TBILISI/MOSCOW (Reuters)—Georgia on Tuesday became the first country to withdraw from the Commonwealth of Independent States in the latest and most blatant sign of rebellion against Moscow in its own backyard.
In the wake of its devastating five-day war with Russia last August, Georgia vowed to quit the Moscow-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States formed with the fall of the Soviet Union.
The CIS was designed to ease the trauma of separation and promote cooperation on issues such as trade, travel and security between the former republics.
With the exit of Georgia, the CIS now groups Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
Loyalties were already strained when Russia sent forces into Georgia to quash a Georgian assault on South Ossetia, the first time the Kremlin had deployed troops in anger beyond its borders since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The Georgian parliament voted to quit two days after the war ended, starting a year-long process that ended on Tuesday.
None of the former republics has followed Russia in recognizing Georgia’s rebel South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states despite intense pressure from Moscow.
There has also been movement toward the European Union.
Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus have joined Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in the EU’s Eastern Partnership, designed to expand their political and economic ties with Europe.
On the military front, Uzbekistan and Belarus refused to join a Russian-proposed rapid reaction force. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Tajikistan signed a pact on it in June.
Kyrgyzstan this year shut down a U.S. base supplying forces in Afghanistan having secured pledges of $2 billion in aid and credit from Russia, only to reverse the decision in June.
Georgia’s departure from the CIS will have little practical impact. Deputy Foreign Minister David Jalagania said it would remain party to 75 multilateral agreements formed under the CIS covering among other things visa-free travel and free trade.
Russian officials were unperturbed.
“Georgia entered the CIS as a Trojan horse, cooperating with (Ukrainian President Viktor) Yushchenko,” said Konstantin Zatulin, a member of the Russian Duma and director of the Institute of CIS Countries, quoted by Interfax news agency.
“Both countries prevented the CIS from developing effectively.”