ROAR: Modernization on CIS’s agenda

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Russia is proposing new ways to reform the Commonwealth of the Independent States as the country is presiding in the organization this year.

The modernization of the CIS is, of course, on the agenda,” First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov stressed. Basic principles on the CIS space may be the same as those Russia is ready to take in its relations with the European Union, he said, addressing International Conference “Russia and Global World: New Decade Challenges” held in Moscow in January.

A special conference on the issues of reforming the CIS may take place soon, Shuvalov said. “Thus, we are building a bridge across the common economic space to other CIS states to form a unified legislation so that business has a common base for development, he noted.

In the future, a common space may be built that includes the CIS countries and the EU countries, the deputy prime minister believes. Meanwhile, the Customs Union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan could well adopt a single currency at some point, he noted on March 5.

The Customs Union became effective on January 1, with the three countries introduced common foreign trade tariffs. Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus also want to join the World Trade Organization separately, but with their positions synchronized.

The integration on the post-Soviet space does not contradict our embedding in the global economy,” Shuvalov stressed.

Meanwhile, Russia, presiding in the CIS this year, is proposing concrete steps directed at further integration. According to Shuvalov, a draft treaty on free trade will “meet the highest international standards.” Speaking with Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbaev on March 2, Shuvalov said that the treaty may be finally agreed next year, when the 20th anniversary of the CIS will be commemorated.

Shuvalov has visited a number of the CIS countries recently to share Moscow’s opinion about developing the Commonwealth. He describes as “the next stage of integration” the creation of the common economic space that could be achieved by January 1, 2012.

At the same time, there will be no reforming “for the sake of reforming,” said Sergey Lebedev, chairman of the CIS Executive Committee. The organization has proved its effectiveness, he told journalists during the international economic forum of the CIS countries on March 5. One should not expect “revolutions,” Lebedev said.

There is a growing awareness in the Commonwealth of the need to modernize and develop research technologies and a broader use of transport infrastructure and transit potential, he noted. Uniting efforts in these spheres may help some countries to overcome the existing lag, he said.

Shuvalov also stressed that during his trips to CIS countries he discussed “two basic infrastructure directions, the cooperation in the energy and transport spheres.”

Meanwhile, the CIS countries are developing relations even in such spheres as television. President Dmitry Medvedev is holding a meeting on March 10 on the information presence of these countries in Russia. Representatives of the Commonwealth member states and heads of Russian leading TV channels are expected to attend.

The TV channels of CIS countries may be included in the program of the development of digital television in Russia.

Medvedev mentioned the preparation for this meeting when he met with the new Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich last week. “When we are concerned about the state of the Russian language in our closest neighbors’ states, of course, we should look at ourselves, asking how we deal with the Ukrainian language, for example, in Russia, and if the conditions for learning the Ukrainian language have been created,” Medvedev said.

Yanukovich said on March 9 that Ukrainian will remain the only state language. The Russian-speaking population will be able to us their language without problems after introducing the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

The Ukrainian president will take part in an informal CIS summit in Moscow on May 8. He has said that Kiev could enter the Customs Union, but only on the WTO conditions as the country had joined that organization.

Ukraine is a founding state of the CIS. However, the country has not ratified the CIS charter, and de facto it is participating in the organization, but officially it is not a member state.

Analysts are divided between those thinking that the CIS does not bring good results to the participants, and those who believe that the organization has good perspectives.

The CIS is a unique organization,” Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper said. “Everyone criticizes it, but nobody has left it for ever. Even Georgia still participates in many of its structures and projects” despite it has officially severed ties, the paper said.

Practically everyone agrees that the Commonwealth needs reforming, but little has been done in this direction,” the paper noted. “This can be explained by the fact that the CIS countries have pinned great hopes on Russia, thinking that it may bring new impetuses to the cooperation.”

As the country presiding over the CIS, Russia will further cooperation in many spheres, including innovations. 2010 will be the year of science and innovations, and the intergovernmental agreement will be signed on the cooperation till 2020, as well as the agreement on the creation of the common research and educational infrastructure, the paper said.

The CIS countries will also continue developing relations in the security sphere. In May, the heads of governments will discuss military cooperation in Moscow.

The member states now “clearly understand that it is more profitable to have a viable union with fixed rules of adopting decisions than simply a platform for the exchange of opinions,” Krasnaya Zvezda said.

There is every reason to believe that the current reform of the CIS may lead in the future to the creation of a strong regional alliance that provides military, economic and energy security of its members,” the paper stressed.

In fact, the Commonwealth is a regional organization uniting neighboring countries,” agrees Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Institute of the CIS Countries. “This is not a political organization or economic organization, it is a regional organization, and all of its structures should be transformed according to its purpose,” he told Actualcomment.ru website.

The issues of economic integration could be passed to “where this integration is really happening – the Customs Union, the Eurasian Economic Community,” the analyst thinks. The military issues could be passed to the Collective Security Treaty Organization, he added.

There is no problem of “centrifugal forces,” Zharikhin believes. “Georgia withdrew from the CIS, and what of that?” he asked, adding that “nobody followed” Tbilisi.

By the way, Georgia has retained the agreements that are profitable for it,” the analyst noted. “For example, if they had entirely abandoned the agreements concluded within the CIS, then [President Mikhail] Saakashvili, who graduated from Kiev University, and [former speaker of the parliament Nino] Burjanadze, who graduated from Moscow State university of International Relations would have stayed without higher education.”

Sergey Borisov, RT