CIS Gathers for Informal Summit in Russia Amid Tension, War
The informal CIS meeting in St. Petersburg coincides with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 70th birthday, but it won’t be much of a celebration.
By Catherine Putz
October 07, 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin is marking his 70th birthday on October 7 huddling with the leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States at an informal meeting in St. Petersburg. The leaders of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have all been reported as attending the meeting in Russia. 
The president of Kyrgyzstan, Sadyr Japarov, has specifically been reported as not attending. Though no official reason has been given, on October 4 Putin signed a decree awarding Tajik President Emomali Rahmon the Order of Merit for the Fatherland, 3rd class, for strengthening the Russia-Tajikistan strategic partnership and “ensuring regional stability and security.” Rahmon, whose 70th birthday was October 5, is expected to receive the award during the CIS gathering. Kyrgyz authorities made clear their displeasure at the award, with foreign ministry press secretary Chingiz Kustebaev posting on Facebook: “It is interesting what kind of regional security one can talk about when from year to year the actions of the Tajik leadership in the region undermine peace and harmony among the peoples of the countries of Central Asia.”
It’s also not clear if the leaders of Azerbaijan or Moldova will attend the CIS gathering in St. Petersburg. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan met with French President Emanuel Macron and EU met on the sidelines of the first European Political Community summit in Prague, Czechia, on October 6. The two leaders, whose states are in the grips of serious tension amid a recent resumption of violence, also met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Pashinyan was reported as flying on to St. Petersburg, but it’s not clear if Aliyev has made the trip too.
What does it matter who attends the informal CIS summit in St. Petersburg? The attendance list tells us about the current state of the CIS. At a time when Putin is increasingly a pariah on the global stage, the CIS countries are the closest partners Russia has.
As the Soviet Union collapsed, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) rose from its ashes. What began as an agreement between Russia, Belarus and Ukraine — the Belavezha Accords — expanded by the end of December 1991 to include 11 of the 15 Soviet Republics. In December 1993, Georgia joined the CIS, which then covered the entirety of the former Soviet Union’s territory with the exceptions of the Baltic states — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — which instead pursued closer relations with Europe and by 2004 NATO membership. Only ten of the states that participated in the CIS creation ratified its charter (Turkmenistan and Ukraine never did) and at present, the commonwealth only counts nine states as members (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). Ukraine participated as an “associate” until 2018 and Georgia withdrew after the 2008 war with Russia.
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Within the CIS, as with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, are a bevy of tense relationships, particularly Armenia-Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan as noted above. The departure and disassociation of Georgia and Ukraine were both linked to Russian military aggression. Putin’s view of the Soviet collapse as a “genuine tragedy,” informs his approach to the CIS. But member states have largely remained neutral when it comes to the Ukraine conflict, a position which puts them at odds with Putin and Russia. If Putin had hoped the CIS would be a well of loyalty, he may be disappointed. At the same time, despite much chatter about a split, the president of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, is attending the informal meeting. This demonstrates continued hope in Astana for the wider network of CIS relationships, despite Russia’s decision of the past year. Indeed, with Russia diminished, the grouping’s other members may find more room to cooperate on their own terms within the commonwealth.
Either way, with continued news of Russian battlefield losses in Ukraine it won’t be a very happy birthday for Putin.
Catherine Putz is managing editor of The Diplomat.

The Russians Who Are Leaving

Jun 13, 2022 Sławomir Sierakowski

Regardless of whether Russia wins or loses its war of aggression in Ukraine, the country and its problematic political culture will remain. And while the growing Russian diaspora could play an integral role in domestic reform over the long term, it first will have to prove that it can put realism before nostalgia.

WARSAW – In the broader discussion about Russia’s war on Ukraine, an important but overlooked element is the exodus of Russians from their homeland. Though it is impossible to determine the scale of this phenomenon, we can expect the outflow to continue, especially if the United States pursues a policy to lure highly skilled specialists and sustain a Russian brain drain, as President Joe Biden has proposed.

The Russian diaspora could be a key partner in building a new Russia after Vladimir Putin no longer rules. But the emigrants cannot count on a warm welcome in Europe, where resentment against even “ordinary Russians” is now widespread. To be sure, the sentiment is somewhat understandable, given that Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine apparently commands high support among the Russian public. Such findings from pollsters cannot be ignored. Though the Kremlin has unleashed the full might of its propaganda machine, it is not as though we are living in the 1940s. Russians who want the truth can easily get it. Still, we should question whether polling data can capture the true state of Russian public opinion, even when it is gathered by the independent, highly respected Levada Center. In a democracy, pollsters ask citizens to rank their preference for multiple candidates, and the results offer a straightforward picture of where the public stands (with a small margin of error). But what are we to make of polls that give people a “choice” between a figure with 83% support and no one else? To respond “no” is to put oneself outside the bounds of normalcy. Even if you don’t support Putin, you might not want to take the position of being “different from everyone else,” much less be completely candid with pollsters asking politically sensitive questions. Given these complications, the best we can do is to assume that support for Putin is indeed widespread. Though he certainly is not backed by 70-80% of Russians, he may have the support of around half. But even if it were true that only 10-20% of Russians oppose Putin, that is still 14-28 million people. Why alienate them by issuing broad condemnations of Russian society? Making enemies of these potential allies is neither fair nor politically wise.

Regardless of whether Russia wins or loses the war, it will not cease to exist. More to the point, the problem is not this or that Russian leader (have they really been so different from each other historically?) or “ordinary Russians.” The problem with Russia stems from a political culture shaped by Byzantine Orthodoxy and Mongol domination, and an economy based on raw materials extraction. These factors all work against democracy. If people’s incomes are derived from natural resources and distributed by the powers that be, what kind of regime should we expect? If changing this model is possible, it will take many years and would require the disintegration of the state, most likely along ethnic lines. It would also require a new mentality in Western Europe, which so often was naive about Russia. Emigrants would be natural candidates to lead this process, provided that they meet certain conditions. In the past, those who fled from Russia or the Soviet Union abhorred the regime but shared the belief that Russia can and should truly be great, which a priori means that it includes Ukraine; even dissidents like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky thought this way. If the most recent cohort of emigrants shares this view, there is nothing to talk about. The West should do them no favors. But let us hope that today’s emigrants are different or can change their position. An interesting point of reference is the story of Polish emigration after 1945. For a long time, Poles clung desperately to their long-lost status as a regional power, harboring illusions that Lithuania, Belarus, and parts of western Ukraine belonged in Poland. They pointed out that up until 1939, Wilno (now Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital) and Lwów (now the Ukrainian city of Lviv) were within Polish borders. And many Poles even dreamed of restoring the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that existed before the partitions of 1772-95. Even today, if Poles are being honest, they will admit that while they consider the Russian bombardments of Kharkiv and Kyiv to be tragic, they see the threat to historical buildings in Lviv as being far worse. After World War II, the largest share of Polish emigrants went to London, but they retained a sense of possessiveness over what had been lost. Many spoke of “Lwów-i-Wilno,” just as Russians still insist on “Krymnash” (“Our Crimea”). Anyone who accepted that Poland’s eastern border lay on the Bug River was considered a traitor. Only very slowly did a wise alternative to this way of thinking emerge. It started in Paris, where a small center organized around the Literary Institute and Jerzy Giedroyc’s Kultura magazine began to formulate a doctrine known as the “ULB,” which stated: “There will be no independent Poland without an independent Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania.” The point was not to advance some starry-eyed cosmopolitan vision. Rather, ULB was about hard political realism: If Poles continued to fight the nations between Germany and Russia, they would continue to lose. Only by cooperating could the smaller nations of Central and Eastern Europe strike out for independence. This insight now serves as the foundation of Polish foreign policy (even for the current nationalist government), and one can imagine a future in which it would be embraced by “ordinary Russians.”