The End of the Soviet Union

11 Soviet States Form Commonwealth Without Clearly Defining Its Powers

By Francis X. Clines
The New York Times

Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, Dec. 21, 1991 -- Eleven former republics of the Soviet Union formally constituted themselves today as the Commonwealth of Independent States, dedicated to reversing their slide toward economic and political chaos.

Putting aside seven decades of central dictatorship, the republic leaders meeting in the Kazakh capital, near the Chinese border, negotiated and signed a broad commonwealth agreement that guarantees their separate sovereignties but leaves unsettled such important issues as how to create an acceptable system of command to administer common military policy and nuclear weapons control.

The top governmental body will be a council of heads of state and government, assisted by committees of republic ministers in key areas like foreign affairs, defense and economics.

Next Step: Ratification

Full operations are promised to begin no later than Jan. 15, after ratification by the 11 republics' parliaments. The Baltic states, which regained independence in September, are not participating, nor is Georgia, which instead sent an observer to the talks.

To emphasize their resolve to move beyond the Kremlin, the commonwealth leaders pre-emptively accepted the resignation of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, even though it has not yet been submitted.

Their evident urgency to see him leave was reflected in their decision to promise, "with respect," a generous pension once he is in retirement.

'Want Him to Go Gently'

"We respect Gorbachev and want him to go gently into retirement in December, as he himself wants," said President Boris N. Yeltsin of the Russian federated republic, who is head of the biggest and most powerful of the new commonwealth's constituent parts and who has been Mr. Gorbachev's chief reform antagonist through the last four turbulent years.

"We do not want to carry on the tradition since 1917 of burying our heads of state and having to rebury them later or having to pronounce them criminal," Mr. Yeltsin said. "A civilized state should end this practice."

There was no direct reaction from Mr. Gorbachev, who has suffered a breathtaking fall from power and grace since the failed coup in August. But in an interview with CBS News, he indicated that he would resign shortly after receiving official notification of the results of the Alma-Ata meeting.

"As soon as I receive official documents and see that the commonwealth is a reality, within a few days I will then take my decision," Mr. Gorbachev said. The Soviet leader said that for the meantime, he and the Defense Minister remained in control of the "nuclear button."

Mr. Gorbachev, who initially denounced the commonwealth as illegal and dangerous, today spoke of the new association as an accomplished fact. But he warned Americans that they too faced a difficult transition, saying: "I don't think the transformation will be easy and simple from one partner, the Soviet Union and its leadership. Now you have to deal with 10 new politicians."

Today was the first full working session of the expanded commonwealth. It is designed to be the vehicle for the survivors of the fallen Soviet empire to head toward free-market prosperity and full democracy. It grew out of the founding body announced 13 days ago by Russia, Ukraine and Byelorussia, the three Slavic republics, when they met in Byelorussia and pronounced that the Soviet Union had ceased to exist.

Democracies Ruled by Law

The meeting today went a considerable step beyond, for not only was the new association enlarged and sealed with pledges of peaceful collaboration, but also the heads of state began settling some differences.

In a joint declaration, the leaders set forth their intent to "build democratic states ruled by law and to develop relations between them on the basis of mutual recognition of inalienable right to self-determination, equality, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, renunciation of the use of force or threat to use force, economic or other levers of pressure."

The agreement next must be submitted to the republics' parliaments for ratification. Once they certify this with authorities in Byelorussia, the commonwealth is under way.

The leaders also yielded to President Yeltsin's view that Russia should take over the Security Council seat in the United Nations held until now by the Soviet Union. The Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, said later that this was critical for the general nuclear control strategy of eventually seeing Russia succeed the Soviet Union as the single guarantor of disarmament.

The broad-stroke agreements constituted an important political accord but left almost every difficult, concrete issue to be decided later, including such basic matters as the economy and Government financing, the precise scope of the new coordinating agencies, borders and citizenship.

The agreements signed today did not specifically mention a common currency or the ruble, but spoke of adherence in principle to the agreement from the Byelorussia meeting, which did call for a common currency. Today's agreements also noted that some republics had expressed reservations on the Byelorussia agreement.

The refining of the agreements was left to the uncertain hands of the republic parliaments.

In line with this, the four republics with long-range nuclear missiles on their soil -- Russia, Byelorussia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan -- again insisted that they were in agreement on joint weapons safeguards, and they issued a statement to this effect. This issue is a central one being pressed by the Bush Administration and other governments as one of the prices for early recognition of commonwealth members.

"This document will answer all the questions being asked by other states," said Kazakhstan's President, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev. The Bush Administration has various questions and uncertainties and wants to send nuclear disarmament specialists next month to see to some of the problems.

The document may not prove entirely reassuring, for Kazakhstan appears to be continuing to insist that it be treated on a par with Russia rather than joining Ukraine and Byelorussia in eventually ceding nuclear controls to Russia.

Military Command Unresolved

And republic leaders could not agree immediately on the related issue of a new military command. This focuses on the precise design of a permanent defense council that is to administer commonwealth military policy.

Such important commonwealth members as Ukraine are especially insistent that the new defense council offer no opportunity to revive central totalitarianism, nor conflict with republic plans to form separate armies.

The commonwealth members put off the military command issue, scheduling it as the topic of a meeting Dec. 30 in Minsk, the Byelorussian capital, which is to be the commonwealth headquarters. As a temporary measure, the republic carried over until the end of the year the central remnant of the union's Defense Ministry, led by General Yevgeny I. Shaposhnikov.

The commonwealth agreement was signed in the heart of this snow-decked mountainside city north of the Chinese border. The ceremony was held at the House of Friendship, a bulky exercise in socialist overdesign, where legions of republic leaders, ministers and patronage retinues showed up for the new post-Communist roundtable, smiling and squinting in the TV lamplight of world attention.

The commonwealth members held a news conference this evening, seated by small freshly minted flags of their sovereign republics under a huge bronze-toned medallion that still bore the hammer and sickle of Communism.

On the issue of approval by the republics' parliaments, various sorts of political flurries are expected. The Ukraine Parliament, which is wary and nationalistic about the commonwealth, has underlined its right to withdraw. Ukraine's lawmakers, passing the earlier commonwealth agreement after the Byelorussia meeting this month, made some adjustments in the agreement before approving it.

U.S. Silent on Recognition

Washington -- December 21, 1991 -- (AP) -- The Bush Administration offered congratulations to the 11 former Soviet republics on formation of a new commonwealth today, but stopped short of saying when it would formally recognize the new governments.

"We hope the agreement will help to provide a stable and peaceful environment to permit the individual republics to pursue democracy and market economy reforms," said White House spokeswoman Judy Smith.

GRAPHIC: Photos: Leaders of 11 former Soviet republics meeting in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, to formally constitute the Commonwealth of Independent States. (Associated Press) (pg. 1); President Boris N. Yeltsin of Russia congratulating President Leonid M. Kravchuk of Ukraine after 11 republic leaders signed the commonwealth agreement. President Nursultan A. Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan was between them, and Stanislav S. Shushkevich, Byelorussian leader, was at right. (Reuters) (pg. 12)

Map of the new commonwealth in the Soviet Union (pg. 12)

Chart: "Building on a New Foundation"

Leaders of 11 of the 12 former Soviet republics proclaimed a new Commonwealth of Independent States at a meeting in the Kazakh capital, Alma-Ata. They agreed on the following points.


The 11 republics will be considered co-founders. This was a principal demand of the leaders of the five Asian republics after the Slavic republics, Russia, Byelorussian and Ukraine, formed the commonwealth Dec. 8. The eight republics agreeing to join the commonwealth are the five Asian republics (Kazakhstan, Turkmenia, Uzberkistan, Kirghizia and Tadzhikistan) plus Armenia, Moldavia and Azerbaijan.


This document recognizes the independence of the 11 former Soviet republics and their current borders.


A temporary military command will exist until Dec. 31. The 11 leaders are to meet again on control of the military on Dec. 30 in Minsk, the headquarters of the commonwealth. Yevgeny I. Shaposhnikov, the Soviet Defense Minister, is to lead the interim command.


The republics agreed that Russia would take over the Soviet Union's seat on the U.N. Security Council. Russia and the two republics already represented at the United Nations, Ukrain and Byelorussia, will push for all the other republics to have U.N. seats as well. (pg. 12)

The End of the Soviet Union

Text of Declaration: 'Mutual Recognition' and 'an Equal Basis'

Following is the text of a declaration signed yesterday in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, by the heads of the 11 republics forming the Commonwealth of Independent States, as transmitted by the Tass press agency:

THE INDEPENDENT STATES -- the Azerbaijani Republic, the Republic of Armenia, the Republic of Byelorussia, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Republic of Kirghizia, the Republic of Moldavia, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tadzhikistan, Turkmenia, the Republic of Uzbekistan and Ukraine,

SEEKING to build democratic law-governed states, the relations between which will develop on the basis of mutual recognition and respect for state sovereignty and sovereign equality, the inalienable right to self-determination, principles of equality and non-interference in internal affairs, the rejection of the use of force, the threat of force and economic and any other methods of pressure, a peaceful settlement of disputes, respect for human rights and freedoms, including the rights of national minorities, a conscientious fulfillment of commitments and other generally recognized principles and standards of international law;

RECOGNIZING and respecting each other's territorial integrity and the inviolability of the existing borders;

BELIEVING that the strengthening of the relations of friendship, good neighborliness and mutually advantageous cooperation, which has deep historic roots, meets the basic interests of nations and promotes the cause of peace and security;

BEING aware of their responsibility for the preservation of civilian peace and inter-ethnic accord;

BEING loyal to the objectives and principles of the agreement on the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States;

ARE MAKING the following statement:

Cooperation between members of the commonwealth will be carried out in accordance with the principle of equality through coordinating institutions formed on a parity basis and operating in the way established by the agreements between members of the commonwealth, which is neither a state nor a super-state structure.

In order to insure international strategic stability and security, allied command of the military-strategic forces and a single control over nuclear weapons will be preserved, the sides will respect each other's desire to attain the status of a non-nuclear or neutral state.

The commonwealth of independent states is open, with the agreement of all its participants, for other states to join -- members of the former Soviet Union as well as other states sharing the goals and principles of the commonwealth.

The allegiance to cooperation in the formation and development of the common economic space, and all-European and Eurasian markets is being confirmed.

With the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ceases to exist.

Member states of the commonwealth guarantee, in accordance with their constitutional procedures, the fulfillment of international obligations stemming from the treaties and agreements of the former U.S.S.R.

Member states of the commonwealth pledge to observe strictly the principles of this declaration.

Copyright 1991 The New York Times Company