YEREVAN (RFE/RL–Noyan Tapan)–Boris Berezovsky–the famous Russian tycoon and executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States–said on Tuesday his efforts to reform the loose grouping of twelve former Soviet republics are finding support among their governmen’s.
Berezovsky was speaking in Yerevan where he arrived earlier in the day on a tour of several ex-Soviet republics. He told reporters that his meeting with Armenian President Robert Kocharian focused on his proposal to create a "free trade zone" comprising the CIS members.
Berezovsky–who believes the largely ineffectual organizational can be rendered viable through economic incentives–said most CIS leaders approve of his ideas. "Today we are ready for a final decision [on the free trade zone] by the heads of state," he said.
Berezovsky declined to elaborate on the specifics of the proposed economic agreement. Five CIS states–Russia–Belarus–Kazakhstan–Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan–are bound by a customs union that involves a harmonization of their customs duties. Armenia has so far refused to join that union–saying that it would damage its economic interests.
Berezovsky also said the misgivings expressed by some ex-Soviet republics about their continued participation in a CIS defense pact will have no impact on the future of the organization.
Azerbaijan–Georgia and Uzbekistan have signaled that they may not renew their participation in the Collective Security Treaty to which most CIS members signed up in 1992. Berezovsky argued that the treaty was concluded and implemented outside the CIS framework.
However–Berezovsky stressed that there were no signs that Georgia was going to quit the Commonwealth–citing his recent meeting with Georgian president Eduard Shavardnadze–reported the Noyan Tapan news agency.
Commenting on the possible establishment of a Turkish military base in Azerbaijan–Berezovsky said that it would be up to Azerbaijan–as a sovereign state–to make such a decision–and if the issue of the Collective Security Treaty arose in that regard–it would be up to Azerbaijan to give priority to one or the other agreement.
Berezovsky also denied allegations that he had undertaken the visit to Armenia as a businessman interested in the AIDS drug recently claimed to be invented by Armenian scientists. He said he had just learned about the existence of such a drug from Armenia’s ambassador to Russia–concluded Noyan Tapan.