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Russia: Kremlin To Use CIS Summit To Oppose NATO's Actions In Yugoslavia

  • Floriana Fossato

Moscow, 2 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The formalization of last month's dismissal of Boris Berezovsky from his post as executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States was expected to be high on the agenda of today's Summit of CIS heads of state. However, Russia's angry reaction to NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia has largely overshadowed that issue. The Kremlin today will likely use the meeting of the leaders of the 12 former Soviet republics that form the loose alliance to drum up support for its condemnation of the NATO action.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin has instructed his government to put the Yugoslav conflict high on the agenda of the Summit.

However, officials from other CIS countries have already said that working out a common CIS position is unlikely. Vladimir Ogryzko, foreign affairs advisor to Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma, yesterday told Interfax news agency that "it is unrealistic" to think that the 12 CIS heads of state could subscribe to a common position on the Yugoslav conflict.

Meetings at top ministerial levels that have preceded today's summit were dominated by discussions over the Yugoslav crisis. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov yesterday called on his CIS colleagues to coordinate approaches on the issue. He added that the attitude of CIS member states to the Yugoslav crisis "could be expressed, for example, in the form of a joint statement" of foreign ministers.

Ivanov, since the beginning of the air strikes last week, has used language similar to what came from Moscow during the Cold War to condemn NATO. Yesterday, he said that the CIS top level meetings this week "take place at a moment of worsening international relations, created by the NATO aggression against sovereign Yugoslavia." He added that "Russia's position on the issue is well known." Separately, Ivanov had said that the NATO air strikes have "raised new objectives for Russia's armed forces."

Yeltsin and top Russian government officials have repeatedly said Russia does not want to get involved militarily in the conflict. However, this week Russia moved to send war ships from its Black Sea Fleet to the Mediterranean.

Russia's Federation Council this week approved a resolution asking the Kremlin to consider sending Russian weaponry to Yugoslavia.

No statement supporting Russia's positions resulted from yesterday's CIS meetings of prime ministers and foreign ministers, and it seems unlikely that most CIS countries would want to go beyond general calls for a peaceful settlement of the Yugoslav crisis.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has voiced what seems to be the position of most CIS leaders. Leaving Tashkent for Moscow yesterday, he said his country is "categorically against the creation of military and political organs, in the framework of the CIS."

Karimov said the main priority of the CIS should be the strengthening of economic cooperation among its member states. "First the economy, and then politics," he said.

The CIS, created after the breakup of the Soviet Union, has been largely ineffective and many leaders have complained at what they say are Russia's attempts to influence decision-making within the loose alliance.

Karimov seemed to revive the issue once more yesterday. Without naming names, he said that "no [CIS] member state should try to impose its will," adding that "this principle should guide all issues, ordinary, as well as strategic ones."

Other leaders have been even more direct. Last week, Azerbaijan took a stance clearly contrasting Russia's, when it declared its readiness to have a symbolic contingent acting aside NATO in the Balkans. In an attempt to forge opposition to NATO air strikes, Yeltsin said yesterday during a meeting with Ukraine's President Kuchma that the air strikes make closer cooperation between the two countries "an urgent task."

Ukraine is critical of NATO air strikes, but its position is far milder than Moscow's. Ukraine's parliament last week debated whether Kyiv should rearm with nuclear weapons in response to the NATO air strikes, but failed to adopt a resolution on the issue. The only CIS leader who has already expressed the intention of coordinating his country's positions with Russia is Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Belarus said yesterday it was suspending cooperation with NATO, as Russia has already done.

Meanwhile, there are few doubts that CIS leaders today will vote to formalize Yeltsin's sacking of Berezovsky. Last month, Yeltsin fired Berezovsky, but, according to CIS rules, the decision can only be made by all the CIS leaders.

Russian media reported yesterday that eight CIS presidents have already sent the Kremlin written approval for Yeltsin's decision, while two others, Uzbekistan's Karimov and Turkmenistan's Saparmurat Niyazov, have voiced oral agreement.

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in remarks broadcast by Russian television that a "non-political figure... somebody who simply carries out assignments from CIS presidents," should lead the CIS executive secretariat.