Shevardnadze Opposes Russian Move to Boost CIS

TOKYO (Kyodo)–Visiting Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze expressed opposition Saturday to plans by Russia to consolidate the Commonwealth of Independent States and instead advocated the gradual reduction of Russian influence in the Caucasus region.

Shevardnadze said in an interview he is eyeing the establishment of a multipolar security framework in the conflict-ridden Caucasus by reinforcing ties with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Rather than security cooperation–the CIS should prioritize economic relations and move toward the creation of a free-market zone among its 12 member states–said Shevardnadze–who helped bring about the end of the Cold War as then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s foreign minister between 1985 and 1991.

"We should not set up an organization that would restrict the sovereignty of its members," he stressed–adding his country will not take part in moves promoted by Russia and Belarus to reintegrate the CIS.

The Caucasus–a mountainous area extending between the Black and Caspian seas southwest of Russia–has been increasingly troubled since the breakup of the former Soviet Union in 1991 by ethnic unrest in Chechnya–Georgia–Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Georgia–one of only four former Soviet republics not to join the CIS at its formation in 1991–had to reconsider entry into the Moscow-led grouping in late 1993 for support in quelling rebellions in its autonomous territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Shevardnadze asserted–however–that the collective security treaty entered into by nine CIS member states–including Georgia–after the Soviet Union’s collapse has lost its reason for being because its members now have their own armies and do not face external threat.

He said Georgia is considering quitting the treaty–following the lead of Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan which have said they will leave the CIS’s collective security arrangement.

Shevardnadze–who was voted into power as his country’s first directly elected president in 1995–expressed an intention to eventually seek the withdrawal of Russian troops based in the country once a bilateral treaty of friendship and cooperation expires in 2004.

While discounting any possibility of Georgia’s being admitted into NATO within the next decade–Shevardnadze confirmed it was his country’s intention to escape Russia’s orbit and enter the Atlantic alliance in the future.

Last month–Shevardnadze told Kyodo News he found the CIS "unnecessary," implying he would advocate Georgia’s withdrawal from the collective security apparatus unless it takes steps to reform itself.

He also expressed dissatisfaction with how power is centralized within the CIS in a way reminiscent of the former Soviet Union.

Concerning a row between Russia and Japan over territories off Japan’s northernmost main island Hokkaido–Shevardnadze said Saturday that although Moscow tried to build confidence in its relations with Tokyo during his time as Soviet foreign minister–the Soviet leadership had no concrete suggestions to resolve the issue.

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