THE marriage of the former Soviet republics in a Commonwealth of
Independent States is threatening to be short-lived. The monthly
summits of its leaders, like the one that took place Friday in
Minsk, increasingly resemble divorce proceedings.
Belarus leader and host Stanislav Shushkevich tried to put the
best face on the disagreement when the Minsk meeting ended, as
almost every previous session has, with very little in the way of
"Yesterday, as never before, we understood that the Commonwealth
of Independent States is the structure without which we will never
survive," he told reporters on Saturday.
The former Communist daily Pravda greeted such pronouncements
with skepticism yesterday. "No matter what optimistic politicians
say, speaking in everyday language, they are ensuring not the
process of marriage, the creation of a single family, but a process
of divorce, the division of everything."
When it comes to the "family" property, nothing is more valuable
than the 3.7 million-soldier Red Army, long the symbol and
substance of the former Soviet Union's claim to be a superpower.
The Minsk meeting failed to reach consensus on 13 agreements
designed to maintain a common military for at least a transitional
period, including forming a common defense budget.
Such battles over property have made it practically impossible
for the commonwealth states to do what they have repeatedly pledged
at their meetings - fulfill the international arms treaties signed
by the Soviet Union, particularly the Strategic Arms Reduction
Treaty (START) and the treaty to reduce Conventional Forces in
Europe (CFE). At Friday's meeting, commonwealth members delayed
ratification of these treaties until at least March 20, when
another commonwealth summit will be held in Kiev to try to resolve
the defense issues.
"The regular round of negotiations in Minsk regarding military
issues has concluded with the birth of new problems," the Russian
government daily Rossiskaya Gazeta said yesterday. "The sides did
not manage to form a common military space. The West and the US
have grounds to worry; the fate of strategic nuclear forces is
Such concerns clearly drove the announcement here yesterday,
following talks between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and United
States Secretary of State James Baker III, of creation of a joint
center in Russia to employ former Soviet arms scientists, whom the
leaders fear could sell their skills to other countries. The
agreement, also joined by Germany, will fund research aimed at
aiding the conversion of former Soviet defense industries to
civilian purposes. The US will contribute $25 million and private
investment will be solicited. …