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Unformatted text preview: Kramer Russian Policy Toward the CIS 3 Problems of Post-Communism, vol. 55, no. 6, November/December 2008, pp. 3–19. © 2008 M.E. Sharpe, Inc. All rights reserved. ISSN 1075–8216 / 2008 $9.50 + 0.00. DOI 10.2753/PPC1075-8216550601 Russian Policy Toward the Commonwealth of Independent States Recent Trends and Future Prospects Mark Kramer MARK KRAMER is director of Harvard University’s Cold War Studies Program and a senior fellow at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. O NE of the casualties of the August 2008 war between Russia and the small neighboring republic of Geor- gia was Georgia’s membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the organization of former Soviet republics that was set up at the Russian govern- ment’s initiative on December 21, 1991. Georgia had been a member of the CIS since December 1993, but in 2006 President Mikheil Saakashvili called for it to pull out of the Commonwealth, which he and other senior offi cials in Tbilisi dismissed as a “moribund relic of the early 1990s” and an “institution that has outlived its usefulness.” 1 Saakashvili worried that continued membership in the CIS would impede Georgia’s efforts to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union (EU), and other Western groupings. The Georgian parliament declined to endorse Saakashvili’s proposal in 2006, but in mid-August 2008, less than a week after large-scale fi ghting broke out between Russian and Georgian forces in the South Ossetian region, the parliament approved Georgia’s withdrawal from the CIS. The CIS has enjoyed a prominent role in Russian for- eign policy since the organization was created. Both Boris Yeltsin and his successor, Vladimir Putin, gave strong emphasis to the Commonwealth and sought to expand its functions. In mid-July 2008 the Russian government adopted a new Foreign Policy Concept that reaffi rmed the Moscow has made it abundantly clear that the Commonwealth of Independent States is a Russian sphere of infl uence where the role of other great powers must be minimized. TIGHTENING THE REINS 4 Problems of Post-Communism November/December 2008 “fundamental importance” of the CIS and characterized “the development of bilateral and multilateral cooperation with CIS member-states” as “the major thrust of Russia’s foreign policy.” 2 The Foreign Policy Concept was signed by Russia’s new president, Dmitry Medvedev, who followed up in late August 2008 by proclaiming that “Russia, like other (great powers) in the world,” is entitled to “privi- leged interests” in certain key regions, notably the CIS. 3 This explicit designation of the CIS as a Russian sphere of infl uence in the aftermath of the Russian-Georgian war bore all the hallmarks of Putin, who, despite having stepped down as president in May 2008 after completing his second term, has remained the most powerful leader in Russia in his new role as prime minister. Under the Russian constitution, the president is supposed to be the country’s...
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