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Commonwealth of Independent States

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03.10.2003

CIS, community of independent nations established by a treaty signed at Minsk, Belarus, on December 8, 1991, by the heads of state of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.

Between Dec. 8 and Dec. 21, the three original signatories were joined by Armenia, Azerbaijan (its parliament, however, rejected ratifying its membership until 1993), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. When Georgia joined in 1993 all of the former republics of the USSR except the Baltic states had become members of the CIS.

Its headquarters are in Minsk.

The organisation was conceived as the successor to the USSR in its role of co-ordinating the foreign and economic policies of its member nations. The treaty recognised current borders and each republic's independence, sovereignty, and equality, and established a free-market ruble zone embracing the republics' interdependent economies and a joint defence force for participating republics.

Strategic nuclear weapons, in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine, were to be under the joint control of those republics, with day-to-day authority in the hands of the Russian president and defence minister; Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, however, no longer possess such weapons. The CIS at first convened only a council of the heads of state of its members, but in 1992 it convened a council of heads of government and a council of foreign ministers.

The republics' level of receptivity to integration with Russia has varied. All CIS nations now have their own currency, and most members have had occasion to criticise Russia for slow implementation of CIS agreements.

Ukraine (which had a prolonged disagreement with Russia over the disposition of the Black Sea and remains wary of Russian power), Turkmenistan (whose large gas reserves free it from dependence on Russia), Azerbaijan (whose oil reserves also allow for independence from Russia), and Moldova (which faced an insurgency in the Russian-dominated Trans-Dnestr region) have been relatively inactive in the alliance. Armenia (surrounded by the Muslim nations of Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey), Georgia (with a separatist movement in the region of Abkhazia), Tajikistan (torn by a persistent civil war), and Uzbekistan (vulnerable because of its limited natural resources) accepted Russia's protection under a joint defence system, although Georgia is seeking the ultimate removal of Russian forces from its soil.

In 1995 the CIS established a joint air-defence system; not all CIS nations are members.

In 1996, Belarus signed a treaty with Russia to co-ordinate their defence and foreign policy apparatus and to eliminate trade restrictions and eventually unite their currencies. Individual sovereignty is to be maintained, but they created supranational bodies to effect these changes. The two nations have since signed several follow-up agreements, but actual progress toward integration has been slow.

Then, Kazakhstan (which has a large Russian community), and Kyrgyzstan additionally agreed to pursue economic integration without customs restrictions; an eventual customs union including additional CIS nations is planned.

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