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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Quarrels Bog Down CIS Mini-Summit

Anxious to preserve the increasingly discordant Commonwealth of Independent States, President Boris Yeltsin said a Moscow mini-summit between four of its members Thursday should set an example to former Soviet republics on how to get along.

"It was not like we were at a bazaar," Yeltsin said after Kremlin talks with the presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan.

"There was a serious discussion between serious leaders. We quickly came to agreements. That's what we should try to do with the entire CIS," he said.

The CIS, a loose configuration of former Soviet republics minus the three Baltic states, has in recent months been racked by squabbles between its 12 members.

But even at Thursday's scaled-down summit, the four nations were unable to find agreement on all issues. They again failed to seal a long-debated customs treaty, the summit's main theme.

And by Thursday evening, maverick Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko gave Yeltsin's game away, saying at a news conference that the four presidents actually spent much of their time at each other's throats.

"I must say that we did a lot of fighting. Much of that arguing was not of a joking nature. There was a lot of frank talk," Lukashenko said. "As for the CIS, it is experiencing a deep crisis like never before."

The CIS has spent several of its past sessions signing quickly forgotten documents. Russia is regularly accused by member nations of being overbearing. A CIS Moscow summit scheduled for January has been postponed until March 19 and 20 because Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said he had made other plans.

Political analysts now call the CIS a divorce court for former Soviet republics that will be shut down permanently as soon as members build stronger bilateral ties between themselves and the outside world.

One republic that is doing its best to cozy up to Russia is the internationally isolated Belarus. With its Soviet-style economic policy and a reputation for human rights violations, Belarus has been largely ostracized by Western Europe.

It is also growing into a huge political headache for the Kremlin. Russia is playing a delicate balancing act of keeping influence over CIS states, and in particular Belarus, without being seen to be too close to the erratic Lukashenko.The two sides came close to signing a binding union treaty last year before more liberal Kremlin aides convinced Yeltsin to water down the document.

Lukashenko said Russia agreed Thursday to coordinate its military and foreign policy with his republic.

"The politics of the West is to set up a sanitary cordon sealing off Russia from China and India in the east and Europe in the west. Belarus remains Russia's only open window to the world," Lukashenko said.

Yeltsin, meanwhile, was noncommittal. "It is our duty to work with European structures so that they do not rebuff Belarus in various groupings," he said.

The Belarus president, who earlier this month announced he had unearthed a coup plot against him and was cracking down on the alleged perpetrators, acknowledged Thursday that he sees nothing wrong with being called a dictator.

"Name me at least one president who does not have those qualities in his character," he said.

Again, Yeltsin displayed more caution than his counterpart.

"You know there was a certain shadow [in our relations] having to do with journalists," he said, referring to journalist Pavel Sheremet of Russia's ORT television who was accused of spying on Belarus last year and faces a three-year sentence if convicted.

Lukashenko on Thursday called the Sheremet incident a "provocation" concocted by Kremlin liberals bent on ruining the Belarus-Russia union.

He further defended his country's command economy. "We are slower to privatize property because we don't have Russia's luxury of being able to get away with making privatization mistakes," he said.