MOSCOW, April 5 (Arseny Oganesyan, RIA Novosti Political Writer) - The inefficient Commonwealth of Independent States has been under a barrage of criticism for some time now. Russian President Vladimir Putin's unflattering metaphor "the USSR's divorce mediation office" leaves no doubts as to how this loose union of former Soviet republics has come to be viewed in the Kremlin today.

At Putin's latest meeting with Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko in his Black Sea retreat of Bocharov Ruchei, CIS reform was high on the agenda. Lukashenko echoed Putin in saying that if it was unable to solve any fundamental issues, the CIS should at least be preserved as a body for high-level consultations.

Basically, the Belarussian President proposes bringing the CIS down to a forum format, like the one in which the G8 operates. That type of alliance will require no commitments on the part of the member states while at the same time providing them with all necessary conditions for consultations on issues of mutual concern. Nor will it take substantial human resources to operate, so the administration costs will be much lower than those incurred by the Commonwealth in its present form. Yet, productivity levels will be as high-it is no secret that leaderships in many of the CIS member states see the bloc's main, and only, asset in that it provides opportunities for regular summits.

But plans to lower the status of this principal Eurasian re-integration platform does not mean that former Soviet republics are no longer interested in cooperation between themselves. The financial and institutional resources to be saved through CIS reform could be re-channeled into narrower, but more effective regional alliances, such as the Single Economic Zone, the EurAsEC, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and the Russia-Belarus Union, to name just a few.

The prospective CIS reforms will inevitably lead to a review of foreign political priorities in the region. Russia will probably take a tougher and more pragmatic line in vindicating its national interests in the international arena.

Anatoly Belyaev, Director of the Center for Current Politics in Russia, agrees that this scenario is quite likely. He adds that Russia could influence Georgia by raising the price of its natural gas supplies to the world level. At the same time, it could give preferential treatment to friendly CIS countries, such as Belarus.

So, as we can see, the Russian government is sending clear signals that it won't let the new initiative slip by, and is itself ready and willing to initiate relevant CIS reforms, without waiting for the Commonwealth to be torn apart by outspokenly anti-Russian member states.

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