Staunton, July 26 – In April 2018, then-President Petro Poroshenko announced that Ukraine would leave the Commonwealth of Independent States, a process that formally requires notification and then a year’s wait. But in fact, Ukraine’s edging away from the CIS began earlier and continues to this day.
Last week, the current president of Ukraine, Vladimir Zelensky signed a decree ending Kyiv’s participation in two CIS humanitarian cooperation efforts (24tv.ua/ru/kabmin-odobril-vyhod-ukrainy-iz-eshhe-dvuh-soglashenij-sng_n1382438), a useful occasion for surveying how Ukraine has treated its ties with the Russian-led grouping earlier and how it is exiting them now.
In a critical commentary, Russian observer Fyodor Koloskov says that most people think Ukraine began to leave the grouping of post-Soviet states only after 2014, but that is not in fact the case (ritmeurasia.org/news--2020-07-26--get-vid-snd-.-ukraina-rvet-poslednie-svjazi-s-sng-50135).
Although it was nominally one of the creators of the CIS, the Ukraine maintained a cautious approach to it from the beginning, as it was the only member state which signed the constituent documents but never ratified them. As a result, Kyiv participated when it suited it and didn’t when it didn’t from the very beginning.
Thus, while nominally a member of the CIS and a signatory to many of its more than 1,000 agreements, Ukraine felt completely free to develop GUAM as “an anti-CIS” on the territory of the former Soviet space and seek agreements with the European Union that directly contradicted relations among CIS members.
That conflict led to the Maidan in 2013-2014 and to the turmoil which resulted in Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its involvement in the Donbass. After those events, Kyiv suspended its cooperation with the CIS although did not formally indicate it would withdraw until four years later and even now hasn’t denounced all agreements.
Instead, it has pursued a cafeteria approach, getting rid of or ignoring what it doesn’t like but still making use of what it finds convenient, Kolosov says. In part, that is because Ukrainian diplomats have been able to convince the Ukrainian leadership and parliament that Kyiv benefits from some cooperation even if it suspends other parts of it.
But there is no doubt, the Russian analyst says, that this slow motion divorce will continue, although he does not acknowledge what that means for Moscow. A CIS without Ukraine is not what Moscow has hoped for as it recalls Zbigniew Brzezinski’s classic formulation that Russia without Ukraine is not an empire and thus may have a chance to become a country.