At the CIS, Putin defends solidarity in the context of the Ukrainian crisis

On Tuesday, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) commemorated its 30th anniversary. In December 1991, this “informal arrangement” between the majority of the former Soviet republics declared the end of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), also ending the Cold War in international politics.

And now, in the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, this informal summit in St. Petersburg – which all nine national leaders attended in person – has radiated goals and implications far beyond. beyond their limited to-do list.

Basically, the summit highlighted the solidarity of the former Soviet republics with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who faces a united West seeking Ukraine’s co-optation in NATO’s eastward advances.

Ukraine, however, was not even mentioned at this year-end meeting of CIS leaders, which examined the results of the Belarusian presidency of the CIS in 2021 and discussed future plans for their cooperation.

Also read: Putin hints at military options in Ukraine

The subtle tone and tenor of Putin’s brief opening speech, however, clearly hinted at this unison, too unlikely to go unnoticed. Commemorating the past 30 years, President Putin thanked the members of the IEC for preserving their “greater security and economic cooperation” and for helping them “to get through these difficult times of the pandemic”.

Putin noted: “We have seen monumental changes in recent years… At the same time… we have deepened our integration… the continuing positive impact of the bonds we have shared since the Soviet era. “

Focusing on the agenda, Putin said: “One of the main topics that brought us together … coordinated Russia’s response to Covid-19 with his counterparts in the CIS – to brief leaders on the work being done. so far as well as plans for the future, including the signing of a cooperation agreement in response and relief of health and epidemiological emergencies.

This has undoubtedly enabled Russia to show its leading role in providing pandemic relief to the CIS states. But Putin’s welcome in person and the many bilateral meetings he held also conveyed a message for all, including the American interlocutors for the next meeting in Geneva. January 10 where Moscow wishes to advance the means to stop “the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and end the [its] military cooperation with countries like Ukraine and Georgia.

From the USSR to the CIS

It was in 1922 that the treaty and the declaration of creation of the USSR were signed for the first time by Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Fast forward to December 8, 1991, and the same three entities signed the Agreement Establishing the CIS, thereby replacing the USSR and inviting other Soviet republics to join.

Eight other republics joined them at their next meeting in Alma-Ata (now Almaty), Kazakhstan, on December 21, 1991, when they all signed a protocol declaring Russia as the successor state to the USSR and marking this day as the founding day of the CIS.

Georgia joined the CIS later, in 2004, but after joining NATO – which led to tensions with Moscow and the Russo-Georgian war – it withdrew from the CIS in 2009. Likewise three Baltic republics – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which considered their integration into the Soviet Union an illegal occupation – never joined the CIS. Instead, they joined NATO.

Likewise, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, which were once part of the Russian-dominated Eastern bloc but were not true Soviet republics, also joined NATO, triggering serious insecurities in Moscow.

The Ukrainian question

Ukraine, the second most powerful state in the USSR, has always been the most curious and yet the most confusing part of the history of the CIS. Ukraine signed the first two “agreements / protocols” of December 1991 but never ratified the January 1993 CIS Charter.

Nevertheless, Ukraine was treated as a founding member of the CIS under Article 7 of this Charter, which defined the signatories of these first two meetings as the founding members of the Commonwealth. In addition, in 1994 Ukraine joined the CIS Economic Union as an associate member.

So Russia has always insisted that Ukraine is a member of the CIS and therefore the CIS secretariat continued to send him notices of all meetings. But for its part, Ukraine had a very different understanding of the role and remit of the CIS and rarely participated in CIS talks and programs.

Indeed, on May 18, 2013, then President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree on the official end of Ukraine’s participation in the CIS. As of 2014, Ukraine gradually moved away from the CIS, leaving various statutory bodies, failing to pay its contributions to the budget and, over time, abandoning more than 50 agreements, memoranda and decisions.

Finally, in August 2018, not only stopped participating in IEC activities but has closed its representative offices at the CIS headquarters in Minsk, Belarus.

Although the CIS de facto came to terms with this reality, how to deal with Ukraine remained a puzzle.

It is now recognized that it is the eternal Russian-Ukrainian conflict that was at the center of this confusion. Experts traced the differences between the two states in the Middle Ages.

In the post-Soviet context, besides their disputes over the sharing of Soviet debts and assets, the status of the Russian language in Ukraine, the ownership of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet and its naval base in Sevastopol, and the question related to Crimea, Ukraine and Russia had serious differences on the role and functioning of the CIS.

This briefly created serious misunderstandings among several CLC members, which impacted his work and stature. In this context, in 1997, Russia signed a Treaty of friendship, cooperation and partnership with Ukraine recognizing its borders, including the Crimean Peninsula.

The current phase of their conflict, however, is often linked to the rise to power of Vladimir Putin. It also coincided with NATO’s indulgences with Ukraine, rekindling their differences.

Their conflict would become public in the 2004 presidential elections, when the so-called “Orange revolution”Prevented pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych from gaining power and pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko became president. Russia responded by cutting gas deliveries to Ukraine in 2006 and 2009, also disrupting supplies to Europe.

This is why when in 2008, the then American president, George W. Bush, urged to include Ukraine in NATO, European countries have succeeded in getting ahead of its plan, without a finalized timetable. But it sparked a process of NATO penetration into Ukraine, encouraging Kiev to resist Putin’s posture, where he was seen as envisioning a reunification of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

Internally, too, the Russian embargoes sparked unrest across the country in Ukraine, which led Yanukovych to flee to Russia in February 2014. It was in this leadership vacuum that March 2014 saw Russia annex the Crimea. This encouraged Russian-speaking minorities in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine to rise up against the Kiev regime and declare the creation of the new People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.

These crises were resolved in the Minsk Accord of March 2015, which is at the very center of their escalation of the stalemate. By virtue of this pact, Ukraine agreed to examine the request for autonomy of these quasi-republics. However, nationalist forces at home and NATO allures of the West saw Kiev withdraw from the implementation of the agreement, and a stalemate has remained since the December 2019 Russian-Ukrainian talks in Paris. .

This period also saw President Volodymyr Zelensky gradually rebuilding partnerships with NATO, which led to heavy Russian forward deployments.

Role of the CIS

This is where it becomes relevant to understand the role of the Russian-led Commonwealth of Nine Former Soviet Republics.

Putin is fully aware of the cautious approach of several European NATO member states who will depend on Russian gas to revive their post-pandemic economies. This explains why Putin wants to broaden the dialogue beyond US President Joe Biden’s internal arbitration on the Ukrainian crisis.

Putin’s recent summits with India and China also show that there are other potential customers for Russia’s energy supply. Indeed, Ukraine itself wants to negotiate with Russia for the extension of the latter. gas transit beyond December 31, 2024, upon expiration of the current agreement. Yet Russia remains reluctant, saying it will depend on its own supply contracts and the whims and fancies of target recipients.

So, have Putin’s summits with India, China and now the CIS reveal the boomerang effect of a united West showing a hard line? And is it possible that Ukraine, after severing its ties with Russia, regrets its own absence from this week’s CIS summit?

Christi C. Elwood