#CIS: The quarter-century milestone

| October 26, 2016 | 0 Comments

2000px-flag_of_the_cis-svgThis year marks the 25th anniversary of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), writes Martin Banks.

This is an association of former Soviet republics that was established in December 1991 by Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus to help ease the dissolution of the Soviet Union and coordinate inter-republican affairs.

Most of the former Soviet republics are members and at present the CIS unites: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.

In 1991 the heads of 11 post-Soviet republics also gathered in Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan to take a strategic decision, the Alma-Ata Declaration.  

President of Kazakhstan put forward an idea to hold the meeting of the leaders of the former Soviet countries in Alma-Ata to confirm and legislate the historical roots of friendship and mutual benefit cooperation between the countries, and set a vector for the development of other integrating projects on the post-Soviet space. 

As a result of Kazakhstan’s authorities active work the heads of 11 post-Soviet countries gathered on December 21, 1991 in Alma-Ata to sign the Alma-Ata Declaration of the CIS. It proclaimed the foundation of the CIS, determined its goals and principles.

Upon its foundation, members adopted the Alma-Ata Declaration, which confirmed the promise of the former republics to cooperate in various fields of external and internal policies, and announced the guarantees for implementation of the international commitments of the former Soviet Union.

Two years later, in September 1993, the heads of the CIS States signed an Agreement on the creation of Economic Union to form common economic space based on free movement of goods, services, labour force and capital.

Currently, the CIS’s functions are to coordinate its members’ policies regarding their economies, foreign relations, defence, immigration policies, environmental protection, and law enforcement. Its top governmental body is a council composed of the member republics’ heads of state and of governments who are assisted by committees of republic cabinet ministers in key areas such as economics and defence.

The CIS’s members pledged, at the outset, to keep both their armed forces and the former Soviet nuclear weapons stationed on their territories under a single unified command. In practice this has proved difficult, however, as did the members’ efforts to coordinate the introduction of market-type mechanisms and private ownership into their respective economies.

The CIS countries present significant differences in terms of population structure and dynamics, educational level, employment and living conditions, not only between themselves but also compared to 28 EU Member States.

For example, Russia (accounting for the 51.2 % of the CIS population) has a large share of tertiary education graduates (60.1 % of the total population aged 25+), a large economic activity rate (68.7 %, second only to Kazakhstan), but also high income inequality (on par with Kyrgyzstan) compared to the EU-28 average.

Kazakhstan (and Russia) boasts the best employment rates (67.9 % and 64.9 % respectively) among CIS countries.

According to most recent data, a considerable share of the population of Tajikistan (46.7 %), Kyrgyzstan (38.0 %) and Armenia (32.4 %) lived below the national poverty line, while the corresponding share for Kazakhstan is just 3.8 %.

For a long period of time, this region was considered as less important for the EU, as compared to Central and Eastern Europe, which was the subject of a far-reaching economic and political integration offer materialized in two rounds of EU Eastern Enlargements (2004, 2007). However, moving the EU’s geographical frontier further to the East and Southeast increased the importance of the CIS region as a potential partner of the enlarged EU.

This year, the CIS marks a special landmark: its 25th anniversary.

2016 also marks the 25th anniversary of the independence of most of the CIS members, Kazakhstan amongst them.

The CIS has been called a “one of a kind” political platform that unites post-Soviet countries and the best means in the region for solving the pressing issues, holding discussions and exchanging views.

Kazakhstan’s recent $23-billion in agreements with China to implement industrial projects is one example of how Astana is also ready to look eastwards for future collaboration.

But it is worth pointing out that development of strategic and stable economic partnerships with Britain, Germany, France and other European states is equally important to this central Asian country.

The CIS was initially conceived as a union of countries with common economic and military-strategic space. However, most would agree that this format has not yet been achieved in full, largely to relative shortcomings among some of its members.

Kazakhstan itself is a country with a wealth of unexploited resources, oil being the largest, and if used smartly, most independent observers believe these assets could make it an economic powerhouse in the years to come.

It is for this reason that it is also seen as having all the necessary criteria to be a land bridge between Asia and Europe, not just geographically but in lots of other ways.

Kazakhstan’s history is characterized by great conflict, first between competing nomadic tribes and then against the Soviet powers.

Nowadays, along with most of the other Commonwealth states, the country is relatively prosperous and excitedly looking forward to the next 25 years.

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Category: A Frontpage, EU, Featured Article, Kazakhstan, Russia