Russia: Scrambling for the Pieces of an Empire

With nukes and navies up for grabs, not to mention the Bolshoi and the Hermitage, the republics try to sort out their inheritance

Even if its long-term durability has not been tested, the nascent Commonwealth of Independent States is firmly established in the world of symbols. When the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the 11 former Soviet republics met in Minsk last week, delegations arrived in former Aeroflot airliners carrying the name of their states painted across the fuselage. As the leaders sat down to begin negotiating their future, the red Soviet banner was nowhere to be seen: the concrete-and-glass conference hall was bedecked with the multicolored flags of the 11 new nations.

The trappings of empire, of course, extend far beyond banners and...