Commonwealth of Independent States

views updated May 29 2018



It was the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991 that brought to life an active but essentially dysfunctional international organization called, rather misleadingly, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Initially, it was only the three initiators of dismantling the USSR—Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine—that formed this loose alliance on 8 December 1991, but within the month seven other former Soviet republics (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) joined by signing the Alma-Ata Declaration. The three Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) refused to be associated with this organization, and Georgia, while initially declining the invitation, had to join in December 1993, needing Russia's help in a violent internal crisis.

From the very start, the member states have had quite different views on the aims of their union, from the minimalist approach of handling a "civilized divorce" (as formulated by Ukraine) to the ambitious agenda of advancing multidimensional integration. This agenda is outlined in the CIS Charter, adopted in January 1993, and hundreds of other documents signed by heads of states and governments. Implementation, however, has been at best haphazard and more often nonexistent.

Russia was expected to be a "natural" leader of this ambivalent grouping, whose members had plenty of shared tragedy in the past but did not fancy much of a common future. Moscow managed to sort out the immediate problems related to the heritage of the USSR, from dividing the external debt and property to distributing quotas on tanks according to the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty (1990) and securing for itself the monopoly on nuclear weapons. Further leadership became uncertain and centered mostly on maintaining contacts among the political elites through regular summit meetings and supporting networks. It was only in the second half of the 1990s that Moscow showed interest in more ambitious integrative projects seeking to assert its dominance across the post-Soviet space. The top priority was given to building an alliance with Belarus, formatted as a union with a charter (1997) and a treaty (1999) that set the goal of building a confederal state. The Belarus leadership pursued its own interests in these "brotherly" ties but showed little interest in wider cooperation, despite hosting the CIS headquarters in Minsk.

A particular focus of political networking has been on the regional security developments, first of all in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In May 1992, six states (Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) signed the Collective Security Treaty (CST); Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Georgia joined in 1993, but in 1999, when the treaty was to be renewed, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan effectively seceded. A key aim of the Russia-led security cooperation was to manage violent conflicts in the CIS area, but the plans for joint peacekeeping forces were never realized, and the organization merely issued mandates for Russian peacekeeping operations in Tajikistan (1992–1997) and Abkhazia (ongoing since 1994). Besides establishing regular meetings between defense and interior ministers, this framework was moderately successful in facilitating the export of Russian weapons and the education of officers in Russian academies, as well as in building a joint air defense system. Since autumn 2001, Moscow has sought to intensify security cooperation in the CIS, seeing it as a response to the limited deployment of American and NATO forces in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. While the Antiterrorist Center has not become an efficient structure, several joint military exercises were held between 2002 and 2004, and the status of the CST was upgraded in May 2002 to the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

Priority attention in the CIS has been given to the economy, and it is in this area that the results are particularly unimpressive. The initially proclaimed ambition to establish an economic union was undermined already in 1994 by the failure to retain the ruble as the common currency. In the first half of the 1990s, all post-Soviet states were hit by severe economic crises, and none of them showed serious interest in trying to find a common way out. Russia sought to advance its economic influence by signing a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan in 1995 and expanding it the next year to a free trade zone, which included also Kyrgyzstan and eventually Tajikistan. At the Chisinau summit (October 1997), Russia was criticized for hindering the implementation of the CIS agreements by its selective approach. Its ability to provide economic leadership, however, was undermined by the Russian financial meltdown in August 1998, which affected all its partners. For that matter, all CIS member states engaged in accession negotiations with the World Trade Organization (WTO) without any coordination or attempts at synchronizing their efforts. It was only in 2003 that Moscow launched a new initiative in this area, convincing Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to remove most of the barriers for cooperation in the framework of a United Economic Space.

This project was a part of Russia's wider efforts to consolidate its leadership in the CIS area by combining closer bilateral ties with a variety of multilateral frameworks. The foundation for these efforts was created by Russia's strong economic growth, driven primarily by the energy sector, but the core content was shaped by the closer cooperation between post-Soviet regimes that were all backing away from the path of democratic reforms and developing various forms of semi-authoritarianism. The successful uprising against the regime of Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia in November 2003 appeared to be an anomaly in this general trend, but the "orange revolution" in Ukraine in November–December 2004 had a devastating effect on Russia's policy. Moldova's prompt reorientation toward the European Union in February 2005 showed that a regime change was not a necessary precondition for abandoning the CIS frameworks. The collapse of the regime of Askar Akaev in Kyrgyzstan in March 2005 demonstrated that Russia had no reliable instruments for supporting its allies against internal challenges.

Facing this chain of failures and setbacks, Moscow had to reconsider the usefulness and viability of the CIS, even if it continued to insist on its "civilizing mission on the Eurasian continent" (as President Vladimir Putin asserted in his April 2005 address to the Parliament). It appears entirely possible that Moscow could opt for dismantling this umbrella structure and concentrate its efforts on key bilateral relations, first of all with Belarus, and also with Armenia and Kazakhstan. In Central Asia, Russia would then seek to assert its key role in the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (which it joined in May 2004) and coordinate its policy with China in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (established in June 2002). The key issue for the future for these overlapping and inherently unstable structures is Russia's own political trajectory and its commitment to rapprochement with Europe.

See alsoRussia; Soviet Union; World Trade Organization.


Allison, Roy. "Russia and the New States of Eurasia." In Contemporary Russian Politics: A Reader, edited by Archie Brown, 443–452. Oxford, U.K., 2001.

Dwan, Renata, and Oleksandr Pavliuk, eds. Building Security in the New States of Eurasia: Subregional Cooperation in the Former Soviet Space. Armonk, N.Y., 2000.

Kreikemeyer, Anna, and Andrei V. Zagorski. "The Commonwealth of Independent States." In Peacekeeping and the Role of Russia in Eurasia, edited by Lena Jonson and Clive Archer, 157–171. Boulder, Colo., 1996.

Light, Margot. "International Relations of Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States." In Eastern Europe and the CIS, 23–35. 3rd ed. London, 1996.

"Vozroditsya li Soyuz? Budushchee postsovetskogo prostranstva." Nezavisimaya gazeta (23 May 1996): 4–5.

Pavel K. Baev

Commonwealth of Independent States

views updated May 18 2018


The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was established on December 8, 1991, in the Belovezh Accords, which also brought an end to the Soviet Union. These accords were signed by leaders from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, and on December 21, 1991, in the Almaty Delcaration and Proctocol to these accords, eight additional states (Moldavia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkemenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan) confirmed their intention to join the CIS and accept the demise of the Soviet state. Georgia joined the CIS in December 1993, bringing total membership to twelve states (the Baltic republics of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia never joined). The organization had several goals, including coordination of members' foreign and security policies, development of a common economic space, fostering human rights and inter-ethnic concord, maintenance of the military assets of the former USSR, creation of shared transportation and communications networks, environmental security, regulation of migration policy, and efforts to combat organized crime. The CIS had a variety of institutions through which it attempted to accomplish these goals: Council of Heads of State, Council of Heads of Government, Council of Foreign Ministers, Council of Defense Ministers, an inter-parliamentary assembly, Executive Committee, Anti-Terrorism Task Force, and the Interstate Economic Committee of the Economic Union.

Although in a sense the CIS was designed to replace the Soviet Union, it was not and is not a separate state or country. Rather, the CIS is an international organization designed to promote cooperation among its members in a variety of fields. Its headquarters are in Minsk, Belarus. Over the years, its members have signed dozens of treaties and agreements, and some hoped that it would ultimately promote the dynamic development of ties among the newly independent post-Soviet states. By the late 1990s, however, the CIS lost most of its momentum and was victimized by internal rifts, becoming, according to some observers, largely irrelevant and powerless.

From its beginning, the CIS had two main purposes. The first was to promote what was called a "civilized divorce" among the former Soviet states. Many feared the breakup of the Soviet Union would lead to political and economic chaos, if not outright conflict over borders. The earliest agreements of the CIS, which provided for recognition of borders, protection of ethnic minorities, maintenance of a unified military command, economic cooperation, and periodic meetings of state leaders, arguably helped to maintain some semblance of order in the region, although one should note that the region did suffer some serious conflicts (e.g., war between Armenia and Azerbaijan and civil conflicts in Tajikistan, Moldova, and Georgia).

The second purpose of the CIS was to promote integration among the newly independent states. On this score, the CIS had not succeeded. The main reason is that while all parties had a common interest in peacefully dismantling the old order, there has been no consensus among these states as to what (if anything) should replace the Soviet state. Moreover, the need to develop national political and economic systems took precedence in many states, dampening enthusiasm for any project of reintegration. CIS members have also been free to sign or not sign agreements as they see fit, creating a hodgepodge of treaties and obligations among CIS states.

One of the clearest failures of the CIS has been on the economic front. Although the member states pledged cooperation, things began to break down early on. By 1993, the ruble zone collapsed, with each state issuing its own currency. In 1993 and 1994, eleven CIS states ratified a Treaty on an Economic Union (Ukraine joined as an associate member). A free-trade zone was proposed in 1994, but by 2002 it still had not yet been fully established. In 1996 four states (Russia, Belarus, Krygyzstan, Kazakhstan) created a Customs Union, but others refused to join. All these efforts were designed to increase trade, but, due to a number of factors, trade among CIS countries has lagged behind targeted figures. More broadly speaking, economic cooperation has suffered because states had adopted economic reforms and programs with little regard for the CIS and have put more emphasis on redirecting their trade to neighboring European or Asian states.

Cooperation in military matters fared little better. The 1992 Tashkent Treaty on Collective Security was ratified by a mere six states. While CIS peacekeeping troops were deployed to Tajikistan and Abkhazia (a region of Georgia), critics viewed these efforts as Russian attempts to maintain a sphere of influence in these states. As a "Monroeski Doctrine" took hold in Moscow, which asserted special rights for Russia on post-Soviet territory, and Russia used its control over energy pipelines to put pressure on other states, there was a backlash by several states against Russia, which weakened the CIS. After September 11, 2001, the CIS created bodies to help combat terrorism, and some hoped that this might bring new life to the organization.

See also: belovezh accords; ruble zone


Heenan, Patrick, and Lamontagne, Monique, eds. (1999). The CIS Handbook. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn.

Olcott, Martha Brill; Aslund, Anders; and Garnett, Sherman. (1999). Getting It Wrong: Regional Cooperation and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Sakwa, Richard, and Webber, Mark. (1999). "The Commonwealth of Independent States, 19911998: Stagnation and Survival." Europe-Asia Studies 51:379415.

Paul J. Kubicek

Commonwealth of Independent States

views updated Jun 11 2018

Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Alliance of 12 of the former republics of the Soviet Union (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan). The CIS formed in 1991. The Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) did not join. In 1993 all members, except Ukraine, signed a treaty of economic union, creating a free-trade zone. Russia is the dominant power, with overall responsibility for defence and peacekeeping. It is also the main provider of oil and natural gas.

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