Lowering the red hammer-and-sickle banners of the Soviet Union and replacing them with the colors of independent states was the easy part. Now begins the nightmare scramble of creating a functioning superstructure that will enable the 12 former Soviet republics to deal with one another. In the eyes of the world, the viability of the new Commonwealth of Independent States will be judged by the way this difficult process of accommodation is carried out.
The Bush administration acted wisely in adopting a policy of gradualism in extending full diplomatic ties to former Soviet republics after President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's resignation. Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan all will have U.S. embassies as soon as practicable. The independence of the other six members of the Commonwealth -- Moldova, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Georgia -- also won Washington's recognition but the establishment of full diplomatic links is tied to their democratic behavior. That this approach is fully warranted is shown by the events in Georgia, where a bloody power struggle continues.
In the highly probable chaos of the next few months, foreign countries, particularly the United States, are likely to have more leverage among these newly independent republics than would be possible in settled conditions.