Searching for ways to strengthen an unruly
alliance, 12 former Soviet republics named a powerful Russian
business tycoon as their group's executive secretary Wednesday.
Boris Berezovsky, a billionaire who has been linked to a series
of political intrigues in Russia, was unanimously approved by the
leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The Commonwealth has been largely ineffective since its creation
following the Soviet breakup, serving mostly as a talking shop.
Berezovsky's appointment will, if nothing else, give the
organization a much higher profile.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who fired Berezovsky from
Russia's Security Council in November, was reappointed chairman of
the Commonwealth, a largely ceremonial post.
The Russian leader said he was happy to be working with
"He's a lively person," Yeltsin said. "I ousted him, but that
does not embarrass me."
"Many people will blow up" when they learn of Berezovsky's new
post, Yeltsin said. But, he added, "it's for the sake of work."
Berezovsky's critics say he epitomizes the modern Russian
business mogul having relied on close Kremlin contacts to help
build a fortune estimated at $3 billion.
The critics question why a billionaire businessman seems so
determined to work as a bureaucrat claiming it's to advance his
Berezovsky succeeds Belarus' Ivan Korotchenya, who held the job
since the CIS was created after the 1991 Soviet collapse.
Summit participants were concentrating Wednesday on finding ways to
make their partnership work, but did not reach any agreements.
Afterward, Kazakstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev said the
talks were "absolutely empty."
Yeltsin had asked all the leaders to present proposals on how to
reform the alliance, which unites all former Soviet republics
except the three Baltic nations.
One reason the CIS has not been effective is that many of the
countries are reluctant to surrender their independence to an
organization they believe will be dominated by Russia.
Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov warned Moscow on the eve of
the summit that it should not attempt to rebuild the Soviet empire
under the guise of the CIS.
The summit had been postponed twice this year, once because
Yeltsin was ill and the second time because of his recent
government shakeup in Russia.