Ukraine Found Way Out of CIS

VILNIUS, Lithuania -- Kiev followed the example of Tbilisi yesterday and announced tat it is seriously questioning the expediency of membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States. That announcement was the main outcome of the Vilnius summit of heads of the Baltic and Black Sea states.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Vladimir Ogryzko

Unlike Georgia, which has nothing to lose from its departure from the CIS, Ukraine's separation presents a number of problems.

The press service of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko organized a special briefing on the future of the CIS by the head of the foreign relations service of the president's secretariat Konstantin Timoshenko. Mr. Timoshenko reported that the Ukrainian leadership is not satisfied with the effectiveness of the organization's functioning and that the president is seriously considering Ukraine's withdrawal from it.

“Unless something changes, the question of Ukraine's withdrawal from the CIS will become a practical plan, if not tomorrow, then in the near future,” Timoshenko said.

The presidential adviser's appearance was the apotheosis of a series of anti-CIS moves by Ukrainian authorities. For a week, various officials have been harshly criticizing the CIS. Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Ogryzko set the tone when he stated during a visit to Moscow that Kiev is disappointed the CIS has turned from an organization of action to an organization of conversation.

He said that Ukraine has repeatedly made specific proposals within the CIS and none of them were developed by the organization.

Ogryzko cited the example of President Yushchenko's proposal to set up common border protection for the CIS countries, which was ignored. “Will there be any desire to make new proposals after that? The question arises as to why we need that shell? For business or as a club?”

The Ukrainian Security Council followed the Foreign Ministry. Its secretary Anatoly Kinakh hit at a sore spot when he said that the CIS has lost its economic meaning. “Hundreds of documents have been passed by the CIS, but they are not implemented. The procedure for creating a free trade zone between member states has not been completed,” he recalled.

Yushchenko did not touch on the topic of the CIS directly at the Vilnius summit. But it was clear from his speech at the forum that the CIS is not the future Kiev has in mind. Yushchenko called maximum closeness to NATO and the European Union the main goals of his presidency. “It will be a great honor for me to solve those problems,” he said.

“There is no worthier challenge for our political elite today.” The Ukrainian president said it was possible that he plan to begin the process of joining NATO would be put into action at the November meeting of the organization in Riga. The storm of criticism of the CIS coincided with the Vilnius summit.

Most observers agree that the countdown to the dissolution of the CIS has begun. The presidents and foreign ministers of the Baltic, Eastern European and Scandinavian countries were present at the summit and its main moderator was U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.

In his speech, Cheney criticized Moscow's policies in the former Soviet Union and stated that they pose a threat to democracy. Cheney praised Russia's neighbors and held up Ukraine and Georgia as examples for the other former Soviet states.

Kiev and Tbilisi took that praise as a signal to act. The statements by Ukrainian leaders came immediately after Georgia, another country of triumphant democracy, expressed the same intentions.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has instructed the Georgian administration to determine the advantages and disadvantages of CIS membership. Georgian politicians immediately informed the head of state that the advantages of CIS membership were extremely few.

Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs Konstantin Gabashvili stated that “the only advantages of the CIS were visa-free travel and free trade and without them membership loses all meaning.” Georgia and Ukraine are in different positions, however.

Georgia has nothing to lose, since visa and trade wars have been in progress against for a long time. Relations between Ukraine and Russia, despite their disagreements, have been privileged.

Russian politicians threaten the leaders of the color evolutions with big economic problems in response to their anti-CIS initiatives. Vadim Gustov, chairman of the Federation Council Committee on CIS Affairs, predicted high unemployment in Ukraine, reconsideration of economic agreements and higher energy prices.

“The Ukrainian economy is oriented toward the Russia. The Russian market is basic for Ukrainian goods. No one needs their goods in Europe, and whom Ukraine will sell them to outside the CIS is a big question,” he said. He called the criticism of Russia at the Vilnius summit “a return to the Cold War.” “A sanitary corridor is being created around Russia and Ukraine has been pulled into that game,” he said.

Gustov was seconded by chairman of the Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs Konstantin Kosachev, who said that Kiev and Tbilisi are pursuing a policy of deteriorating relations with Russia to speed up the process of integration with Western European and Transatlantic structures.

“I'm afraid that counting on easing that integration is mistaking wishes for facts. No one in those structures is waiting for Georgia or Ukraine,” Kosachev commented.

The parliamentarians' statements are only warning. Russia has shown how it treats incompliant neighbors more than once. The gas war with Ukraine and the trade wars with Georgia and Moldova are from the only means of exerting pressure that Russia has at its disposal.

If Ukraine decides to leave the CIS, Russia could make travel from that country subject to receipt of a visa. Moreover, Russia could cancel the policy implemented two years ago that allows Ukrainians to stay in Russia for up to three months without registration. Those measures could have much more unpleasant effects for Ukraine than the wine war does for Moldova.

In Kiev, they are convinced that the matter will not reach those extremes. “We have never descended to such crude means of influence as import prohibitions on made-up pretenses based on sanitary norms,” press secretary of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Vasily Filipchuk told Kommersant.

He said that Moscow should learn he lessons of last year's gas war. “Judge for yourself who suffered more. After that, the world community began to doubt Russia's reliability as an energy resource provider. Moscow only harms itself with such steps,” he said.

Source: Kommersant