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Russia: Yeltsin Announces Military Cuts In Baltic Region

Stockholm, 3 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin announced today that Moscow plans to unilaterally cut its land and naval forces in northwestern Russia by some 40 percent in the next 13 months. Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev confirmed the proposal from Brussels today, saying stability in the Baltic region will allow Russia to go ahead with major military cuts in the Kaliningrad and Leningrad military districts.

In a prepared speech before the Swedish parliament, Yeltsin said Russia wants a border of peace, not strife with its Baltic neighbors and he said the proposal is aimed at "introducing a regime of confidence in the region." Yeltsin also called for the introduction of telephone hotlines linking the regions' militaries and arranging mutual inspections of military facilities.

Yesterday, on the first day of his visit to Sweden, Yeltsin unexpectedly announced that Moscow will unilaterally cut its nuclear arsenal by another one-third.

His spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky later tried to soften Yeltsin's statement by saying the Russian president was only proposing to go somewhat beyond reductions already discussed with the U.S. in talks on a future START III treaty. Yastrzhembsky said Yeltsin made his comments when he was "a little bit tired."

In Brussels, where Defense Minister Sergeyev met NATO Defense Ministers, Sergeyev said that Yeltsin's troop-reduction comment focuses on the Baltic Sea region, because northern Europe has become what Sergeyev called "a stable region," with no longer any dangers of war. Sergeyev confirmed the troop reduction of up to 40 percent mentioned in Stockholm by Yeltsin.

But NATO officials made clear the comments amount to a proposal, with similar offers of troop reductions from the West in future negotiations. On Yeltsin's comment that Russia would reduce its number of nuclear warheads by an additional one-third, Sergeyev said such a reduction would be discussed in the context of negotiations on a Start III Treaty. NATO Defense Ministers this week urged Russia's State Duma to ratify the Start II Treaty, which compels each side to reduce stockpiles to fewer than 3,500 warheads.

NATO Secretary General Javier Solana told reporters that Yeltsin's ideas will be studied, but that more precise information is needed.

Sergeyev said agreement was reached on continued Russian participation in the NATO-led, peace-keeping mission in Bosnia. Sergeyev also assured NATO leaders that Russia's nuclear weapons are secure and stored safely.

See also Russia: Yeltsin Promises Military Cuts