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Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)

A series of events from 1989 to 1991 led to the final collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), paving the way for the establishment of new, independent republics in the Baltics and Central Asia and the creation of the Russian Federation. Formally established in 1922, at its height the USSR was composed of fifteen republics, the largest of which was Russia. In 1987, seventy years after the 1917 revolution that established a communist state in Russia, the Soviet Union was in decline.

Finally, in the summer of 1991, Gorabchev reached an agreement with a number of the republics in which they would become sovereign, but remain loosely federated. Before the final agreement was signed, however, a group of Soviet loyalists attempted a coup to preserve the splintering Soviet Union. After the military failed to fall into line, however, the coup fell apart. In the wake of the coup attempt, Gorbachev faced blame for allowing the hardliners behind it to reach their relatively high positions of power. He stepped aside, and Yeltsin led Russia into the new, post-Soviet era.

In the wake of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the now independent states of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Belarus came together to create the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). With the exception of Georgia and the Baltic States, the former Soviet Republics joined the CIS by the end of the year. The other Newly Independent States of Georgia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania all also established their independence in 1991.

On 08 December 1991, Yeltsin and the leaders of Belarus (which adopted that name in August 1991) and Ukraine met at Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where they created the Commonwealth of Independent States and annulled the 1922 union treaty that had established the Soviet Union. Another signing ceremony was held in Alma-Ata on December 21 to expand the CIS to include the five republics of Central Asia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Georgia did not join until 1993; the three Baltic republics never joined. On December 25, 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

Many Russians use the term "near abroad" (blizhneye zarubezhiye ) to refer to the fourteen other former Soviet republics that had declared their independence by the time the Soviet Union broke up at the end of 1991. Leaders and elites in those republics objected that the term implied limitations on the sovereignty or status of the new states. Since independence, Russian policy makers have tried both to restore old bilateral connections and to create new relationships wherever possible. Throughout the first half of the 1990s, inconsistency and reverses characterized these diplomatic efforts because no firm principles underlay them. However, Russia maintained strong influence with all but the Baltic states, so the nationalists' hope of reclaiming part of the lost empire stayed alive.

In the mid-1990s, an increasingly prominent component of Russian foreign policy was recovery of military and economic influence in as many Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) nations as possible. Along Russia's southern borders, postindependence instability offered a series of opportunities to retain a military presence in the name of "peacekeeping" among warring factions or nations, some of whose hostility could be traced back to actions taken by Russian forces. Variations of this theme occurred in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Tajikistan.

In August 1993 Russia formally invoked a Collective Security Agreement, signed by members of the CIS and ratified by the Russian parliament, to justify those efforts in Tajikistan. Avowing in the UN and the CSCE that its diplomatic and military efforts in the NIS supported regional stability, Russia requested international approval and financial support for its efforts. Kozyrev called for the deployment of UN and CSCE observers and the involvement of the international diplomatic community in solving the conflict in Georgia. In March 1994, Kozyrev asked the UN to recognize the CIS as an observer international organization and asked the European Union (EU--see Glossary) and the CSCE to recognize the CIS as a regional organization. Acknowledgment from these organizations would implicitly endorse the regional peacekeeping actions of the CIS.

At the December 1993 CIS meeting of heads of state, held after the Russian elections, Yeltsin's calls for strengthening military and economic cooperation within the CIS met with greater approval than they had previously. Since then the CIS states have been far from unanimous in supporting closer CIS integration, however: Armenia, Tajikistan, and Belarus have been most amenable; Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan have maneuvered to maintain independence while seeking support in some areas; and Ukraine, Moldova, and Turkmenistan have been most opposed.

In September 1995, Yeltsin again maneuvered toward a more conservative CIS policy by repeating the Russian nationalists' concerns with border security and the treatment of ethnic Russians. In a program stressing regional integration, including a "defensive alliance," Yeltsin stipulated that the CIS should consist of countries "friendly toward Russia" and that Russia should be "a leading power" in the CIS, while reiterating the call for UN and OSCE participation in CIS peacekeeping actions. Among CIS regional problems of concern to Russia were relations between China and Kazakstan, the effect of ethnic separatism in China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on neighboring nations of Central Asia, ethnic problems in Russian regions bordering Transcaucasia and Mongolia, and emigration of ethnic Russians from Central Asia.

In September 1993 the Heads of the CIS States signed an Agreement on the creation of Economic Union to form common economic space grounded on free movement of goods, services, labour force, capital; to elaborate coordinated monetary, tax, price, customs, external economic policy; to bring together methods of regulating economic activity and create favourable conditions for the development of direct production relations.

In order to facilitate further integration the Agreement on deepening of integration in economic and humanitarian field of four countries (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia) and Agreement on creation of Commonwealth of Sovereign Republics (Belarus and Russia) with creation of corresponding coordinating bodies were signed in 1995. In February 1999 by the decision of the Interstate Council of four countries (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia) the Republic of Tajikistan was recognized as participant of the customs union enjoying full rights.

In October 2000 the Heads of five countries (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan) signed an Agreement on creation of Eurasian Economic Community. At present Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine have the status of the observer under EAEC. In October 2005 Uzbekistan made the statement to join this organization. In September 2003 four countries - Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine signed an Agreement on Formation of CES (Common Economic Space).

On October 11, 2000, however, the presidents of Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan upgraded their 1992 Collective Security Treaty, giving it more operational substance and de jure Russian military dominance.

In May 2005 Georgia started consultations with Ukraine on their withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States.

On 14 May 2008 Georgia's Foreign Ministry has announced its withdrawal from a 1995 CIS unified air defense agreement signed by a number of former Soviet republics, including Russia, on April 19, 1995. Georgia had previously withdrawn from the CIS Defense Ministers Council, although it formally remained in the CIS unified air defense system. On 19 August 2008 the CIS Executive Committee received a note from Georgia on its intention to pull out of the organization.

On 20 August 2008 Foreign Minister of Ukraine Vladimir Ogryzko said "The name of CIS envisages unity, friendship, but it should be analyzed whether this friendship is real or a curtain", said the minister and mentioned that Ukraine was not the member of CIS. "Ukraine is not the member of CIS Economic Court, has not ratified the Statute of CIS, that's why Ukraine can not be considered member of CIS in terms of international law. Ukraine is only a participating country, but not the member", he said. Nine full members were left in the CIS - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The CIS was not a platform for effective and mutually beneficial cooperation. Instead, it was a club whose members merely exchanged views. The CIS is virtually moribund as a political organization. Only a tiny percentage of the agreements its members have signed since its inception in late 1991 have been implemented.

By contrast, subsidiary organizations such as the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization, which numbered only six members, and the Single Economic Space have proven more effective in promoting specific interests. Moscow ended up creating several more comprehensive integration projects, such as the Common Economic Space, the Eurasian Economic Community, and the Customs Union.

By 2017 the Russian political system demonstrated signs of stability, and was backed by a national consensus in foreign policy, including on relations with the Commonwealth of Independent (CIS) countries. There was only one country which displayed a specific interest in dealing with former Soviet republics on its own - China. Key Western countries considered the post-Soviet space, mainly in the context of relations with Russia.

Due to the devaluation of the ruble in 2015-16, Russia was able to start expanding exports to Eurasia, ensuring that trade flows two ways. By 2015-16 there was an early recovery of the industrial potential of the Russian economy. Russia is building new production facilities in its territory and is able to re-establish certain industries from scratch, for example in the field of advanced chemical and petrochemical industries. Russia remained the only real guarantor of the security and integrity of post-Soviet states. Moscow is not questioning the very existence of any country of the former Soviet Union. This even applies to those cases where the United States openly described republics as failed states.

Russia's role in the former Soviet states changed with the changes in the Russian political system. This in turn could put an end to the pseudo integration processes in the post-Soviet space.




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