Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Russian Sodruzhestvo Nezavisimykh Gosudarstv, free association of sovereign states that was formed in 1991 by Russia and 11 other republics that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had its origins on December 8, 1991, when the elected leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus (Belorussia) signed an agreement forming a new association to replace the crumbling Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.). The three Slavic republics were subsequently joined by the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, by the Transcaucasian republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and by Moldova. (The remaining former Soviet republics—Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia—declined to join the new organization.) The CIS formally came into being on December 21, 1991, and began operations the following month, with the city of Minsk in Belarus designated as its administrative centre.

The CIS’s functions are to coordinate its members’ policies regarding their economies, foreign relations, defense, immigration policies, environmental protection, and law enforcement. Its top governmental body is a council composed of the member republics’ heads of state (i.e., presidents) and of government (prime ministers), who are assisted by committees of republic cabinet ministers in key areas such as economics and defense. The CIS’s members pledged to keep both their armed forces and the former Soviet nuclear weapons stationed on their territories under a single unified command. In practice this proved difficult, however, as did the members’ efforts to coordinate the introduction of market-type mechanisms and private ownership into their respective economies.

In August 2008, following an escalation of hostilities between Russia and Georgia over the separatist region of South Ossetia, Georgia announced its intention to withdraw from the CIS. The withdrawal was finalized in August 2009. A similar proxy war broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014 after Russia’s illegal annexation of the Ukrainian autonomous republic of Crimea. By 2018 at least 10,000 people had been killed in clashes between Ukrainian armed forces and Russian-backed paramilitary units in the Donets Basin. In May of that year, Ukrainian Pres. Petro Poroshenko officially withdrew Ukraine’s membership from the CIS.

More about the Commonwealth of Independent States


As early as March 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev, then president of the Soviet Union, proposed a federation by holding a referendum on preserving the USSR as a union of sovereign states. The signing of the new treaty never took place, as Communist Party hardliners attempted a coup in August of that year. After the events of the failed coup, the Soviet republics had declared independence for fear of another coup.

Ukraine’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union on 24 August 1991, significantly reduced the chances for the USSR’s continued cohesion.

On 26 December 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved. Two days later, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was established in its place.

In 1993 Georgia joined the CIS, but as a result of the armed conflict over South Ossetia (Russo-Georgian War), Georgia declared its withdrawal from the CIS on 14 August 2008.

Since 25 August 2005, Turkmenistan has also been an associate member only, to comply with its international neutrality status recognized by the United Nations.

Ukraine largely suspended its participation in the CIS beginning in 2014 and, in 2018, withdrew its representatives from all CIS statutory bodies as a result of the Russian Federation’s annexation of Crimea and Russia’s involvement in the war in the Donbas.

Founding of the Commonwealth of Independent States

The Commonwealth of Independent States was founded on 8 December 1991 by the Soviet republics of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

The CIS announced that the new organization would be open to all republics of the former Soviet Union.
The leaders of the eight former Soviet republics Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan signed the Alma-Ata Protocol on 28 December 1991. With the agreement was decided the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the creation of the CIS.

The signatories of the Alma-Ata Protocol

The signatories of the Alma-Ata Protocol were
Russia: Boris Yeltsin
Ukraine: Leonid Kravchuk
Belarus: Stanislav Shushkevich
Armenia: Levon Ter-Petrosyan
Azerbaijan: Ayaz Mutallibov
Kazakhstan: Nursultan Nazarbayev
Kyrgyzstan: Askar Akayev
Moldova: Mircea Snegur
Tajikistan: Rahmon Nabiyev
Turkmenistan: Saparmurat Niyazov
Uzbekistan: Islam Karimov