Caspian Region

Putin, Aliyev and Pashinyan Attend the CIS Heads of State Meeting in Astana

Stephanie Lazerte

On Friday, October 14, the heads of state of nine former Soviet republics met in the Kazakh capital[1] in a long-planned top-level meeting for the Commonwealth of Independent States, an organization originally conceived as a successor to the USSR. For years, commentators have suggested that CIS meetings were largely ineffectual talking shops of minimal tangible use to any real-world situation. However, it does serve as “a venue for personal contacts and consultations between the heads of state,” and rarely has that been more needed than this year. Just a look at the guest list makes one envious of any flies on the grand walls of the giant round-table meeting room. Russian President Vladimir Putin took time out from his war room to attend. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan found themselves standing side by side once again for the alphabetical line-up photo. Moldova, which has been weighing up withdrawal from the CIS, didn’t send representatives. The presidents of both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, however, attended despite the two countries having been at loggerheads since recent border clashes – a week earlier, the Kyrgyz president had ‘skipped’ a less formal meeting in St Petersburg in protest. For Turkmenistan’s Serdar Berdimuhamedov, this was his first official state visit to Kazakhstan. Astana sees great opportunities for improved trade with Ashgabat, but the trip comes after Turkmenistan declined to sign a Central Asian friendship agreement back in July.


Vladimir Putin’s headline speech skirted any direct reference to Ukraine but mentioned sanctions and the resultant need to redirect more trade to and through ‘greater Eurasia’ while underlining a need for innovations in the region’s green economy and digital expertise. Putin noted that the CIS had been troubled with “inconsistencies, differences and conflicts” but was hopeful that recent discussions with Tajik and Kyrgyz leaders might use goodwill to “strive to find a way out of the situation.” Concerning the Caucasus, he reiterated that he considered French President Emmanuel Macron’s TV comments in the aftermath of the Prague EPC meeting to have shown a “lack of understanding” of the course of the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict.


Image: Armenia MFA

However, the work of peacemaking continued with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arranging triangular talks with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts, Ararat Mirzoyan and Jeyhun Bayramov, and their teams on the fringes of the main event. 


The main CIS meeting concluded with an agreement to declare 2023 as the year of the “Russian Language as a language of interethnic communication.” It's a hopeful goal, given the global context. Belarussian media pointed out that it is important to create some cultural counterbalance to the politically inspired state of Russophobia that has become widespread, even towards the language.



[1] Now generally referred to as Astana again rather than Nur-Sultan following Kazakhstan’s ongoing moves to remove ever more references to the once ubiquitous presence of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev.