Central Asia's Catapult to Independence

Courtesy Reuters

Few peoples of the world have ever been forced to become independent nations. Yet that is precisely what happened to the five Central Asian republics after Russia, Belarus and Ukraine—the three original signatories of the U.S.S.R.’s founding 1922 constitution—met in Minsk on December 8, 1991, and created a new Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

That action by the three Slavic presidents left Central Asian leaders with an unpleasant choice: they could go it alone—either singly or as a group—or they could shrug off the intended snub by their Slavic counterparts and agree to join the Commonwealth. After a hurried meeting in Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan’s capital, they chose the latter course. If independence had to occur, it was best achieved gradually; the new Commonwealth structures, they conceded, would make it easier to regulate their interdependent economies.

To salve the smart of their initial exclusion the first

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