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May 23, 2006
Moscow Waning

The Kremlin has suffered a major blow to its prestige, as four of the former Soviet republics have now repudiated their membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States. The rebelling members will form their own alliance, which will emphasize democracy:

ONE of the last vestiges of the Soviet Union appeared to be crumbling yesterday, when four former republics signalled that they were pulling out of the organisation established to keep the Kremlin connected with its lost empire.

At a meeting in Kiev the leaders of the pro-Western states of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine pledged to form their own association to promote democratic values. They also hinted that they would leave the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which was created 15 years ago as a group representing most of the former Soviet republics. ...

Viktor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian President, said: “Our citizens are giving us a mandate to develop strong democratic and successful states.” The move is seen as a huge snub to Moscow, which has not been invited to join. It faces the prospect of being left in a CIS of eight states, including Belarus, regarded as the last dictatorship in Europe, Armenia, and the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The splits within the CIS ranks have been growing in recent months. Moscow, which backed Mr Yushchenko’s opponent in the Ukrainian elections, clashed with Ukraine this year when it suspended gas sales, causing an energy crisis across Europe in the middle of winter.

The Kremlin has also rowed openly with Tbilisi over Russian support for two breakaway regions in Georgia and its reluctant withdrawal of troops from the country. Moscow’s recent decision to ban the import of Georgian and Moldovan wine has strained ties further.

This has little to do with trade disputes. The split between Russia and especially Georgia and Ukraine have grown more pronounced as the breakaway republics sought democracy, while Vladimir Putin rolled it back. These former Soviet subjects know Putin better than the West, and they can see the new imperialism returning in Putin's autocracy. Moscow tried mightily to interfere with the internal politics of its neighbors, and the Yushchenkos and Nogaidelis of the area understand that this impulse will grow stronger unless they take steps to separate themselves from Putin and Russia.

Putin now faces another diplomatic disaster on the eve of the G-8 summit. While his electorate might be impressed with his economic outreach to the West, they will probably care more about their cousins in these republics taking such pains to distance themselves from Russia. The Russians already have a well-known inferiority complex; watching as allies achieve escape velocity from Russia's orbit will not make them any more confident about their place in the world.

Of course, that was the only function of the CIS anyway. The organization had no real power or even purpose, other than to make Russia feel better about losing her empire. Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin had hopes for transforming it into a version of the British Commonwealth, a collection of independent states that still gave at least nominal recognition to Moscow as the center of their universe. That dream faded years ago when Russia proved barely capable of governing itself, but none of the members apparently cared enough about the CIS to leave it -- until now, when Russian mischief made it impossible to stay.

Eight states remain in the CIS. Do not be surprised if that number drops significantly by the end of the year.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 23, 2006 9:37 PM

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