Commonwealth is synonymous with confusion New union's name, status unsettled

December 14, 1991|By New York Times News Service

MOSCOW XHC VLB — MOSCOW -- The confusion over the new Commonwealth of Independent States begins, but doesn't end, with its name.

The word in Russian is "sodruzhestvo," which can mean either community or commonwealth. In the context of the proclamation, it was evidently meant to mean something resembling the European Community, though the documents allowed a wide leeway in interpretation.

The confusion was compounded by the fact that the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Byelarus declared Sunday that the old Soviet Union and all its "norms" ceased to exist as of the signing of the agreement. But since other republics still considered themselves members of the union, that in effect created two political entities in the same area.

Ukraine then added critical amendments, making unclear which accord was the operative one. President Boris N. Yeltsin of Russia added to the fog by telling his parliament that the accord, even duly signed and ratified, was only a "base agreement" still to be completed and that he had agreed to let the union government continue crucial functions.

In their declaration Sunday, the three presidents maintained that their right to dissolve the union derived from the fact that their republics had signed the original union treaty in 1922. But one legislator noted that the 1922 treaty was never ratified; a Communist Party congress simply accepted it as fact.

Another legislator said that "Independent States" was redundant and that "Commonwealth of States" was vague. He proposed Commonwealth of Euro-Asian States.

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