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Russia in the CIS


The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is a free association of sovereign states formed in 1991, comprising Russia and eleven other republics that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. The CIS had its origins on 8 December 1991, when the elected leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus (Belorussia) signed an agreement forming a new association to replace the crumbling Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. 

The three Slavic republics were subsequently joined by the central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, by the Transcaucasian republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and by Moldova. (The remaining former Soviet republics of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia declined to join the new organization.) The CIS formally came into being on 21 December 1991 and began operations the following month, with the city of Minsk in Belarus designated as its administrative center.

The commonwealth’s functions are to coordinate its members’ policies regarding their economies, foreign relations, defense, immigration policies, environmental protection, and law enforcement. Its top governmental body is a council composed of the member republics’ heads of state (i.e., presidents) and of government (prime ministers), who are assisted by committees of republic cabinet ministers in key areas such as economics and defense.

Russia is the dominant force in the Commonwealth of Independent States. The 1990s were the period when the post-Soviet and postimperial Russian state sought to redefine the boundaries of its national interests. It is hardly surprising that the fate of the twenty-five million Russians in the “near abroad” (meaning the other former republics of the Soviet Union) should be central to the national and state interests of post-Soviet Russia. At the same time, Russian democratic leaders take pains to point out that Russia seeks to construct its relations with the newly independent states of the former union on a basis of equality and mutual respect for sovereignty.

Russian peacekeepers in Abkhaziya. Photo: ITAR-TASS

Throughout the 1990s Russia established itself as a peacekeeper and the guardian of CIS borders. The central Asian states, as well as Armenia and Georgia, formally agreed that Russian troops should police their borders jointly with local forces. All states agreed that Russia should send troops to the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhaziya.

CIS forces, mainly Russian, remain in Tajikistan. Russia was less successful in getting CIS states to contribute to the costs of the peacekeeping forces.

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