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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Old-Guard Leftist Seen As Next CIS Top Official

The outgoing executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States is Russia's ultimate capitalist. According to the rumor mill, the next one could be an old-guard communist.

The newspaper Kommersant on Tuesday wrote that the man singled out to take over the CIS job from tycoon Boris Berezovsky is left-wing State Duma deputy and former Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov.

But in a hastily called news conference at the Duma on Tuesday, Ryzhkov denied he was up for the job. "The report in Kommersant was a complete revelation for me," he said. "I never thought of becoming an international bureaucrat and I would never agree to do so."

As evidence of Ryzhkov's likely appointment, the newspaper cited an order - signed by Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov two weeks before the Kremlin's call to dismiss Berezovsky from the CIS post - instructing the government to support the nongovernmental organization EurAsia, which is headed by Ryzhkov and promotes integration among the former Soviet republics.

The order is puzzling in that it instructs government institutions to give special treatment to a little-known nongovernmental organization. It encourages EurAsia's "assistance in integration of the CIS member states," but it does not specify what form this help is to take.

Ryzhkov said that his organization wants ties between Russia and other CIS countries to resemble the strong connections forged between Russia and Belarus. The two countries have signed agreements calling for a single currency and other close ties.

Opponents of the plan fear that a real union between Russia and Belarus would be an economic burden for Russia and give Belarus' authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, a turn at being president of the resulting enlarged state.

"We need to pull everyone [in the CIS] up to the level of Russia-Belarus relations," Ryzhkov said.

But analysts said such plans are unrealistic, and even if Ryzhkov does become executive secretary of the CIS, his presence would have little effect on the chronically weak organization.

"It wouldn't mean anything because the CIS is a paper organization," said Pavel Kandel of the Institute of Europe. "This is yet another gesture in the direction of the leftist part of the State Duma."

Kandel said that Russia may not be able to carry out the proposed union with Belarus, let alone expand it to include other countries.

Andrei Susarov of the Center for Ethno-Political and Regional Studies said Ryzhkov and others who would restore Russia's former imperial glory are not likely to get far. "Within the country they can't come up with some kind of viable economic program, and they'll hardly be able to do so within the framework of the CIS," he said.

Moreover, unlike Belarus, the other countries may simply not want close ties to Russia. "The CIS countries have become independent," he said.

Relations between Russia and other CIS states took a blow last week when President Boris Yeltsin called for Berezovsky's resignation without consulting other members of the commonwealth. Decisions in the CIS are supposed to be made by consensus.

Melissa Akin contributed to this report.