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Analysis: Georgia leaves the CIS

The CIS itself predates the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, as it was founded on Dec. 8, 1991 by the presidents of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. On Dec. 21, four days before the Soviet Union dissolved, the leaders of the Soviet republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan agreed to join the new organization. The three Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania opted out, while Georgia joined in December 1993. Far from being a revitalized version of the highly centralized Soviet Union, the CIS has functioned much more loosely, its closest parallel perhaps being the British Commonwealth, as the constituent CIS members place a high priority on national sovereignty.
by John C.K. Daly
Washington (UPI) Oct 31, 2008
The geostrategic consequences and potential economic and military costs of Georgia's five-day August military misadventure with Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia are slowly becoming evident. The West, which uncritically largely lined up behind Georgia's version of events, has committed billions of dollars to Georgia's reconstruction, but two intertwined issues thus far have been ignored.

The first is the possible consequences for future Western energy projects of Georgia's vulnerability as a transit corridor for Caspian hydrocarbons as demonstrated by the five-day war.

The second are the implications of rash promises by a number of Western political leaders to support Georgian ambitions for NATO membership, one of the underlying causes of the outbreak of hostility. As Georgia apparently believes that it will gain some sort of military arrangement with the West and/or the United States that will rein in Russian actions, it has chosen to withdraw from the Commonwealth of Independent States, an action that it may well regret, should conflict again break out.

The conflict's fallout is even having an impact on the U.S. presidential election. On Aug. 12 John McCain said he had spoken to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili that day, saying, "I told him that I know I speak for every American when I say to him, 'Today we are all Georgians.'" If McCain wins the election, Tbilisi is guaranteed a friend in the White House. During the second presidential debate on Oct. 7, while not adopting as strident a tone as McCain, Barack Obama stated that "Georgia in particular is now on the brink of enormous economic challenges."

U.S. tax dollars already have begun flowing to Georgia for reconstruction. Earlier this month international donors pledged $4.55 billion and on Oct. 22, Henrietta H. Fore, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development and director of U.S. Foreign Assistance, announced, "Today the United States is pledging to make available $1 billion over the next two years to meet humanitarian needs and facilitate reconstruction."

As the cash and moral support flows in, what has been signally lacking over the last two months from Tbilisi is any indication of willingness to use diplomacy to repair its tattered relations with its giant northern neighbor.

After the "guns of August" fell silent, on Aug. 12 Saakashvili announced Georgia would leave the CIS; two days later the Georgian Parliament voted unanimously to support the withdrawal. On Aug. 18 CIS Deputy Executive Secretary Nauryz Gubaidullaevich Aidarov, a Kazakh, announced that the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had written to the CIS Executive Committee notifying it of Georgia's intention to withdraw under Article 9 of the CIS Charter. It is a decision that may well come back to haunt Tbilisi.

By so doing, Georgia has deprived itself of a forum of former Soviet states that could assist it in re-establishing dialogue with Moscow. While Russia de facto dominates the CIS, it does not control it, as evidenced by the other CIS members' discreet diplomatic disinclination to support Russia's unilateral recognition of Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence. This action alone should have curbed Tbilisi's action, as it represented a subtle yet nonetheless very powerful gesture of support.

The CIS itself predates the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, as it was founded on Dec. 8, 1991 by the presidents of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. On Dec. 21, four days before the Soviet Union dissolved, the leaders of the Soviet republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan agreed to join the new organization. The three Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania opted out, while Georgia joined in December 1993.

Far from being a revitalized version of the highly centralized Soviet Union, the CIS has functioned much more loosely, its closest parallel perhaps being the British Commonwealth, as the constituent CIS members place a high priority on national sovereignty.

Besides demonstrating the fragility of the Georgian military, the conflict also underlined the vulnerability of pipelines traversing Georgia. Despite Washington's enthusiasm for such projects as the Nabucco natural gas pipeline, those promoting them are going to have an uphill struggle persuading investors to invest in a country that two months ago was a war zone.

The conflict may also darken Georgia's standing in the international community. On Oct. 28 the BBC issued a special report citing evidence that Georgia might have committed war crimes in South Ossetia, stating, "The evidence was gathered by the BBC on the first unrestricted visit to South Ossetia by a foreign news organization since the conflict." Human Rights Watch has voiced similar concerns about possible Georgian and Russian war crimes as well. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has raised the issue with Tbilisi, and if the evidence is confirmed, Georgia's hopes for NATO membership will suffer a deep if not irreversible setback.

Georgia is not currently a member of any military alliance, nor has it any formal allies. In such a circumstance, the tacit unwillingness of Russia's CIS partners to validate Russia's recognition of Georgia's breakaway regions speaks volumes and is an action that will cause reflection in Moscow at a far deeper level than shrill Western denunciations and NATO membership saber-rattling, something apparently dismissed in Tbilisi.

Geography is what it is, and no amount of Georgian wishful thinking will remove Russia as a neighbor, or bring the United States closer. Georgia's exclusion from the CIS will become formal on Aug. 18, 2009, a year after it filed its intention to quit. In the next 10 months, one might hope that dispassionate reflection in Tbilisi might eventually conclude that the CIS contains 10 possible allies rather than one overwhelming enemy.

Saakashvili ought to remember that under the terms of the NATO charter, an attack on one member is an attack on all, and NATO is already bogged down in Afghanistan in a "peace" mission, making it less likely to accept a pugnacious new member, whatever Washington might say. And many NATO members, including Georgia's neighbor Turkey, are too deeply involved in Russian energy imports to support Georgian irredentist ambitions.

In rejecting CIS membership, Georgia has dismissed a largely sympathetic audience in favor of NATO members' self-absorbed indifference, which most analysts would conclude was a bad choice. Fortunately, 10 months remain to ameliorate the mistake.

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Russian navy to hold exercises in Mediterranean: report
Moscow (AFP) Oct 30, 2008
Russian warships from the Arctic Ocean and the Black Sea will take part in exercises in the Mediterranean, the RIA Novosti state news agency reported Thursday, citing a Russian navy source.







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