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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Central Asians Set Out Differences With Slavs

MINSK, Belarus -- Central Asian leaders meeting at the summit talks in Minsk have for the first time made explicit the divide between themselves and their Slav co-members in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Reporters asked the 10 heads of state at a joint press conference on Friday what lay behind the Jan. 4 meeting of the five Central Asian members in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent, at which they proposed setting up their own common market.

The Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, said that although the Tashkent meeting did not threaten the Commonwealth, the region's leaders had lost patience with the larger organization's weakness.

"We decided that if the CIS were to keep its amorphous form, where each country follows its own interests and not those of cooperation, then we too would follow our own interests, and that would be the end of the CIS", said Karimov.

Press reports have been appearing for some time saying that the Central Asian governments consider the Commonwealth of Independent States -- which was founded in December 1991 in Minsk by Ukraine, Russia and Belarus -- to be a Slav-dominated club in which Central Asians and their interests were treated as second-class citizens.

The Central Asian states are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Relatively poor and dependent on Russia, the Central Asians believed from the Commonwealth's inception that it was too loose a structure; they have taken the collapse of trade and economic ties among the former Soviet republics as proof of this.

The Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has made a series of proposals to build some central economic institutions for the Commonwealth and has expressed frustration at the slow progress in getting them approved.

But Karimov's remarks Friday, for which Nazarbayev expressed his support, for the first time officially acknowledged the pressure that the five republics were putting on Ukraine and Russia to sign a new and more substantial founding charter for the Commonwealth.

Nazarbayev also reiterated his support for "integration" within the Commonwealth. But he identified a core of seven member countries that should press ahead on their own, namely those that signed the new charter on Friday.

President Boris Yeltsin referred obliquely to the Slav/Central-Asian divide during the press conference, saying that he understood why there had been suspicion of the Tashkent summit -- although Russia had "no allergy" to what was decided there.

The Russian president said he would also have understood Central Asian suspicion had the three Slav states had held a separate meeting. Such a meeting of the three Slav prime ministers was rumored to be due to take place in Minsk, but did not materialize.