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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moldova Hopes Wine Will Help Revive CIS

CHISINAU, Moldova -- The state of the commonwealth that replaced the Soviet Union is so dire that the question on many leaders' lips is whether it has a future at all.

The tiny country hosting a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States this week hopes to show them that it has, if only as an excuse for a party.

Moldova is one of the smallest of the 12 republics in the CIS and the second poorest after Tajikistan -- which has just emerged from a long civil war.

Its airport is having trouble accommodating Russia's presidential aircraft, and it has had to scramble to find high-class limousines to drive the delegates around in.

But it does have one big draw -- a vast amount of wine.

The presidents will head straight to Moldova's huge Crikova wine cellars Wednesday to kick off their summit.

Crikova, with its maze of underground "streets" and tunnels and rich collection of wine, hosted many an official delegation in Soviet times, but usually at the end of a visit.

Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi, however, has decided to use it to break the ice.

There is plenty to break. While none of the states in the commonwealth is actually at war with another, unresolved post-communist armed conflicts, latent nationalism and fierce competition over resources make it a cold peace.

The disputes range from tiffs about trade in vodka and cars to unresolved territorial claims that include a dispute over whether the oil-rich Caspian is a sea or a lake.

The leaders hold regular meetings to try to tackle these and other issues and get on with the most important item on the agenda -- dragging their economies out of crisis by integrating them along the lines of the European Union.

But as time goes on, hopes of founding a strong economic bloc to rival the United States and Western Europe have faded.

Lucinschi put his finger on the problem.

"We have signed lots of documents, but many are not implemented." he was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying, adding that the summit would take a critical look at the CIS's future.

Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov blamed it on memories of years of centralized control that now prompt each republic to jealously guard its independence.

Andrei Kortunov, head of the Russian Science Foundation, said the CIS was unlikely to be abandoned, but it would be some time before it really worked.

The public of Chisinau at least, is finding this week's event hard to ignore. Soldiers and police have been holding rehearsals in the sleepy capital of 650,000, and officials have been going around warning people living on the main street not to look out when the delegates drive past.

"We won't be able to trade here during the summit, so that the delegates will think everyone in Moldova gets paid," said Kolya, selling candy on a Chisinau street.

He had no idea what the summit was all about.

"What will they discuss? Why have they decided to meet here? The people don't know," he said.

The city's few hotels, meanwhile, are scratching their heads as to how to squeeze in the expected 2,000 guests.

One part of the summit that should not disappoint the delegates is the reception at Crikova near Chisinau, which has undergone an extensive makeover for the event.

"The experience of the stagnation years shows that after a visit to the Crikova cellars, documents tend to sign themselves," said Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.

Just as long as a few drinks do not allow tempers to flare.

Most of the CIS leaders are used to commanding unquestioning respect at home and disputes between them have been known to get personal, as when Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko added more than a decade to Yeltsin's age in a speech this month.

As Moldova's president put it, "The main thing is to ensure an atmosphere of understanding."