The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) (in Russian: Содружество Независимых Государств (СНГ) - Sodruzhestvo Nezavisimykh Gosudarstv) is a confederation or alliance consisting of 12 of the 15 former Soviet Republics, the exceptions being the three Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Its creation signaled the dissolution of the Soviet Union and, according to Vladimir Putin, its purpose was to "allow a civilized divorce" between the Soviet Republics. However since its creation many commentators have seen the CIS as a tool that would allow Russia to keep its influence over the post-Soviet states, and its member-states have since signed a large number of documents concerning integration and cooperation on matters of economics, defense and foreign policy.
Initiating the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the autumn of 1991 and ignoring the referendum results confirming constitutional / institutional unity of the USSR (in fact, without disclosing the referendum results to citizens of the USSR), the leaders of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine met on December 8 in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha Natural Reserve, about 50 km (30 mi) north of Brest in Belarus, and signed an agreement establishing the CIS. At the same time they announced that the new confederation would be open to all republics of the former Soviet Union, as well as other nations sharing the same goals.
Mikhail Gorbachev described this as an "illegal and dangerous" constitutional coup, but it soon became clear that the development could not be stopped: On December 21, 1991, the leaders of 11 of the 15 Soviet Socialist Republics met in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, and signed the charter, thus ratifying the initial CIS treaty de facto. The three Baltic republics — Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia — refused to join, as did Georgia: all four countries took the view that they had been illegally incorporated into the USSR in the first place. The charter stated that all the members were independent states and thereby effectively abolished the USSR.
The 11 original member states were Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine. In December 1993, Georgia also joined the CIS in somewhat controversial circumstances, following a civil war in which Russian troops intervened on the side of the Shevardnadze government.
Between 2003 and 2005, the leaderships of three CIS member states were overthrown in a series of "color revolutions": Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia, Leonid Kuchma in Ukraine, and, lastly, Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan. In Ukraine especially, the new government has taken a clearly pro-Western stance contrasted to their predecessors' close relationship with the Kremlin. The new government of Georgia has likewise taken a pro-Western and anti-Kremlin stance. Moldova also seems to quietly drift toward the West, away from CIS.
In that timeframe a number of statement have been made by member state officials, doubting the potential and continued worth of the CIS:
- On September 19, 2003, Vladimir Voronin, the president of Moldova expressed his disappointment at the Common Economic Space , set up between Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus, and claimed this decision would lead to a "depreciation of the CIS stock" and that it showed that "possible modernization of the CIS has been abandoned for good" and "the lack of perspective of the CIS has become evident". 
- In November 2004, the Defense Minister of Georgia, Giorgi Baramidze, told reporters that he would not be attending a council of CIS defense ministers, and that the CIS is "yesterday's history", while Georgia's future was in cooperation with NATO defense ministers. 
- One of the closest allies of Russia, the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, said during a summit with Vladimir Putin that "The CIS is undergoing the most critical phase of its history" and is under risk to be dissolved or lose all significance to the member states.
- On April 9, 2005, Minister of Economics of Ukraine said at a news conference "there is no hope for CIS development" and that Ukrainian government is considering to stop its financial contributions to CIS bodies. 
Role and organization
The CIS is headquartered in Minsk, Belarus. The chairman of the CIS is known as the executive secretary. All of the CIS's executive secretaries have been from Belarus or Russia. The current executive secretary is former Russian interior minister, Vladimir Rushailo.
From a historical point of view, the CIS could be viewed a successor entity to the Soviet Union, insofar as one of its original intents was to provide a framework for the disassembly of that state. However, the CIS is emphatically not a state unto itself, and is more comparable to the European Community than to its "predecessor". However, although the CIS has few supranational powers, it is more than a purely symbolic organization, possessing coordinating powers in the realm of trade, finance, lawmaking, and security. The most significant issue for the CIS is the establishment of a full-fledged free trade zone / economic union between the member states, to be launched in 2005. It has also promoted cooperation on democratisation and cross-border crime prevention.
During the 1992 Olympic Games (in Albertville and Barcelona), athletes from the CIS member states competed as the Unified Team for the last time. In other sports events in that year, such as the European Championships in football, athletes took part as representatives of the CIS. Since then, the member states have competed under their national banners.
The CIS member states interact and coordinate through the following institutions:
- Council of the Heads of States
- Council of the Heads of Governments
- Council of Foreign Ministers
- Council of Defense Ministers
- Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (IPA)
Established in March 1992 as a consultative institution, the first participants were Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. Between 1993 and 1996, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova also joined. Ukraine joined in 1999.
IPA sessions are held twice a year in Saint Petersburg, and are composed of parliamentary delegations of the member states. The IPA has nine permanent commissions: on legal issues; on economy and finance; on social policy and human rights; on ecology and natural resources; on defense and security issues; on culture, science, education and information issues; on foreign policy affairs; on state-building and local government; on control budget. 
- Economic Court
- Economic Council
- Executive Committee (legal successor of the Executive Secretariat)
- Council of Border Troops Commanders
- Council of Collective Security
- Interstate Bank
- Interstate Statistical Committee
Election Observation Missions
Main article: CIS election observation missions
Since 2002 the CIS has been sending observers to elections in countries belonging to the CIS. Several of these observation missions have been extremely controversial, as their findings have been often in contradiction with the findings of other international organizations such as the OSCE, the Council of Europe, or the European Union.
After the CIS observer mission disputed the final (repeat) round of the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election which followed the Orange Revolution and brought into power the former opposition, Ukraine suspended its membership in the CIS observer missions.
Moves for further integration
CIS Collective Security Treaty
The CIS Collective Security Treaty (CST) was signed on May 15, 1992, by Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kirgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, in the city of Tashkent. Azerbaijan likewise signed the treaty on September 24, 1993, Georgia on December 9, 1993 and Belarus on December 31, 1993. The treaty came into effect on April 20, 1994.
The treaty reaffirmed the desire of all participating states to abstain from the use or threat of force. Signatories wouldn't be able to join other military alliances or other groups of states, while an aggression against one signatory would be perceived as an aggression against all.
The CST was set to last for a 5-year period unless extended. On April 2, 1999, the Presidents of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kirgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, signed a protocol renewing the treaty for another five year period -- however Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan refused to sign and withdrew from the treaty instead.
On October 7, 2002, the six members of the CST, signed a charter in Chisinau, expanding it and renaming to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Nikolai Bordyuzha was appointed secretary general of the new organization.
Russia has been urging for the Russian language to receive official status in all 12 of the CIS member states. So far Russian is an official language in four of these states: Russia itself, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. Russian is also considered an official language in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and Transnistria, as well as the semi-autonomous region of Gagauzia in Moldova.
Viktor Yanukovich, the Moscow-supported presidential candidate in the controversial Ukrainian presidential election, 2004, declared his intention to make Russian an official second language of Ukraine. However, Victor Yushchenko, the winner, is unlikely to do so as he is more closely aligned with the Ukrainian-speaking population.
Common Economic Space
There has been discussion about the creation of a "common economic space" between the countries of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Agreement in principle about the creation of this space, was announced after a meeting in the Moscow suburb of Novo-Ogarevo on February 23, 2003.
The Common Economic Space would involve a supranational commission on trade and tariffs that would be based in Kiev, would be initially headed by a representative of Kazakhstan, and would not be subordinate to the governments of the four nations. The ultimate goal would be a regional organization that would be open for other countries to join as well, and could eventually lead even to a single currency. 
On 22 May 2003 The Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian Parliament) voted with 266 votes in favour of and 51 against the joint economic space. However most believe that Viktor Yushchenko's victory in the Ukrainian presidential election of 2004 was a significant blow against the project: Yushchenko has shown renewed interest about Ukrainian membership in the European Union, and such membership would be incompatible with the envisioned Common Economic Space.
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