Post Soviet States Struggle to Rebuild Ties

MOSCOW (Reuter)-A summit in Moscow of the 12 former Soviet republics making up the Commonwealth of Independent States melted some of the ice between them Friday but left the most pressing problems unresolved. Russian President Boris Yeltsin–taking a firm lead after months of illness–said the three-hour summit had overcome doubts about the future of the grouping–which rose unsteadily from the ashes of the Soviet Union after its collapse in 1991. The three Baltic republics refused the join the CIS and relations between almost all member states have been severely strained at some time or another over the past five years. Some of the conflicts are still simmering and several leaders cast doubt over the CIS’s future before the summit. "Yes–the question really arose at our session–how can we move forward? Nevertheless–we later reached the common conclusion that the Commonwealth was necessary," said Yeltsin–seated alongside the other 11 leaders at a news conference. "The heads of state underlined that there cannot be a Commonwealth if there are conflicts within it," he said–citing separatism in Moldova and Georgia and a long-running conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. "But five years is not long enough to…solve all problems," Yeltsin added. "There has been a critical lack of action–of practical returns. Here of course common efforts are needed." Yeltsin won a vote of approval from Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma–who had been sharply critical of Russia’s dominant role in the CIS on the eve of the summit. "I can definitely say that it was a different Boris Nikolayevich from the one at all the sessions up to now," said Kuchma–praising Yeltsin for giving an unbiased view. The Ukrainian leader even applauded Yeltsin for saying he was determined to go ahead with a long-delayed visit to Kiev despite unresolved differences between their two states over control over the Black Sea port of Sevastopol. The leaders said they had agreed to extend the mandate of CIS peacekeeping troops in the Central Asian state of Tajikistan to stop a four year civil war flaring again. But there was no word on the future of Russian peacekeeping forces in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia–which Tbilisi says must either to do more or leave. Declaring the summit a turning-point–Yeltsin said that all the presidents had pledged to integrate their economies. "We basically accepted the concept of the development of economic integration of the CIS. For the first time a concept was accepted on such an important question," he said. Talk of economic integration has been a familiar refrain of CIS summits over the past five years–involving free trade zones–the expansion of an existing customs union between four of the states and integrated energy and transport systems. Yeltsin said that most of the heads of state had signed up to the integration concept–but CIS secretary Ivan Korochenya said that Yeltsin alone had signed pending a reworking. "It really is a flexible document and it no doubt needs some adjustmen’s in the process of its coming into being," he said. "At the next session of heads of state we will return to this document where it will be definitively possible for all signatures to be added," Korochenya added. But the CIS includes some countries which favor rapid integration–such as Russia and Belarus–some which favor somewhat slower moves–such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan–and others who have taken few concrete steps to build ties. Economic reform is also proceeding at different speeds in the various member states and living standards vary widely. Uzbek President Islam Karimov sounded a skeptical note. "One should not force processes which have not matured. We create problems for ourselves by signing documen’s which are clearly not ready and insufficiently justified and in so doing devaluate the concept of integration," he said.

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