's plans for signing the Yalta document rather actively. The economic integration of countries, which were part and parcel of the integral Soviet economic system not so long ago, is both natural and logical. There's no doubting the fact that the reinstatement of economic ties, which were wrecked by the USSR's demise, would only benefit each of the four independent states. It goes without saying that the former Soviet Union won't be restored in any form, as the West fears. We can't revert to the Soviet period only because an ideological foundation for such a merger is lacking; nor will this ideological foundation appear in the future, as well.

Consequently, one can only talk about economic, rather than political integration. By the way, Europe has been implementing this scenario for quite a while now. The European Union replete with its own common economic infrastructure and a common currency is both possible and expedient. Therefore one has no reason for doubting the expediency of a Eurasian-style common economic infrastructure, either.

Surely enough, the Yalta agreement resembles a declaration of intent, constituting only the first step along the difficult road of setting up the above-mentioned common economic infrastructure. Vladimir Putin cautiously referred to this agreement as a framework document, nonetheless stressing that it was a very good base for jointly tackling specific problems.

Putin, who would like to expedite intra-CIS integration processes, won't object to other CIS countries' joining the Big Four in the near future. Meanwhile President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, who voices a somewhat different position, apparently doesn't want to talk about a possible Big Five or some other even larger association at this stage. At any rate, this organization is bound to expand, sooner or later. The list of prospective candidates includes Armenia, Tajikistan and Kirghizia, which don't even conceal their positive attitude toward the Big Four project. True, Armenia lacks any common borders with these four countries; naturally enough, this factor can seriously hamper its desire to join the common economic infrastructure. As far as Tajikistan is concerned, its economic and other problems seem to rule out its subsequent membership because the Big Four would perceive this Central Asian country as little more than a liability. Meanwhile the rather stable Kirghizia has every chance of joining the new regional organization. President Askar Akayev of Kirghizia is unequivocally making it clear that he is ready to join the Yalta agreement. The Big Four can thus turn into the Big Five.

They used to pay lip service alone to CIS integration for a long time; nor were any specific projects implemented within its framework. Still one gets the impression that the CIS-integration concept has, at long last, taken off the ground. The current situation is prompting CIS leaders that they can delay no longer.

Long-term national interests and the solution of large-scale economic problems require joint efforts on the part of post-Soviet countries. Moscow, Kiev, Minsk and Astana have already comprehended this factor. Meanwhile other CIS capitals are also coming to comprehend this reality.

Vyacheslav NIKONOV, D. Sc. (History), president of the Politika Foundation

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