LEADERS of the Commonwealth of Independent States have failed to reach a united position on a new collective security agreement, opening the way for an escalation of conflicts between some member states.
The signing of the collective security treaty was supposed to be the centerpiece of a commonwealth summit in the Central Asian city of Tashkent that ended Friday, a day earlier than scheduled. But only six of the 11 commonwealth members initialed the agreement, raising doubts about the document's effectiveness. The agreement binds signatories to help defend any member that is attacked, but does not provide specifics on how collective security will be guaranteed.
Signatories include Russia, Armenia, and the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Those not signing included the Slavic states of Belarus and Ukraine as well as Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Kyrgyzstan.
Thus member states are confronted with a new dilemma in the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over control of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia, as a signatory, is entitled to the help from other states, while Azerbaijan, which didn't sign, is not.
The heads of state in Tashkent also discussed a wide range of economic, political, and military questions. They failed to agree on several important issues, including the division of property of the former Soviet Union, which the commonwealth replaced in December. The meeting did manage to make decisions on the creation of a unified peacekeeping force, the joint use of airspace, and members' access to space facilities.
Some leaders expressed optimism about the summit, saying predictions of the commonwealth's imminent demise were overblown. "The [commonwealth] is alive. It exists and takes decisions," says Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The Central Asian states, except Kyrgyzstan, were the most eager to sign the collective security arrangement, according to Gennady Burbulis, the Russian state secretary. Many Central Asian states are still dominated by hard-liners concerned over the rise of an Islamic government in neighboring Afghanistan and recent unrest in Tajikistan. Some observers say the hard-line governments could use the security pact to insulate themselves against possible Islamic uprisings in their own republics.
Meanwhile, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, while labeling the Tashkent meeting the most "efficient and productive" commonwealth summit ever, said he regretted that only six members had signed the collective security agreement. He held out hope that other states would sign in the near future.
"We are talking here about collective security. The whole world is moving toward this," President Yeltsin said.
But the countries that did not sign the treaty do not seem to be in a hurry to reconsider their stances. Belarus parliament Chairman Stanislav Shushkevich said the agreement was "worthy of respect," but added the wording of the pact clashed with Belarussian laws, and thus required a more thorough examination by the republic's parliament.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Vitold Fokin, who headed Ukraine's delegation at Tashkent, dismissed the collective security treaty as contradicting previous agreements. He also complained that previous commonwealth decisions had failed to stop ethnic conflicts in such places as Moldova, Tajikistan, and Nagorno-Karabakh.
"Documents are only worth something if they are implemented," Mr. Fokin told the Reuters news agency.
The Tashkent summit also did nothing to defuse a simmering dispute between Russia and Ukraine over control of the Black Sea Fleet and the Crimea, jurisdiction over which was transferred by Russia to Ukraine in 1954.
Some in the Russian parliament are agitating for the return of the peninsula to Russia. The ethnic-Russian dominated Crimean parliament raised tension last week by declaring independence and scheduling an independence referendum for Aug. 2.
The Ukrainian Parliament annulled the resolutions Wednesday. In a speech to the Parliament, President Leonid Kravchuk, who reportedly was considering imposing presidential rule on the peninsula, warned of "bloodshed" if the referendum were held.