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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Commonwealth Now Has 2 Tiers

MINSK, Belarus -- The ailing Commonwealth of Independent States has survived its first summit of 1993, with seven of the 10 members signing a new charter to tighten the alliance and make way for some centralized institutions.

Ukraine, Moldova and Turkmenistan refused to sign the document but will remain Commonwealth members at least until the parliaments of the seven signatories have ratified the charter in approximately one year's time.

All 10 members signed a weaker protocol in which they expressed support for the Commonwealth. President Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine, in unusually conciliatory remarks, left the door open for Ukraine to join the charter itself at a later date and pledged that Kiev would continue "to take an active part in the Commonwealth".

The prime ministers and presidents, who met in joint session, agreed to set up an interstate bank designed to regulate currency and credit emissions in the ruble zone, and to rationalize the system of payments between enterprises in different republics.

The bank was proposed by the Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazar-bayev, as a means of restoring economic links between the former republics that were broken after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia, according to the Commonwealth press spokesman, Yevgeny Gorelik, will get 50 percent of the votes on the bank's decision-making board, while the remaining half will be divided among the other states. A two-thirds majority, he said, will be required to pass any decision.

Gorelik said that under the new regime the Russian ruble would be the only currency used for trade inside the Commonwealth. The proposed bank is still a long way from materializing, but it represents an important first step toward creating the more structured alliance favored by Nazarbayev.

The l0 leaders met inside the former Belarus Communist Party offices, a building that is now the official headquarters of the Commonwealth. This was their ninth summit meeting since the Commonwealth of Independent States was formed in Minsk in December 1991.

The meeting was widely expected to be difficult, due to Ukraine's known opposition to signing a new charter for the alliance and to creating any central bodies that might risk a resurrection of control from Moscow.

One top Russian official had predicted that no state would sign the charter as a result. But the two-speed solution offering a charter and weaker protocol allowed room for compromise.

"We believe the CIS can be multi-faceted -- two, three or five-sided", said President Boris Yeltsin of Russia. "Just so long as they do not break the CIS".

There was no progress on the long-running debate over control of the former Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal, however.

At a meeting of defense ministers Thursday, Russia claimed ownership and immediate control over all nuclear weapons on the territory of the former Soviet Union, sparking objections from both the Ukrainian and Kazakh delegations. The presidents apparently did not return to the question when they met on the following day.

All three lesser nuclear powers have agreed ultimately to relinquish their missiles. But Ukraine in particular has stalled on the question of ownership because it hopes to be compensated financially for giving up the weapons.

In addition to the interstate bank, the Commonwealth leaders discussed 25 other items, signing agreements on protection of state secrets and establishment of a joint securities market.

Five states including Russia promised to send 500 troops each to the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan to seal it. Tens of thousands of refugees and militants from the Tajik civil war have been crossing the border freely in past months.

These new agreements join another 200 or more already signed at previous summits. But according to an article in Izvestia last week, few, if any of those decisions have been implemented.

The atmosphere among the leaders was unusually friendly, with most praising the Commonwealth for reducing the risk of all-out war between the former republics. Even Kravchuk, one of its most grudging members, acknowledged that 1992 "would have been worse if there had been no CIS".

There was general agreement that the first priority for the Commonwealth in 1993 would be economic. All 10 of the republics have suffered a massive fall in production -- ranging from 10 percent in Uzbekistan to 45 percent in Armenia -- in part due to the collapse of trade between them.

This was also the first summit at which the prime ministers from the four most industrialized countries -- Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus -- were all former industrial managers. The industrialist lobby has been at the forefront in lamenting the collapse of the Soviet supply and payments systems.

But there were also signs of frustration from some of the Central Asian leaders, who have been pushing for faster integration. Nazarbayev expressed regret over the summit's failure to reach agreement on his proposal to establish an international court to resolve member disputes.

Talks on a Commonwealth charter on human rights were pushed down the agenda by President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, who said -- according to a Commonwealth spokesman -- that none was necessary. Uzbekistan's human rights record has come under attack in recent months, after the main opposition party was banned and some of its leaders kidnapped.