The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is a regional organization that was formed by the former Soviet countries after the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991. The CIS encompasses a total area of about 20,368,759 km2 and hosts an estimated population of 241,879,083 inhabitants in 2021.
The Commonwealth was first formed by the leaders of the Russian Federation (Russian SFSR), Belarus (Byelorussian SSR), and Ukraine (Ukrainian SSR) on December 8, 1991, when they signed the “Agreement Establishing the Commonwealth Independent States.” The founder members of the CIS also announced that this new organization was open to all the former Soviet Republics and all the member states of this new alliance would be sovereign and independent of their own.
On December 21, 1991, the leaders of eight sovereign nations signed the Alma-Ata Protocol and thereby became member states of CIS on an equal basis. These nations were Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In December 1993, Georgia also became a member of the Commonwealth. However, the three Baltic states, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, refused to be a part of the CIS.
On December 25, 1991, USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev resigned, leading to the official dissolution of the Soviet Union. On the same day, Ivan Korotchenya became the first Executive Secretary of the CIS. The Belarusian capital city of Minsk was designated as the administrative center of the CIS. There is also a branch of the administrative center in Moscow.
The CIS Charter was adopted on January 22, 1993. According to the Charter, the goals of the CIS are as follows:
- The members of the CIS would cooperate in political, cultural, economic, environmental protection, and all spheres.
- To promote the economic and social development of all member states.
- To ensure and protect human rights and other fundamental liberties according to international laws.
- Cooperation among all member states for maintaining international peace and security. The Council of Ministers of Defense has been established to coordinate military cooperation among all the member states.
- Prevention of armed conflicts and peaceful settlement of disputes between the CIS member states.
To be defined as a member country of the CIS, the respective country has to ratify the CIS Charter. However, the nations of Turkmenistan and Ukraine did not ratify the CIS Charter, and thereby are not considered to be or have been CIS Member States, but rather as founding-states or associated states. The countries of Afghanistan and Mongolia are considered as “Observer States” of the CIS. On August 18, 2009, Georgia officially withdrew from the Commonwealth, and on May 19, 2018, Ukraine officially ended its participation in all the statutory bodies of the CIS following Russia's forced annexation of Crimea.
The CIS member-states had agreed to create a CIS Free Trade Area in 1994. As of 2013, the CIS Free Trade Area (CISFTA) has been ratified by the nations of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
The Statutory bodies of the CIS include the Council of Presidents (Head of States), Council of Prime Ministers (Head of Governments), Councils of Foreign and Defense Ministers, Economic Court and Council, and several other bodies that have been constituted within the CIS framework to assist the CIS member states. Chairmanship of the CIS bodies is alternately transferred between the CIS member states where each state assumes the chairmanship of the CIS bodies for one year.