A meeting of CIS government heads over the weekend came and went with little media attention, an indicator both of the lack of importance prime ministers are accorded in the former Soviet Union and of the organization’s general redundancy.
Conceived to keep the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union together in a loose confederation, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had lost much of its mojo even before one-time member Georgia departed in 2008 and fresher affiliations – such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Moscow’s Eurasian Economic Union – began gathering geopolitical prominence.
The CIS now includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as full members, with Turkmenistan and Ukraine as participants. As Russian President Vladimir Putin said in 2005, the organization is best conceived as “a civilized divorce” between former partners, in spite of periodic and half-hearted attempts to turn it into something more.
For that reason, even the CIS Summit of Heads of Government on November 21 and 22 in Ashgabat had a damp squib feel to it. Although Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was there to greet delegates and hold bilateral talks, the Turkmen, Azeri and Uzbek delegations were formally represented by their respective deputy prime ministers. Ukraine and Moldova, meanwhile, sent ambassadors to head up low-key delegations.
In a caustic report on a summit “lacking substance,” Gazeta.ru noted that Turkmen authorities had not even bothered to stop traffic in the capital or hang up banners to draw attention to the event. Ashgabat was “clean and beautiful,” the report added, noting that unfortunately Internet access is rare in Turkmenistan and delegates struggled to get online.
A bilateral meet between Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and Berdymukhamedov on November 22 echoed the generally empty reports of other high-level meetings. Trade between the two countries has reached $5 billion, according to Turkmen and Russian press reports—but a good part of that, accounted for by Russian energy titan Gazprom’s purchases of Turkmen gas, is due to end.
Other than Turkmen imports of Russian Kamaz trucks, and Moscow’s apparent interest in Turkmen building materials and agricultural produce – Medvedev noted “life has changed” since Moscow sanctioned Western food products this summer – it didn’t appear the two had a lot to talk about.
In fact, much of state-owned Turkmenistan.ru’s report on the meeting was devoted to Medvedev’s visit to a special complex housing Berdymukhamedov’s beloved Akhal-Teke horses.
“Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and Dmitry Medvedev enjoyed a horse ride. The Russian Prime Minister expressed his admiration for the beauty and grace of the Akhal-Teke horse, [the] priceless heritage of the Turkmen people and world civilization,” Turkmen state media explained.
Russian media did not mention the presidents’ trot together.