Ukraine cuts more of last remaining links with post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States

The flags of the CIS (left), Ukraine (right), 'CIS associate member' Turkmenistan (third from the right), and nine CIS member countries. Photo: sputniknews.kz 

Russia, Ukraine

In April 2018, then-President Petro Poroshenko announced that Ukraine would leave the Commonwealth of Independent States, a process that formally requires notification and then a year’s wait. But in fact, Ukraine’s edging away from the CIS began earlier and continues to this day.

Last week, the current president of Ukraine, Vladimir Zelensky signed a decree ending Kyiv’s participation in two CIS humanitarian cooperation efforts, a useful occasion for surveying how Ukraine has treated its ties with the Russian-led grouping earlier and how it is exiting them now.

CIS countries. Map: Wikimedia Commons

In his critical commentary, Russian observer Fyodor Koloskov says that most people think Ukraine began to leave the grouping of post-Soviet states only after 2014, but that is not in fact the case.

Although it was nominally one of the creators of the CIS, Ukraine maintained a cautious approach to it from the beginning, as it was the only member state which signed the constituent documents but never ratified them. As a result, Kyiv participated when it suited it and didn’t when it didn’t from the very beginning.

Thus, while nominally a member of the CIS and a signatory to many of its more than 1,000 agreements, Ukraine felt completely free to develop GUAM as “an anti-CIS” on the territory of the former Soviet space and seek agreements with the European Union that directly contradicted relations among CIS members.

That conflict led to the Maidan in 2013-2014 and to the turmoil which resulted in Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its involvement in the Donbas. After those events, Kyiv suspended its cooperation with the CIS although did not formally indicate it would withdraw until four years later and even now hasn’t denounced all agreements.
Instead, it has pursued a cafeteria approach, getting rid of or ignoring what it doesn’t like but still making use of what it finds convenient, Kolosov says.  In part, that is because Ukrainian diplomats have been able to convince the Ukrainian leadership and parliament that Kyiv benefits from some cooperation even if it suspends other parts of it [unfortunately, the Russian commenter didn’t provide any examples of the cooperation he believes exists, – Ed.].

But there is no doubt, the Russian analyst says, that this slow-motion divorce will continue, although he does not acknowledge what that means for Moscow.

A CIS without Ukraine is not what Moscow has hoped for as it recalls Zbigniew Brzezinski’s classic formulation that Russia without Ukraine is not an empire and thus may have a chance to become a country.

Editor’s Note

The Commonwealth of Independent States – a Russia-dominated regional intergovernmental organization – has nine member states. Besides the Russian Federation, the alliance includes eight more post-Soviet countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova. Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Georgia withdrew from the CIS amid the Russian invasion in August 2008.

One of the CIS “founding states,” Ukraine has never been its member since the country never ratified the signed CIS membership documents. With the beginning of the Russian aggression in Ukraine in 2014, Kyiv ceased to participate in CIS, and in 2018 withdrew representatives from all CIS statutory bodies. Following the victory of TV comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the 2019 Ukrainian presidential elections, the CIS Executive Committee invited him and then foreign minister Vadym Prystaiko to the upcoming CIS summit, yet in vain.

Another “CIS founding state” that has never been a member is Turkmenistan which became an “associate state” in 2005.


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