Commonwealth Creates New Political Regime

By Daniel Sneider, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 23, 1991 | Go to article overview

Commonwealth Creates New Political Regime


Daniel Sneider, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


BENEATH the snow-capped peaks of the Tian Shan mountains, what began as a Slavic commonwealth expanded on Saturday to embrace almost all of the former Soviet Union.

The survivors of the collapse of the Soviet state managed to agree on who would constitute the new Commonwealth of Independent States - 11 of the 12 former Soviet republics, with the three already independent Baltic nations and Georgia opting out for now. But they failed to concur on how to coordinate their defense and economic policies, leaving open the question of whether this loose commonwealth can handle the complex and divisive issues before it.

The leaders of the commonwealth who assembled in Alma Ata, the capital of Kazakhstan, invited Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev "to resign with dignity," as Russian President Boris Yeltsin put it. They offered Mr. Gorbachev a pension and other post-presidential benefits, gently urging him to depart the Kremlin stronghold he has held for more than six years.

Gorbachev is said to be preparing a final televised address to the nation, but the timing of his resignation remains a mystery, even to his close aides. "Nobody knows," longtime adviser Georgi Shaknazarov told the Monitor yesterday. "He will declare it himself. He says it's his own business when to do it."

The commonwealth leaders adopted five documents at their meeting, all of them negotiated in advance by teams of officials. Some thorny issues were dispatched:

* Russia won its demand to inherit the Soviet seat at the United Nations and its seat on the UN Security Council.

* Single control over nuclear weapons was confirmed.

* A coordinating structure was created.

* The existing borders were recognized.

However, the leaders failed to agree on the text of a new collective security treaty precisely defining their joint military system, including what forces will be under joint command and how the new unified defense structure will operate. Nor did they settle how the commonwealth will practically manage common economic policies such as currency.

The leaders will meet again in Minsk on Dec. 30 to settle these questions. Until then a "transitional period" is established during which the military will continue to operate under the command of present Soviet Defense Minister Air Marshal Yevgeny Shaposhnikov. A commonwealth council of heads of state will be the coordinating body until they can agree on a more defined structure.

Kazakhstan government spokesman Seitcazy Matayev explained that "There were many objections" to the military treaty, "including those from the Ukraine." He said the Ukraine had also objected to the appointment of Marshal Shaposhnikov as the permanent commander in chief.

"The main thing that satisfies me is that strategic {nuclear} weapons remain under single control," Shaposhnikov said. …

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