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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chernomyrdin Urges Closer Commonwealth

On his first trip as prime minister of Russia, Viktor Chernomyrdin agreed with Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to forge ahead with creating a stronger Commonwealth of Independent States, with or without the participation of leaders of the other ex-Soviet republics.

Itar-Tass reported from Kazakhstan's capital Alma-Ata that as a result of Chernomyrdin's talks over the weekend, the two governments were prepared "to sign a bilateral treaty on setting up an interbank unit and a joint economic commission".

The agency's statement added that the treaty would be signed regardless of whether the Commonwealth's other eight countries agree to join the institutions when they meet for a summit in the Belarussian capital of Minsk on Christmas day.

"The time of decision-making has come for the C. I. S". , said Nazarbayev at a press conference, according to Itar-Tass.

"The Commonwealth that was conceived virtually does not exist", Nazarbayev said. "It is necessary to form a new commonwealth of the states that wish to remain in a common defense zone, in a common ruble zone and wish to coordinate their actions in the economic area".

Kazakhstan has been Russia's staunchest ally in advocating new centralized institutions for the Commonwealth and the formation of a closer union.

At the last summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek, the president of Kazakhstan put forward the so-called "Nazarbayev plan" for tighter military and economic union

The plan included an interrepublican bank and economic coordination body.

But it was effectively rejected under pressure from Ukraine and other states that saw it as a threat to their still recently won independence from Moscow. Chernomyrdin, who until last week was Russia's energy minister, flew to Kazakhstan on Friday and returned to Moscow on Sunday.

While in Alma-Ata, he also proposed setting up a central body to coordinate oil and gas production in the former Soviet republics. Nazarbayev praised the idea, saying that the body would be "a sort of mini-OPEC".

The two leaders signed agreements aimed at settling debts and restoring economic ties broken since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They also agreed that Russia should buy an additional 1 million tons of grain from Kazakhstan this year, although payment terms were not specified.

Kazakhstan harvested a record 32 million tons of grain this year, but earlier stopped deliveries of 3 million tons to Russia due to nonpayment, Reuters reported.

It was not clear whether the extra 1 million tons Nazarbayev referred to was in addition to the original agreement.