The Beginning of An End to the CIS?
Author: Meray Ozat
Oct 30, 2023
On October 13, in Russian President Putin’s first foreign trip since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for him in March, the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) convened its annual summit in Bishkek. Despite the international arrest warrant, Putin traveled to Kyrgyzstan because the warrant carries no legal weight in the non-ICC member state. The summit itself revealed challenges for the CIS with decreasing members, and incomplete participation, raising questions about the CIS's credibility and effectiveness for fostering regional development.
Seven CIS members attended the meeting of the Council of CIS Heads of State under the chairmanship of Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, including President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, President of Russia Vladimir Putin, President of Tajikistan Emmomali Rahmon, and President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
During the meeting, 16 cooperation agreements aimed at increasing interaction among the CIS countries were signed. The agreements had four main themes, including digital technologies, protection of human rights, inter-state relations, and promotion of the Russian language as a means of interethnic communication. However, the agreements signed during this CIS Summit focused only on surface-level terms, lacking practical developments in the region.
This CIS Summit also failed to gather all member states in the absence of Armenia. With its refusal to join the meeting, Armenia demonstrated its anti-Russian stance. Earlier this month, Armenian President Vahagn Kachaturian signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on October 13 despite warnings from Russia. Since then, the bilateral relations between Russia and Armenia have moved in a negative direction. Its absence, therefore, also demonstrates Armenian compliance with the ICC regulation to avoid joint presence with the international criminal, i.e.,President Putin.
Armenia has consistently avoided participating in events with Russian involvement since the third Nagorno-Karabakh War, including the CSTO military drills in Kyrgyzstan, further demonstrating its commitment to distance itself from Russia. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashingyan has made several provocative public statements, expressing doubts about Russia as a reliable partner: “Total reliance on Moscow in security matters was a mistake” and Armenian involvement in CSTO is “ineffective for Armenian interests.”
In addition to the Armenian absence, the CIS also lost two members this year, Ukraine and Moldova. Although Ukraine stopped its participation after the Russian annexation of parts of Ukraine in 2014, it formally withdrew from the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly as an official termination of its membership on May 3, 2023. Following Ukraine’s withdrawal, Moldova also announced its decision to withdraw from the CIS on May 15, 2023.
However, Russian President Putin and Belarussian President Lukashenko are confident about the future potential of the CIS and expressed the need to expand its influence, since many international organizations have participated in many CIS meetings, demonstrating an increased interest around the globe. In response to the rising anti-Russian sentiment, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during an interview that Armenia’s anti-Russian stance is artificial and caused by several non-governmental organizations representing Western interests.
While the majority of CIS members appear dedicated to the organization, actively participating and adhering to its agreements, there is a growing sense of ambiguity and ineffectiveness within the organization that could erode their confidence. Recent events with their “CIS partner” Russia invading ex-CIS member Ukraine might further undermine trust in the organization. The ongoing efforts of CIS members in Central Asia to diversify their economies, comply with Western sanctions against Russia, and lessen their reliance on Russian influence serve as a clear illustration of this trend.
The CIS, established in 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, is an organization consisting of most post-Soviet countries. The member states include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. It used to be seen as an ambitious platform that could unlock unlimited opportunities.
Yet, the organization kept losing its influence and value throughout the decades. The CIS has not yielded any practical effects in the region and has failed to serve its mission to strengthen regional connectivity, trade, and solidarity. Instead of creating inter-regional trade, the organization has become a platform for Russian influence that solely represents Russian interests.
The Bishkek summit represented a low point for the CIS, with incomplete participation. The future of the organization remains uncertain, given its shrinking membership and limited impact on the region. Concerns over Russian dominance also arise among current CIS full members. Rather than serving as an effective alliance for regional development, the CIS increasingly appears to function as a symbolic gesture illustrating Russia’s desire for dominance in the area.