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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Minsk: CIS Heads Declare Support for Yeltsin

MINSK, Belarus -- Leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States made a show of support for Boris Yeltsin in a sudden one-day meeting nine days before a referendum of confidence in the Russian president.

But representatives of the 10 member states of the Commonwealth, the loose coalition that emerged from the ruins of the Soviet Union in December 1991, failed to sign an agreement on closer economic cooperation proposed by Yeltsin and President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan.

"We have deepened our ties, but nothing was signed", Nazarbayev told a press conference after the closed two-and-a-half-hour meeting outside Minsk, which included leaders of eight states.

The presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan in Central Asia were absent because of domestic concerns or illness.

The lack of concrete agreements has become a typical outcome of the summits for the increasingly divisive Commonwealth. Nazarbayev had gone so far as to warn that the alliance could possibly break up at this meeting.

Instead, the leaders closed ranks and put aside political differences to make a show of support for Yeltsin, who has been seeking support wherever he can find it in the run-up to the April 25 referendum.

The disagreements of Russia and Ukraine, which differ over the division of the Soviet military arsenal, its foreign debt and assets, have rocked the shaky alliance since its formation. But on Friday, President Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine took a more supportive stance toward the CIS.

"The future of democracy in the CIS and not only in the CIS is dependent on the outcome of April 25", Kravchuk said.

President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, a constant critic of Yeltsin's free market reforms, also appeared to shelve his differences with the Russian president.

"We have no nostalgia for the U. S. S. R. We completely support what Yeltsin and the executive branch have done", Karimov said. "I have not been a supporter of reforms, but nevertheless I wholeheartedly declare that the victory of reform in Russia is in our interest".

The summit, the alliance's 10th, was held at the official Commonwealth headquarters in the former Belarus Communist Party building.

The meeting was called Wednesday in a joint statement from Yeltsin and Nazarbayev proposing the creation of an economic union made up of Commonwealth members.

In a letter addressed to other Commonwealth leaders, Yeltsin urged them to agree to an economic union, saying that otherwise the Commonwealth would remain "too amorphous and not able to justify the hopes placed on it".

The economic union would consist of a single ruble zone for the 10 states, re-establishment of trade ties sundered by the breakup of the Soviet Union, and a unified customs zone.

Yeltsin and Nazarbayev's proposal also called for interstate efforts to quell ethnic violence and a collective security system "which would become the determining factor for peace in Eurasia", the letter said.

All the former republics are suffering from the severance of economic ties. In Minsk, the streets are empty of cars. Motorists have complained of lack of gas for four months -- since Russia stopped sending oil to the republic.

Earlier Friday, Yeltsin was urged by leading Russian industrialists to fight for stronger ties among the republics.

But the coalition looked no stronger after the meeting's conclusion.

Kravchuk, while rejecting the idea of a Commonwealth split-up, also rejected any possibility that Ukraine could agree to any military union. President Mircea Snegur of Moldova echoed this sentiment.

Belarus leader Stanislav Shushkevich, who played a key role in forming the CIS along with Yeltsin and Kravchuk, favors a strong economic union but objects to any military pact.

Two other Commonwealth members, Armenia and Azerbaijan, are effectively at war over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.