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Slovakia: Ties To Moscow Strengthen; Relations With Brussels Strained

  • Jolyon Naegele

Bratislava, 22 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - This week's referendum in Slovakia on NATO membership comes at a time when relations between Bratislava and Brussels are strained while ties with Moscow are blossoming.

Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia have not taken a stand on how the public should vote. NATO membership is part of his government's 1995 program. But Meciar's two coalition partners, the nationalist Slovak National Party and the left-wing Party of Slovak Workers, advocate a "no" vote in the referendum on NATO. Opposition parties are calling on the public to vote "yes."

The referendum comes just one month after Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin paid a three-day visit to Bratislava, during which he and members of his delegation signed 16 bilateral agreements with Slovakia. These range from cooperation in the fields of nuclear energy and military technology to the supply and transit of Russian natural gas. But none has been published. It remains to be seen whether any of them will help ease Slovakia's $1.5 billion trade deficit with Russia.

The chairman of the opposition center-right Democratic Party of Slovakia Jan Langos, who served for two years as Czechoslovak Interior Minister (1990-92), says Meciar's policies support the interests of a foreign power, Russia.

"The ties between Vladimir Meciar and Viktor Chernomyrdin are quite clear," Langos says, adding "Meciar has already pulled Slovakia into an unbelievable dependence on the Russian economy and has made Slovakia dependent on Russia militarily as well."

"It is already clear now that Vladimir Meciar does not want to lead Slovakia into NATO and this is fundamentally at odds with our view of the Slovak Republic's national interests."

Langos says the content of the 16 accords are known even though the Slovak government has tried to keep them secret.

"This government has gotten Slovakia not only into economic dependence on the Russian Federation but political and military dependence as well," Langos says, adding "no government of a sovereign state can sign the kinds of agreements which the Meciar government signed."

Langos says that through signing the agreement on military technical cooperation with Russia, Meciar promised that whatever is to be produced in Slovakia in cooperation with the Russians cannot be sold on third markets without Moscow's written agreement, even after that agreement expires.

"This is forever, it's the old Communist principle of 'with Russia for eternity,' " says Langos.

Alexander Duleba, analyst of Slovak relations with Russia and Ukraine in the independent Research Center of the Slovak Society for Foreign Policy, says the high number of accords --16 -- signed during Chernomyrdin's visit to Bratislava is "strange, or at least very problematical." It brings to over 130 the number of bilateral agreements Slovakia has concluded with Russia since Slovakia became an independent state in January 1993.

Duleba, who is based in the east Slovak city of Presov, told RFE/RL the agreement on cooperation in military technology, which includes arms production, states that manufacture of any military product involving bilateral cooperation will require the agreement of both sides for exporting to third markets. Duleba says this puts Slovakia's decision to sign into political rather than economic terms.

Duleba says relations between Moscow and Bratislava should be seen in terms of personal rather than state interests. "When it comes to relations with Russia," Duleba says, "state interests are totally absent and personal interests rule." As a result, he says, the relationship between Bratislava and Moscow is economically disadvantageous for Slovakia.

"These relations limit Slovakia's ability to conduct foreign policy. There are limitations... Yes, these threats exist quite simply because Slovakia and Russia are unequal partners in bilateral relations," Duleba says, adding that "if above-standard relations develop between a small country and a super-power, the relationship cannot result in anything but dependence."

Duleba says the Meciar government's pro-Moscow orientation is not based on any pan-Slavic ideals of shared values, but is rather being conducted by pragmatists who made careers in the Communist Party until 1989 and who now see the opportunity to enrich themselves. He says that it has been clear since 1995 that because of ots close relations with Russia the Meciar government is both unwilling and incapable of leading Slovakia into NATO and the EU. As Duleba puts it, "this government is closer to Moscow than to its own people."

RFE/RL has obtained a draft of the agreement on the protection of state secrets against leakage to third parties or misuse against the Slovak Republic and Russian Federation. The draft is a "bid to strengthen traditionally friendly relations and develop mutually beneficial cooperation."

The draft defines secrets as data about persons, subjects, facts, events, developments and processes constituting state secrets of the Slovak Republic and the Russian Federation. The draft says that in the event of a loss or betrayal of a secret, the two sides are to hold immediate joint consultations, organize an investigation and inform each other within 90 days after the loss or leak has been discovered. The side responsible for the loss or betrayal is to pay resulting damages to the other one.

The draft says that the accord is valid for five years and is automatically renewable. Terminating the agreement does not relieve the parties of the duty to protect secrets gained while the treaty was in effect or to continue to bear responsibility for the loss or betrayal of secrets covered by the accord.

A leading Slovak intelligence expert, Igor Cibula, who nearly five years ago co-founded Slovakia's intelligence service, the SIS, says this and other treaties on cooperation in the military sector threaten Slovakia's declared intention of joining NATO and the European Union.

Cibula, who is currently an advisor on security matters to the centrist opposition Democratic Union, says such agreements restrict Slovakia's arms industry, make the country dependent on Russian sources and prevent its westward realignment.

Cibula is a strong advocate of Slovak membership in NATO that, he says, would "limit the possibilities of Meciar's government to establish an authoritarian regime in Slovakia and would prevent or at least slow down Russian influence," which as he puts it "is growing geometrically."

Former Slovak Foreign Minister and former ambassador to the United Nations Eduard Kukan, who currently heads the opposition "Democratic Union," says these accords appear to be an attempt to establish "above-standard relations with the Russian Federation that could have a negative effect on Slovakia's international position."

"This government of Prime Minister Meciar is concentrating in an undesirable manner economic and military cooperation on a one-sided orientation toward Russia," Kukan says, adding "this is not in the interest of Slovakia -- from a political standpoint, this is harmful to Slovakia."

Jan Carnogursky, chairman of Slovakia's opposition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) who served as Slovak Prime Minister for a year before the break-up of Czechoslovakia, takes a more reserved approach. In an interview with RFE/RL, he was only critical of the accords on natural gas.

"I consider the contract between the Slovak gas industry (SPP) and Gazprom on forming a joint venture to be risky, because until now SPP has been the exclusive importer and transit carrier of gas from Russia to Slovakia and onwards to the West," Carnogursky says, adding that "the risk in the other agreements will depend on how the Slovak side will abide by them."

"If this or some future Slovak government defends Slovakia's interests, these agreements need not threaten Slovak sovereignty, particularly if they are accompanied by western-oriented agreements," says Carnogursky

Carnogursky, commenting on Meciar's increasingly friendly relationship with Russia, told RFE/RL earlier this year that he "agrees with Meciar's policy though not with his means" to implement it.

Meanwhile, in another pro-Moscow move, the Slovak government has granted newly established Slovak Airlines the statute of "national carrier." The airline is backed by a Russian-controlled Slovak-registered bank, Devin banka, which was also involved in backing Russia's transfer of Mig-29 fighters to Slovakia as partial compensation for outstanding debts. In that deal, Devin banka took a five percent commission of the equivalent of nearly $10 million.

Slovak Airlines will fly new, Russian-made Tupolev aircraft. Slovak Airlines president Viliam Veteska told Slovak TV last week that flights will begin in late October on routes between Moscow and Slovak cities of Bratislava and Poprad.

This is part two of a three-part series on Slovakia. See Slovakia: A Status Report.