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The East: U.S. Legislators Agree To Increase Aid

Washington, 30 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. legislators have agreed to increase funding for aid to several former Soviet republics, proposing specific amounts for the first time for Ukraine and the Caucasus countries.

The agreement was reached Tuesday by Congressional negotiators working to reconcile differences between the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives versions of a foreign operations spending bill for the 1997-1998 fiscal year.

Negotiators said the compromise bill increases total aid to the former Soviet Union to $770 million. That is $145 million more than last year, but $130 million less than the State Department had requested.

Of this sum, $225 million are to be reserved for Ukraine and $250 million for the Caucasus.

The bill designates some $87 million of the Caucasus funds for Armenia and $92 million for Georgia.

The Caucasus fund also includes $70 million for refugees and victims of ethnic conflicts in the Caucasus, specifying $5 million for Abkhazians in Georgia, and $12.5 million for Armenian, as well as Azerbaijani victims of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

It says the remaining $52.5 million of the money for the Caucasus is for economic reconstruction in the region but only on condition that a peace agreement is reached on the Nagorno-Karabakh province by May 1998. If the parties fail to meet this deadline, the $52.5 million is to go to former Soviet republics outside the Caucasus.

Under the compromise bill, Moldova, Russia and the Central Asians would get shares of the remaining total of $345 million.

The State Department has requested an increase for Russia over last year's level but officials said legislators have now earmarked so much of the total $770 million for other republics that the amount for Russia will have to be reduced in fiscal 1998.

Assistance funding for the newly independent states is part of a foreign operations spending bill, weighed down by several controversial amendments that still have to be resolved in Congress before the bill can be sent to President Bill Clinton to be signed into law.