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So we’ve left the CIS, what now?

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, June 23
On June 12 the Georgian Parliament finally confirmed the decision to withdraw from the CIS, which was taken on August 18, 2008 after the Russian invasion. Therefore in less than two months Georgia will be formally withdrawn from the organisation.

This was not only an emotional decision taken in response to Russia’s invasion of a CIS partner country. The issue had been discussed many times in the Georgian Parliament and Government. Twice Parliament recommended we withdraw but the final decision had not been taken.

Georgia’s presence in the CIS was always understood in the context of its relations with Russia. Neither the Shevardnadze nor Saakashvili administration wanted to upset Moscow. The CIS was the Kremlin’s baby, and it very much wanted to preserve the international image and viability of this artificial amalgamation. But last year’s war and the brutal aggression of the CIS leader against a fellow member put an end to all the doubts. What could have been worse than direct military aggression? When Georgia had previously planned to withdraw it had never thought in its worst nightmares that there would be a direct Russian military aggression and invasion. Tbilisi always thought that Russia could take strict economic sanctions or use other levers to persuade Georgia not to withdraw from the organisation, but nobody could have imagined the open attack and invasion which occurred last August.

Experts speculated about the threats Georgia might face if it withdrew from the CIS but the August aggression forced Georgia’s hand. There was an opinion however that Georgia should not have withdrawn from the CIS but instead used the CIS tribune to publicly condemn Russia’s behaviour and demand its expulsion from the organisation. This could have been a very romantic move but most likely it would not have brought any positive result for Tbilisi. So the final decision was taken right after the Russian invasion, when Georgian territories had been occupied by the Russian armed forces, whose tanks were and still are standing 40 kilometres from Tbilisi.

Georgia has followed all the withdrawal procedures specified in the CIS charter and its membership will be rescinded on August 19. Now it is trying to ensure that it continues to be covered by the terms of certain CIS agreements which it signed. There are more than 70 of these, and Georgia has already signed bilateral documents with some CIS countries on free trade and other issues to try and maintain the same relationships with them as before, but outside the CIS.

The Russian reaction to Georgia’s withdrawal was typically cynical, mocking and threatening. Some Russian officials said that Tbilisi is conducting itself in a destructive manner as it is. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov labelled Georgia’s decision to withdraw from the CIS irresponsible. Some people stated that Georgia will lose more than it would gain by leaving, and would therefore change its mind at the last moment. However Georgia has shown itself to be determined and the process is irreversible. Whatever Russia says it really does matter for the CIS, and Russia as its driving force, if Georgia leaves the union. By doing this Georgia slaps Russia in the face, an insult Russia is used to dishing out but feels it should never receive itself.

Some political analysts suggest that Moscow will try once again to punish Tbilisi for its conduct. Maybe it will try to prevent Georgia’s participation in certain agreements. Most probably it will also start trying to persuade other CIS countries not to sign a free trade regime with Georgia or at least create some obstacles for them if they do so, although eight of the ten remaining CIS states have signed such agreements with Georgia. But in this country we ask, what more can Russia do to us after occupying Georgian territories? Georgia is still a member of GUAM, together with Ukraine, Moldova and Azerbaijan. Though this organisation barely exists it still does exist, and could prove a more than adequate substitute for the CIS, particularly as the aggressor is not involved.

Russia’s main concern now however is the Eastern Partnership Programme the EU has launched which involves six former Soviet countries: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine. The Kremlin will do anything possible, and maybe even impossible, to undermine this programme. The Georgian leadership is insisting that the EPP is the way for Georgia to integrate with the EU, but Moscow has labelled it an EU attempt to meddle in the sphere of Russian interest. Maybe Georgia has now shown Russia, and the world, that you cannot claim to have a ‘sphere of interest’ when nobody is interested in you.