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Belarus: A Crisis Appeased Through Temporary Compromise

Prague, 22 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - Russia succeeded today in easing somewhat the power struggle in Belarus. Moscow persuaded President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Parliamentary leaders to agree to a compromise on their prerogatives. But the appeasement could be only temporary.

A high-powered Russian delegation, headed by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and including president of the State Duma Gennady Seleznyov and the Federation Council Yegor Stroyev, arrived in Minsk yesterday. The delegation went this morning into a closed-door meeting with Lukashenka, Parliament Speaker Semyon Sharetsky and Chairman of the Constitutional Court Valery Tikhinya.

The meeting was said to have been tense. "The negotiations were very difficult," said Chernomyrdin afterwards. But they were apparently successful.

As reported by both the Russian and Western media, the two Belarusian sides agreed on a deal that envisages a two-pronged process of "resolving" the protracted constitutional crisis.

In the first, immediate phase, Lukashenka accepted the parliamentary demand that the results of the referendum, which is still to take place this Sunday, are to be regarded as merely "advisory," that is, without any formal legal sanction. In exchange, the Parliament and the Court are immediately to drop impeachment proceedings against the president.

In the second phase, a special constitutional committee is to be set up within 20 days with a mandate to prepare during three months a new constitution. The committee is to take into account the results of the Sunday's referendum in its work. The committee will consist of 100 members, half of whom will be drawn from among the parliamentary deputies and half will be appointed by the President. It is to be chaired by Lukashenka himself.

The agreement was signed by both the Belarusians and the Russians. It is still to be ratified by the Belarusian parliament.

But it is a foregone conclusion that the agreement will be accepted. It is likely to appear to many people as a reasonable end to the crisis that has plagued the country for almost two years. And people seem to be tired of constant political bickering.

And the agreement is firmly backed by Russia. "Without exaggeration you can say that this is a huge success, a genuine breakthrough in the search for a way out of the crisis," said Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky at today's press briefing in Moscow. Yastrzhembsky made it clear that the accord had been initiated by President Boris Yeltsin and its implementation is guaranteed by Russian government.

Whether it will resolve the persistent political conflict in Belarus is less clear. It is striking, for example, that the agreement appears silent on several key issues in Belarusian politics.

Will the Parliament receive access to the media before the balloting to present its case to the electorate? Who is to certify the results of the referendum in the situation in which Viktor Hanchar, head of the national Electoral Commission was removed from his post by the President? Is Hanchar to be reinstated? And what about the parliamentary by-elections scheduled for this Sunday, alongside the referendum?

All these are questions of considerable political importance. They all define current and future relations between the President and the legislative bodies. But none has been so much as mentioned in the "compromise agreement." And it appears that none was discussed during the "difficult negotiations."

More important still, while the immediate phase of the deal suggests some form of a compromise between the quarreling sides, the second phase almost assures Lukashenka's victory. Both the make-up of the constitutional commission and Lukashenka's chairmanship over its work strongly point in that direction.

This has not been missed by some Minsk politicians. Parliamentary deputy Andrei Klimov told RFE/RL today that the agreement was perhaps "a mistake." He went on to say that the conflict between Lukashenka and his opponents is certain to continue and may even take "violent forms" in the future.

Alyaksandr Sosnov, former minister of labor in Lukashenka's government, agreed. He also told RFE/RL that Lukashenka "will win." And he said that the President's "victory" would amount to a "political coup d�tat," leading to a dictatorship because Lukashenka "is a dictator by nature."

The last word belonged to Russia, however. Commenting on the Russian diplomatic success in Minsk, Yastrzhembsky said at the press briefing that way the agreement was reached showed the "viability" of integration between Russia and Belarus.