Ode to joke

  • 2005-08-31
If anything, the Commonwealth of Independent States will go down in history as the most meaningless union in contemporary history (barring CENTO). It has virtually nothing to offer its members and absolutely nothing for the outside world. Yet the 12 member states continue to meet on an annual basis and smile and mutter lofty phrases about cooperation, when in reality they understand that the union is doomed. Turkmenistan announced after the summit that it was demoting itself to an associate member - bringing union membership to 11 - and no one has any illusions about where the true allegiance of Ukraine and Georgia's current leadership rests.

There is, of course, a core of Kremlin policy makers that longs for a de facto restoration of the U.S.S.R., with a degree of power centralized in Moscow. President Vladimir Putin is chief among them, and not once in all the interviews over the years has he concealed his regret that the Soviet Union fell apart. The CIS is the only chance Russia has to scrabble together its old empire.

Indeed, with the European Union stretching eastward, and U.S. influence expanding in Central Asia, the "CIS concept" is ever more urgent for Moscow. Chances are, however, Russia's leadership will botch its own efforts. The Kremlin earnestly believes that, after years of providing cheap energy supplies to its neighbors, it deserves more loyalty. In this sense the democratic revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova were a bucket of cold water, and Moscow no longer intends to subsidize them.

"Russia is not happy with the situation when in fact it subsidizes the economies of certain countries by supplying them with energy resources at discount prices while their people remain impoverished," a Kremlin source told the RIA Novosti agency last week. "Such situations create grounds for 'Orange Revolutions' that change little in people's lives but bring to power rulers, some of whom are... on the payroll of the United States."

Even "ultra-loyal" Belarus has shown the uselessness of supporting a friendly regime through energy subsidies, but the Kremlin continues to tolerate Alexander Lukashenko's shenanigans. "There is, in effect, a free-for-all going on in the post-Soviet space. Russia wants to establish some rules, and they should be civilized rules," the Kremlin source went on to say.

The apparent contradiction in those rules - cheap oil and gas for "friendly" leaders and world prices for all the rest - will bury any hope Moscow has of resuscitating the moribund CIS. Granted, while those rules may inherently be civilized - a seller has the right to sell to whomever he wants at whatever price he wants - they will ultimately spell the death of the CIS.

The Baltic states will have the pleasure of sitting on the sidelines and watching it happen, while at the same time "picking at the pieces" and guiding some CIS members along the path of European intergration. Though they have no natural resources, the Balts can lead by example - something Moscow has yet to figure out.