RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN AGREEMENT SIGNED AFTER LAST-MINUTE CHANGES TO TEXT.
Russian President Boris
Yeltsin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka have
signed the treaty on Russian-Belarusian union and initialed a
union charter following last-minute talks in Minsk and
Moscow, RFE/RL reports on 2 April. The final version of the
treaty is much shorter than the draft approved by the joint
Russian-Belarusian Parliamentary Assembly yesterday. It is
mostly of a declarative nature, prompting complaints among
parliamentary supporters of integration. Although the name of
the Russian-Belarusian "community" has been changed to
"union," Yeltsin stressed that Russia and Belarus remain
sovereign states and will not hurry to form a common budget
or establish a single currency. Instead, coordinating security
policies and border controls will be the top priority. The treaty
will be submitted to the State Duma and Federation Council
for ratification after one month of public discussion.
DISCORD IN YELTSIN CAMP OVER INTEGRATION.
The last-minute changes to the union treaty reflect deep divisions in
the Yeltsin camp over how far and how fast integration with
Belarus should proceed. An RFE/RL correspondent reports
that among Yeltsin's associates, the main proponents of rapid
integration are Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov, CIS Affairs
Minister Aman Tuleev, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov,
presidential foreign policy adviser Dmitrii Ryurikov and Sergei
Shakhrai, Yeltsin's representative to the Constitutional Court.
Meanwhile, nearly all the ministers who joined the government
in last month's cabinet reshuffle have expressed concern
about the economic consequences of integration with Belarus.
The skeptics include First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii
Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, Economics Minister Yakov
Urinson, and State Property Committee Chairman Alfred
EXPELLED RUSSIAN JOURNALIST SLAMS BELARUSIAN
Aleksandr Stupnikov, the NTV correspondent
recently expelled from Belarus for not reporting "objective"
information, says the charges against him are "ludicrous" and
that journalists are routinely persecuted in Belarus, RFE/RL
reported on 1 April. Many Russian journalists have rallied to
Stupnikov's defense. The Union of Journalists and the
Glasnost Defense Foundation have issued a joint statement
complaining that the Russian president, government, and
parliament have not condemned censorship in Belarus. At last
week's CIS summit in Moscow, Belarusian President
Lukashenka complained that a "propaganda campaign"
against him in the media was aimed at derailing Russian-
BASAEV NOMINATED FIRST DEPUTY PREMIER.
President Aslan Maskhadov has proposed radical field
commander Shamil Basaev as first deputy prime minister with
special responsibility for industry, Russian news agencies
reported on 1 April. Basaev was Maskhadov's closest
challenger in the January presidential elections. Meanwhile,
the Chechen Interior Ministry has demanded the extradition
from Moscow of some 70 people wanted for embezzlement of
public funds, according to Interfax. Among them are ministers
who served under former President Doku Zavgaev. Also on 1
April, a joint Russian-Chechen commission was created in
Grozny to verify claims that 11 Russian servicemen are being
held prisoner in the Chechen town of Argun.
KIDNAPPERS DEMAND RANSOM FOR JOURNALISTS HELD
Chechens holding hostage three Russian
reporters, one Georgian reporter, and one Italian photographer
are demanding $3 million in ransom. Dagestani Security
Council Secretary Magomed Talboev, who is negotiating to
secure the hostages' release, told Russian news agencies on 1
April that the journalists are being held in good conditions.
ITAR-TASS and Radio Rossii, the employers of the captive
journalists, have said they will not pay ransom. Chechen
President Aslan Maskhadov told ITAR-TASS that he favors
transferring kidnapping cases to Sharia courts, where he said
those found guilty of abduction would face execution by firing
squad. Chechen authorities last week announced measures to
prevent future kidnappings. Foreign journalists will be
required to enter Chechnya by plane, stay at Grozny's airport
hotel and travel around the republic with an armed escort at
KRASNOYARSK KRAI WINS CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
APPEAL AGAINST FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.
Constitutional Court has ruled that federal taxes may be
introduced only through legislation, overruling a directive
issued by the federal government in April 1996, an RFE/RL
correspondent reported on 1 April. The government directive
met with particularly strong opposition in Siberia. Among
other things, it imposed an additional tax on electricity
supplied to industrial enterprises. The Krasnoyarsk Krai
legislature appealed to the court, claiming that federal taxes
may be imposed through laws passed by the State Duma and
the Federation Council. The government apparently expected
to lose the case and did not even send a representative to the
LOW TURNOUT IN VOLGOGRAD, RYAZAN ELECTIONS.
Candidates representing the left opposition benefited from the
low turnout in legislative elections in Volgograd and Ryazan
Oblasts, RFE/RL reported on 31 March. Communist
candidates won 12 of the 16 seats up for grabs in the
Volgograd regional legislature. The other four seats went to
managers of local joint stock companies. Communists also
won seven of the 36 seats in the Ryazan regional legislature,
while the Agrarians won four, independents 14, and a local
officers' representative one. Turnout was too low to declare a
winner in the other 10 districts. Communist-backed
candidates won gubernatorial elections in Volgograd and
Ryazan last December. Left opposition candidates are believed
to benefit from low turnout in general, as the left-leaning
electorate is older and more likely to vote.
PRESIDENTIAL REPRESENTATIVE TRIES TO RESOLVE
STALEMATE IN PRIMORE.
Yevgenii Savostyanov is visiting
Vladivostok in order to resolve "by peaceful means" the long-
running power struggle between Primorskii Krai Governor
Yevgenii Nazdratenko and Vladivostok Mayor Viktor
Cherepkov, RFE/RL reported on 1 April. Savostyanov arranged
the first meeting between the two bitter enemies since
Cherepkov was restored to the mayoral office by presidential
decree six months ago. Savostyanov dismissed rumors that
Yeltsin will sack both Nazdratenko and Cherepkov and
introduce presidential rule in the krai. Elections last week to
the Vladivostok city Duma--supported by Nazdratenko but
opposed by Cherepkov--were declared invalid after fewer than
15% of voters turned out.
IMF TO RESUME LENDING TO RUSSIA.
Director Michel Camdessus says the fund will resume issuing
monthly installments of a three-year $10 billion loan to
Russia. He called on Russian officials to simplify the tax
system and to target the largest tax evaders in an effort to
change attitudes toward non-payment of taxes, Reuters
reported on 2 April. Camdessus says opportunities for
corruption could be eliminated by "removing unnecessary
government regulations and controls" and by "establishing an
arms-length relationship between business and government."
He called on the State Duma to pass key economic legislation
and "to lead a responsible debate" about Russian economic
policy. Duma deputies hostile to the government's economic
policies and to the IMF, in particular, have a solid majority in
the lower house.
ARDZINBA'S MOSCOW VISIT POSTPONED.
Foreign Ministry has abruptly postponed scheduled talks with
Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba in order to rethink its
position on Abkhazia, Interfax reported on 1 April. The move
comes after the CIS summit's decision to extend the mandate
of the CIS peacekeeping force in Abkhazia. Meanwhile, the
Abkhaz parliament has passed a resolution rejecting the
summit decision. Ethnic Georgians forced to flee Abkhazia
during the 1993 hostilities plan a mass demonstration outside
the parliament building in Tbilisi tomorrow, despite a plea
from parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania not to do so,
KAZAKHSTAN CREATES NATIONAL OIL, GAS COMPANY.
Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin has signed a
resolution creating a national oil and gas company, Interfax
reported. State shares in joint ventures currently held by the
Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Energy and Natural
Resources will be handed over to the new company, called
Kazakhoil. Kazhegeldin gave the ministries 15 days to
complete the transfer. Under the new resolution, Kazakhoil
will become a registered shareholder in the potentially
lucrative Caspian Pipeline Consortium. The Kazakh
government will retain the right to manage these shares,
AKAYEV ON STATUS OF RUSSIAN LANGUAGE.
President Askar Akayev has told Yeltsin that Russian will be
given the status of state language in Kyrgyzstan, alongside
Kyrgyz, Russian TV reported. Yeltsin's aide Dmitrii Ryurikov
said the Russian president is satisfied with the treatment of
Russian-speakers in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan is the only
Central Asian state to receive full programming from all three
major Russian TV channels. Russian currently has the status
of "official" language but not "state" language, in which the
affairs of government are conducted.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov
and his Greek counterpart, Konstantinos Stephanopoulos,
have signed a treaty on friendship and cooperation, RFE/RL
reported. Karimov was on an official visit to Athens. The two
leaders also signed agreements on avoidance of double
taxation, protection of investments, and cooperation in
economics, technology, education, science, culture, and
tourism. Karimov said Greece and Uzbekistan are more united
than divided. Stephanopoulos called Uzbekistan a key nation
in Central Asia.
NEW FINDINGS IN TAJIK CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION.
enforcement authorities in Dushanbe say four men they
apprehended in late February in connection with "multiple
crimes" do not belong to the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), as
was previously believed. ITAR-TASS reported on 1 April that
the four men are members of outlaw bands and are guilty of
virtually all major crimes committed in Tajikistan since 1994,
including the killings of Russian servicemen. The men, whose
names are being withheld, were found in possession of pistols
and materials necessary for making home-made bombs.
DEMONSTRATION IN MINSK.
Police in the Belarusian capital
dispersed about 400 demonstrators who gathered yesterday to
protest the signing of the union treaty between Belarus and
Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Police and protesters, most of
whom were from the opposition Popular Front, engaged in a
stand-off for more than an hour. After unsuccessful efforts to
persuade the crowd to disperse, police moved in and broke up
the rally. Some protesters were detained by the police. The
previous day, Belarusian police detained Irina Vazhnik, a
member of the Popular Front, and her husband for
distributing leaflets calling on people to take part in opposition
demonstrations, RFE/RL reported.
OBSTRUCTIONS TO INVESTMENT IN UKRAINE.
Bihun, commercial attache at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, told
RFE/RL yesterday that the main obstruction to investment in
Ukraine "is the government which creates an unfavorable
climate for investors." His comment comes after the U.S.
electronics firm Motorola announced last week it is leaving
Ukraine because of the "unfavorable investment climate."
Motorola planned to invest some $500 million in Ukraine.
Bihun said the Communications Ministry granted Motorola a
license to operate a mobile phone system in Ukraine but later
insisted that Motorola apply for permission to use the GSM-
900 frequency. Meanwhile, the state-backed company
KyivStar, one of three winners for a recent tender for GSM-900
cellular frequency licenses, announced it intends to invest $30
million in its mobile telephone network this year.
UKRAINE WANTS SPECIAL RELATIONS WITH NATO.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexander Kuzmuk says Ukraine
wants to establish special relations with NATO. But he adds
that as long as Ukraine intends to stay outside military blocs
there is no question of it joining NATO. Kuzmuk was speaking
to journalists on 1 April after meeting with visiting Gen.
George Joulwan, NATO's supreme allied commander in
Europe. Joulwan told reporters that Ukraine's further
participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program would
serve to strengthen relations between Ukraine and NATO. He
added that it would also increase confidence and mutual
understanding between Eastern European countries.
UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON TREATY WITH
Hennady Udovenko says that talks on concluding
a treaty with Romania could be concluded soon, ITAR-TASS
reported from Kyiv on 1 April. He urged both sides to work
together to overcome differences. His statement comes after
the latest round of talks between the two countries stalled.
INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION ON SINKING OF ESTONIA.
The international commission investigating the sinking of the
ferry Estonia will not name who was responsible for the
installation of locks on the bow door, whose failure likely
caused the disaster that killed 852 people, RFE/RL reported
on 1 April. The Estonia sank on 28 September 1994 en route
from Tallinn to Stockholm. The commission's members are
from Estonia, Sweden, and Finland. Its task is to say why the
incident occurred, not who was responsible. A final report is
expected to be released in late April or early May.
RESULTS OF LITHUANIAN MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS
The Supreme Electoral Commission has
confirmed the results of the 23 March local elections, BNS
reported. The Conservatives received the largest number of
mandates in municipal councils, chalking up 493 (33.22
percent). The Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party (LDDP)
finished second with 212 mandates (14.29 percent), while the
Christian Democrats were in third place with 180 mandates
(12.13 percent). The Lithuanian Social Democrats received 136
mandates (9.16 percent), the Lithuanian Centrist Union -- 135
(9.10 percent). Other parties received less than 5 percent of
VOTES ON POLISH CONSTITUTION.
The Polish National
Assembly votes today on amendments to the draft constitution
proposed by President Aleksander Kwasniewski following
consultations with the main political parties, RFE/RL's
correspondent in Warsaw reports. The assembly's
Constitutional Commission recommended last week that most
of those amendments be accepted. The assembly will also
decide today on the whole text of the constitution in the final
vote. A two-thirds majority is needed for the document to pass.
The constitution's passage is virtually assured, because the
four biggest parties in the parliament, both from the
government and the opposition, worked together on the draft.
The constitution is also to be put to a referendum.
JOINT POLISH-UKRAINIAN BORDER PATROLS.
and Poland are introducing joint controls at the Zosin-Ustilug
road border crossing today, RFE/RL's Warsaw correspondent
reports. The operation--the first of its kind between the two
countries--is the direct result of a bilateral agreement signed
last month. If successful, other border crossings will adopt the
same procedures. Under the new regime at Zosin-Ustilug,
travelers to Ukraine will be checked on the Ukrainian side of
the border by a joint patrol, while people traveling in the
opposite direction will be checked on the Polish side by a joint
CZECH PRESIDENT ON NATO, FRENCH PRESIDENT IN
Vaclav Havel says he is opposed to a referendum on
NATO membership. Since membership is "basically a treaty
between states," it does not need to be approved in a
plebiscite, Havel told Czech TV yesterday. Havel was speaking
on the eve of a two-day visit by French President Jacques
Chirac to Prague, RFE/RL reported. The French president is
expected to express support to Prague's bid for early
membership in EU and NATO. He has already given similar
pledges to Hungary and Poland.
HAGUE JUDGES TOUR GABCIKOVO-NAGYMAROS
Judges from the International Court of Justice in
The Hague have begun a four-day, fact-finding tour of the
stretch of the Danube disputed in the ongoing trial over the
Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dam, a Slovak Foreign Ministry official
told RFE/RL on 1 April. The judges will inspect first the
Gabcikovo project in Slovakia and then the aborted Hungarian
side of the project at Nagymaros. The trial is due to resume in
mid-April, when the two countries will each have two days to
respond to the other's arguments. A final verdict is not
expected before the fall.
SLOVAK PRESIDENT DISTANCES HIMSELF FROM
PREMIER'S NATO STATEMENTS.
Michal Kovac has
distanced himself from Premier Vladimir Meciar's statements
that the U.S. and Russia agreed Slovakia should not be invited
to NATO membership talks. Kovac says that from the
countless talks he has had with representatives of NATO
countries and from his personal talks with U.S. Secretary of
State Madeleine Albright, it is quite clear that "Slovakia will
decide on its fate itself insofar as it is capable of putting the
principles of democracy into practice." Kovac released these
comments to the media on 1 April.
SLOVAK NATIONAL PARTY CHAIRMAN INVITES LE PEN.
Jan Slota says that Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the extreme-
right French National Front, will visit Bratislava at the end of
April or the beginning of May. Slota attended the front's
congress in Strasbourg last weekend. He told Radio Twist his
party wants Le Pen to be received in Slovakia at government
and parliamentary levels. Slota objected to dubbing Le Pen's
supporters "fascists or Nazis." Instead, he described them as
people who want "turn France into a state for the French
again." He also confirmed his efforts to create a "community of
nationally-oriented European parties."
HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT WANTS SMALLHOLDERS TO
RESPOND TO ANTI-SEMITISM CHARGE.
Consultative Council--the top decision-making body of the two
Hungarian coalition parties--says the most important aspect of
the "Maczo controversy" is not Agnes Nagy Maczo's eventual
dismissal as deputy parliamentary speaker but the question of
whether to allow anti-Semitic tones in parliamentary debates,
the Hungarian press reports. Maczo, who is a deputy of the
Smallholders' Party, last week made remarks in the house that
many consider to have been anti-Semitic. The council wants
the Smallholders to answer the question of whether they
accept political anti-Semitism, RFE/RL reported.
HUNGARIAN PREMIER ON AGREEMENT WITH CHURCHES.
Gyula Horn says he expects a final agreement over public
financing of Churches and the ownership of former
ecclesiastical property will be reached in June, the Hungarian
press reports. Church and government representatives met
recently to discuss the issue. Horn said he firmly intended to
ensure that Churches and affiliated institutions are not
disadvantaged in any way. A preliminary agreement stipulates
that 1% of income tax revenues be allocated for this purpose.
If insufficient, the total sum will be supplemented by budget
ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER MEETS SOUTHERN
Bashkim Fino went to Gjirokaster yesterday, his
first trip to his troubled political home base since becoming
head of the coalition government last month. He was greeted
by cheering, heavily-armed rebel leaders from Gjirokaster and
Tepelene. Fino met with elected officials as well as with the
rebels and insurgent Committees of Public Salvation, Reuters
reported. The Democratic Party of President Sali Berisha has
threatened to pull out of the coalition government if officials
from the Socialist Party--to which Fino belongs--maintain
contacts with the rebels.
...AND ANNOUNCES CHANGES IN SECRET POLICE.
used his trip to Gjirokaster to announce the abolition of SHIK,
the secret police, which is widely seen as an arm of President
Sali Berisha's Democratic Party. Fino said he and Berisha met
with SHIK boss Bashkim Gazidede and his deputy, Bujar
Rama, last weekend and formally accepted their resignations,
Reuters reported on 1 April. Fino also blocked funds for the
agency. "We are going to build a new intelligence service, with
a new face," he said. Elsewhere in Gjirokaster, there was an
attack on the home of the Greek consul. The incident is not
expected to overshadow Fino's trip to Greece today, since both
sides are determined to work together closely in the face of the
ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER FLIES TO ALBANIA.
Prodi paid a half-hour surprise visit to Gjirokaster this
morning to talk with Fino about plans for a multinational force
to secure the delivery of relief supplies to Albania. Both
governments are anxious to press ahead with the project,
despite the imbroglio that arose following the fatal maritime
collision last week. Italian Defense Minister Beniamino
Andreatta said yesterday that the multinational intervention
force should be ready within 10 days. His Albanian
counterpart, Shaqir Vukaj, is in Italy to help prepare
the way. Meanwhile, the rebel Committee of Public Salvation in
Vlora says Italian troops are welcome there, AFP reported. An
Albanian government spokesman told Radio Tirana yesterday
that the maritime collision and the intervention force are
unrelated issues. He blasted "left extremists and Mafiosi" for
previously threatening the Italians.
UN WARNS OF HUNGER IN ALBANIA.
A mission from the UN
Department of Humanitarian Affairs says 400,000 Albanians
are threatened by hunger in the wake of the current strife and
the collapse of the central state apparatus. A spokesman
added that while famine is not imminent and that the
quantities of food needed are modest compared with Bosnia
and some African crisis spots, it is still necessary to "fill the
gaps," Reuters reported on 1 April. The spokesman said that
anarchy and banditry are the main problems, not the
destruction and dislocation that plagued relief efforts in
Bosnia. Elsewhere, the Albanian Interior Ministry reports that
10 people died the previous day in incidents stemming from
the proliferation of weapons among civilians, AFP reported.
UPDATE ON FORMER YUGOSLAVIA.
Momir Bulatovic insists on firing various ministers critical of
Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, RFE/RL reported. But
Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic refuses to do so, arguing that
only parliament can make the decision. In Sarajevo, Bosnia's
Energoinvest company says it will no longer import any gas
from Russia. The decision came after Russia's Gazeksport cut
deliveries to Bosnia to a bare minimum because of unpaid
bills. In Banja Luka, today's Nasa Borba writes that Republika
Srpska President Biljana Plavsic's position is increasingly
under threat after her Serbian Democratic Party overruled her
objections to a new treaty on relations with Belgrade. Over the
weekend, Muslim and international officials charged that the
Pale-Belgrade agreement could lead to the economic division of
Bosnia by setting up special ties between the Republika
Srpska and federal Yugoslavia.
VAN DER STOEL IN BUCHAREST.
Minister Adrian Severin says his country still needs OSCE
High Commissioner for National Minorities Max van der Stoel
for the protection of national minority rights in Romania as
well as for the protection of the Romanian national minorities'
rights in neighboring countries. Van der Stoel met with Severin
yesterday at the beginning of his three-day visit to Romania,
RFE/RL reported. Severin told Van der Stoel that the problem
of the Babes-Bolyai university in Cluj should be solved by
setting up a Romanian and a Hungarian department within
the university, rather than creating two ethnic universities.
Van der Stoel will also meet with President Emil
Constantinescu, Premier Victor Ciorbea, and leaders of the
UDMR--the Hungarian ethnic alliance.
NEW FOREIGN INVESTMENTS IN ROMANIA.
Tokyo is to
grant Romania a $ 177 million credit for Transportation
Ministry projects to build a container-terminal in Constanta
and improve roads in the southwestern part of the country. In
other news, Lockheed President Norman Augustine says the
company is interested in investing in the Romanian arms
industry. He adds that the company has already started
lobbying in the U.S. Congress and the White House for
Romanias admission to NATO, RFE/RL reported on 1 April.
NEW MOLDOVAN PARTY BACKS PRESIDENT.
Social Democratic Party of Moldova (PSDUM) says it supports
President Petru Lucinschi's political program but does not
want to be considered a pro-presidential party, Infotag
reported on 1 April. Anatol Taranu, co-chairman of the
PSDUM, told a news conference in Chisinau that his party will
back Lucinschi insofar as he implements his program. Eugen
Sobor, another PSDUM co-chairman, said that while the party
strives to attract "prestigious personalities" to its ranks, it does
not wish to turn itself into a mass party. He added that it "will
close its doors to renegades who have tried many parties in the
MOLDOVAS HOMELESS CHILDREN.
At least a third of all
homeless children in Chisinau are ill with syphilis, RFE/RL
reports on 2 April. In addition, at least half of these children
suffer from various infectious skin diseases, according to
statistics released by police. The number of homeless children
in Moldova is rising steadily. In 1996 alone, shelters in
Chisinau received more than 1,500 children--an increase of
25% over the previous year. Most of them are from homes
affected by alcoholism or extreme poverty.
BULGARIAN PROSECUTOR SAYS EX-COMMUNISTS
SABOTAGED LUKANOV CASE.
Bulgaria's chief prosecutor
has accused the previous Socialist government of doing
everything possible to help late Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov
win his case against Bulgaria at the Council of Europe's
Human Rights Court in Strasbourg, RFE/RL reported on 1
April. Ivan Tatarchev says an investigation is being launched
to clarify the activities of former Premier Zhan Videnov and his
justice minister, Mladen Chervenyakov. The court ruled last
month that the human rights of Lukanov were violated when
he was arrested in 1992 on charges of misappropriation. It
ordered the state to pay his widow and two children more than
$ 20,000 in legal costs and compensation. Lukanov was
assassinated last October.
BULGARIAN INFLATION FALLS SHARPLY.
Mussalem, representative of the World Bank in Sofia, says that
since Stefan Sofiyanski's caretaker cabinet took office in
February, inflation has fallen sharply, while treasury and
hard-currency reserves have increased. RFE/RL's
correspondent in Sofia quotes Sofiyanski as saying Bulgaria is
on the brink of "relative financial and economic stabilization."
Sofiyanski said price liberalization will not lead to economic
hardship for the country's citizens. He added that the World
Bank has pledged $40 million for grain imports and that the
U.S. will soon donate $25 million worth of forage grains for
Toward a More Divisive Union
by Paul Goble
Current efforts by the presidents of the Russian Federation
and Belarus to promote a closer union between Moscow and
Minsk have sharply divided both countries and exacerbated
divisions within the CIS. Those efforts could also lead to
tensions between Moscow and the West.
The limited partnership agreement that Boris Yeltsin and
Alyaksandr Lukashenka initialed today seems certain to
produce something far less than the union they say they seek.
Both countries have long been divided over the desirability of
new and closer links. And those splits will only deepen during
the 30 days' debate on the agreement that officials in both
countries say will take place before any final accord is signed.
In general, democratic reformers in both states have
opposed that accord, while communists and extreme
nationalists have embraced it. Consequently, in pushing for
this "union," Yeltsin finds himself in curious company. His
latest stand is enthusiastically supported by his communist
and nationalist opponents; it is just as enthusiastically decried
by his reformist supporters.
Some of the latter, including newly appointed Deputy
Premier Boris Nemtsov, reportedly are concerned about both
the secrecy in which the latest agreement was prepared and
the speed of moves toward integration that it anticipates.
Others are worried about the direct financial costs to Russia,
the rock on which earlier efforts to unify the two Slavic
countries foundered. Even government spokesmen suggested
these costs could be high. And Duma Foreign Affairs
Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin said they could be
"dangerous for Russia."
Yet a third group of reformers argued that unity with
increasingly authoritarian Belarus could undermine Russia's
still precarious democracy. Liberal Russian deputy Grigorii
Yavlinskii, for instance, said that "you cannot talk about
negotiating integration with a state where there is political
Meanwhile in Belarus, Lukashenka continues to rely on
the most authoritarian institutions and groups as he promotes
closer ties with Russia. At the same time, Democrats protest in
Minsk's streets and increasingly find themselves in jail.
The Yeltsin-Lukashenka accord is also increasing
divisions among the already divided CIS countries. Many
leaders of the non-Russian countries are clearly worried that
Yeltsin's push for unity with Belarus presages a Russian effort
to embrace them as well. They are especially likely to draw
such conclusions because that is precisely the road map for
Russia's future that Andrannik Migranyan and Konstantin
Zatulin sketch out in a report they prepared for the Russian
leadership and then published anonymously in last
Wednesday's Nezavisimaya gazeta.
Some officials in the CIS countries are increasingly
worried by Moscow's opposition to their efforts at interstate
cooperation even as Russia moves to create its own special ties
within the Commonwealth states. Others are disturbed by the
broader implications of Yeltsin's apparent adoption of the
Russian nationalist agenda, a shift that many fear will lead
Moscow to adopt a harsher line toward them.
But the most fateful result of pursuing Moscow-Minsk
union is likely to be the implications for relations between
Moscow and the West. Such a union highlights the potential
for Russian mischief in the region, which East European
countries seeking to join NATO have routinely pointed to. That
is because Lukashenka has insisted that uniting the two
countries is the best possible response to any expansion of the
Western defense alliance. For this reason, if none other, the
latest moves undercut the very diplomacy that Moscow has
sought to conduct.
But Yeltsin's support for this accord, in the face of
reformist opposition in Russia, once again raises the question
of just where Yeltsin's sympathies lie. Almost the only support
Russian reformers have been willing to give Yeltsin for his
latest move is to suggest that he has tacked to the right in
order to undercut the backing that the communists and
nationalists now enjoy and at the same time to enhance his
own. But even they do not sound entirely convinced by their
And because Russian reformers' attitudes toward Yeltsin
have often been a bellwether for those of Western
governments, the latter, too, may be increasingly unconvinced
that Yeltsin's latest move is only a tactic. Indeed, some
Western leaders may become convinced that the Russian
president, who at the recent Helsinki summit advertised
himself as a newly energized reformer, is not the man they
thought he was. To the extent that they conclude that Yeltsin
is unreliable, they are likely to adopt a somewhat different
approach toward Moscow.
Precisely because such a Moscow-Minsk union would
have such negative consequences all around, it is virtually
certain not to take place any time soon, regardless of what the
two presidents said today.