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The Commonwealth of Independent States turns 25

December 21, 2016 - KAZAKHSTAN

The Soviet states, minus the Baltics and Georgia, formed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) 25 years ago in Alma Ata. The Soviet Union fell four days later after a protracted decline. The regional body still struggles to speak with one voice in areas such as foreign relations, defence and immigration.

Some experts blame internal bickering, a problem common to most regional blocs, for the struggle to forge agreement on the core aims of the alliance. The overall goal is to coordinate members' policies for their economies, foreign relations, defence, immigration, environmental protection and law enforcement.

Others blame Russia, which leads the CIS, explaining that members are wary of Russian domination. The headline on a May 2014 Moscow Times report refers to the exit of Ukraine, a CIS founder, as a blow to Russia's "imperial ambitions."

The same report cites experts who observe that Russia has alternative integration schemes for the post-Soviet space, but in the absence of Ukraine, "they are likely to remain opportunistic alliances whose members -- mostly Central Asian nations -- would be looking for Russian money but not strategic affiliation with Moscow."

One of Russia's closest allies in the alliance, Belarus, has been flirting with the European Union. Moldova and Kazakhstan have moved beyond flirtation with the West, irking Moscow.

Russia and its supporters see the Eurasian Economic Union as a significant means of increasing regional power and influence and of rivalling the European Union's economic might. The Union came into force in January 2015.

The CIS now numbers 10 countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Georgia, a late entrant in the alliance, withdrew from it in 2009 following an escalation of hostilities with Russia over the separatist region of South Ossetia. Ukraine and the CIS parted company after Russia annexed the Crimea.

Ukraine Leaving CIS Shoots Down Kremlin's Imperial Ambitions (Moscow Times 27 May 2014)

Commonwealth of Independent States (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Counting the cost (Economist 8 Apr 2002)

Date written/update: 2016-06-16