What is the Commonwealth of Independent States?

The flag of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is also known as Russian Commonwealth. It is an organization that was formed by nine of the fifteen former Soviet states after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Ukraine and Turkmenistan are associate members while Georgia withdrew from the organization in 2008. The Baltic countries including Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia are not members by choice. The aim of the organization is to coordinate authority in areas such as trade and security and promoting joint prevention of armed conflict and crime.

Proclamation Of The CIS

The final step signifying the end of the Soviet Union saw 11 of the 15 soviet republics declare that they were forming the CIS. The organization was founded by Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus on December 8, 1991, when the leaders of these three countries met in Belarus to sign the “Agreement Establishing the Commonwealth Independent States” as a successor entity to the dissolved soviet Union. The leaders also announced the new alliance was opened to all former Soviet Union republics and that member states would be independent thereby completely abolishing the Soviet Union. On December 21, 1991, eight more former Soviet Union republics officially joined the CIS thus bringing the number to 11. Two years later in December 1993, Georgia joined the organization. However, the three Baltic States chose not to participate.

Membership Of The CIS

Although CIS was first formed by three countries that were joined by other nine countries, the organization currently has nine full member states including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Georgia withdrew its membership in 2008 when it joined NETO, citing that it could not be part of two military organizations. The CIS Charter, which formalized the concept of membership, was adopted in January 1993. For a country to be considered a member of the CIS, it has to ratify the CIS charter. Turkmenistan and Ukraine are considered associate members as they are yet to ratify the charter. The two countries therefore take part in CIS on a selective basis.

Associated Organizations

The CIS member countries agreed to create Free Trade Area in 1994 but the agreement was not approved until 2011 when CISFTA was signed by 8 of the 11 members. However, as of 2013, the agreement has been ratified by five countries including Russia, Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova. Other organizations include Eurasia Economic Community (terminated in 2015), Organization of Central Asian Corporation, Common Economic Space, and Community for Democracy and Rights of Nation.

Significance Of The CIS

One of the primary goals of the CIS is to promote the social and economic development of its members, especially the newly independent states by promoting and protecting human rights. The CIS member states adopted a convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom on May 26, 1995, enforcing their commitment to the protection of human rights. The CIS Charter has established the Council of Ministers of Defense which coordinates military cooperation of the member states. The council develops proposals aimed at preventing armed conflict within the territory of the member countries. Other activities include election monitoring and promotion of sports within the region.


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