Staunton, April 11 – Every 18 months to two years, Russian media outlets fill up with commentaries suggesting that the Commonwealth of Independent States is about to disappear from the map of Eurasia, but these suggestions reflect less the interest of some countries to leave than a desire of the CIS bureaucracy to strengthen the institution, Vladimir Zharikhin says.
In a comment on “Izvestiya,” the deputy director of the Institute for CIS Countries argues, “it is [too] early to bury the CIS” even though the statements of some leaders in the region are being read by some as an indication that the post-Soviet organization will soon disappear (izvestia.ru/news/609313).
The CIS, he recalls, was established at the end of 1991, “practically at the same time as the signing of the Beloveshchaya accords.” All the post-Soviet states, except the three Baltic republics and Georgia, became members. Georgia joined in 1993 but then left in 2009. Many current members have talked about leaving at one point or another.
Zharikhin argues that “in the first year of the existence of the CIS,” the organization was clearly intended by its founding fathers to “soften” the consequences of what he calls “the tragedy of the disintegration of the USSR” and to lay the foundations for “a single confederal state.”
“Many have already forgotten that initially, the ruble was retained as a single currency, there was a single military command, and even joint command of strategic nuclear forces,” the CIS expert continues. But centrifugal forces proved stronger than most expected and few of these things lasted.
Indeed, he points out, “the majority of integration projects quickly came to nothing.” Only a visa-free zone remained, “and of the hundreds of economic agreements concluded, fewer than ten percent continue to function to this day.” Instead, smaller groupings of countries formed and reached tighter agreements than was possible across the entire CIS.
That experience has led many to assume that the CIS will ultimately disappear, but, Zharikhin says, the importance of groupings like the Atlantic Community shows that umbrella groupings can retain their importance even when smaller groups of states form within them.
In the case of the CIS, he suggests, high oil prices acted as a break on this reintegration. But now that oil prices have fallen, many are considering how they can reform the CIS to take advantage of its potential.