WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Georgia's withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) last Tuesday highlights the uncertainty of the post-Soviet alliance's future. A Gallup Poll of Georgia conducted in May found a majority of Georgians support some form of cooperation among CIS countries -- 42% thought all countries should cooperate, while 22% thought only some should cooperate, and 15% did not see a need for cooperation.
Those Georgians who said some or all CIS countries should cooperate were asked which type of cooperative arrangement they felt would be best. About half (49%) said CIS countries should have an economic union of some type, while 23% favored a centralized political union, and 10% said CIS members should unite into a single country.
Just 4% of those who favored some type of cooperation said the CIS' current structure should be maintained, suggesting widespread dissatisfaction with the existing alliance's performance.
The CIS was conceived as a single-currency economic zone and joint defense alliance when it was established in 1991. However, member integration has been uneven and has declined over the years as some countries have established greater economic independence, and some -- such as Georgia -- have had political or territorial conflicts with Russia.
Georgia withdrew from the CIS in part because of its five-day war with Russia in August 2008 over Georgia's semi-autonomous South Ossetia region. Following the conflict, Russia recognized both the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions within Georgia as independent states. Later the same month, the Georgian foreign ministry responded by notifying the CIS Executive Committee of its intention to formally withdraw from the alliance after the required one-year waiting period.
Georgians See Need for Good Neighbors
Following Georgia's formal withdrawal last week, Georgian media reported that the move would result in a greater focus on relations with Western nations, possibly smoothing the country's path toward accession to NATO and the European Union. However, Georgians' responses to the May survey indicate most are uncomfortable with foregoing ties to CIS partners altogether. Support for an economic union reflects the importance of Georgia's bilateral trade arrangements with other CIS members, most notably Ukraine and Azerbaijan.
Those Georgians who felt that only some CIS countries should cooperate (22%) were asked which set of countries should be included. Georgians selected an average of four countries (in addition to their own) for inclusion. The countries most often selected were Georgia's neighbors: Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Armenia -- and Russia, which suggests that for many Georgians, the advantages of maintaining economic and cultural ties to Russia trump resentments caused by the current political conflict.
Despite their country's break with the CIS, the majority of Georgians see the need for cooperation among CIS members -- particularly economic arrangements. Much of the economic cooperation many Georgians view as important will be maintained via bilateral agreements with neighboring CIS members, and many of Georgia's multilateral agreements with nearby states are not contingent on CIS membership. On the other hand, the symbolic deepening of the Georgia/Russia rift may make key trading partners such as Ukraine and Azerbaijan more wary of further developing their economic ties to Georgia.
Georgia's withdrawal has also highlighted the ongoing debate over the future of the CIS itself. Though Georgian leaders were directly motivated by their conflict with Moscow over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the consequences they face are bound to be closely monitored by leaders of other CIS countries -- particularly Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, all of which are currently developing closer ties with the EU and NATO. Unless the CIS is reformed to boost its relevance in the eyes of member populations, it may well face further attrition in the coming decade.
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Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with 1,000 Georgians, aged 15 and older, conducted in May 2009. For results based on the sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.