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5 Soviet Asian Republics Agree to Join Slavic Commonwealth : Alliance: Action by the Muslim areas heightens chances that new grouping will ultimately encompass the old Soviet Union. Gorbachev's resignation is closer to reality.

December 14, 1991|ELIZABETH SHOGREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If all the former Soviet republics join the new Commonwealth of Independent States, it may look outwardly like the old union. But there are key differences. Here's a brief look: CAPITAL: The new commonwealth will be based in the Belarus capital of Minsk, instead of Moscow. CENTRAL GOVERNMENT: The commonwealth will not have a central government or legislature, like the old union did. Its founders said it will have a weak "coordinating body" whose function and composition have not yet been decided. It is unclear whether it will have a president. DEFENSE: Members of the commonwealth have agreed to keep nuclear weapons under unified control. But the independent states can create their own conventional armies, as Ukraine is moving quickly to do. LEGAL STATUS OF REPUBLICS: The former Soviet republics were essentially provinces of the Soviet Union. The commonwealth is to be composed of fully independent states that can establish their own laws, foreign relations and other policies, although they may choose to coordinate them. Soviets often compare the commonwealth to the European Community or British Commonwealth. BUDGETS: Members of the commonwealth will set their own budgets, taxes and tariffs. The ruble is likely to remain a common currency for an interim period, during which member states will coordinate reforms and introduce separate currencies. Some central bodies, such as the Defense Ministry, may survive.

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