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Slovakia: Government Refuses To Cancel Any Treaty With Russia

By Jolyon Naegele and Marian Bednar

Prague/Bratislava; 25 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The new Slovak government has announced that it does not intend to cancel or renegotiate any of the bilateral treaties with Russia signed by the previous, pro-Moscow government of Vladimir Meciar.

Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan made the announcement in Bratislava yesterday following a review of more than 70 bilateral treaties, none of which he says is secret or otherwise classified.

"The treaty base with Russia consists of 42 treaties concluded by the former Czechoslovakia, and 31 presidential and governmental treaties concluded after the establishment of the independent Slovak Republic (in 1993)."

Kukan insists this is comparable to the number of treaties other (Visegrad 4) Central European states have signed with Russia. Poland has signed 43; the Czech Republic 18; and Hungary 31.

The Slovak foreign minister says the main problem in Slovak-Russian relations is not the number or content of the treaties but rather Slovakia's policy toward Russia, including the lack of transparency while the treaties were being negotiated.

"Foreign policy toward the Russian Federation was not presented as a complementary component of Slovak foreign policy, but was manipulated into the position of an alternative to our natural ambitions to integrate [into western institutions]."

Kukan says treaties the Meciar government signed with Russia were not worked out in accord with the declared priorities of Slovak foreign policy. But he insists that -- so far -- Russia has not sought to misuse these treaties.

Kukan says bilateral military treaties -- as well as an accord enabling Russia to pay off its debts to Slovakia in goods -- exceeded the framework of the Slovak-Russian treaty relationship.

The wording of some of these treaties, he says, is open to dual interpretation. For example, a 1993 treaty on military cooperation contains what Kukan calls "certain problematic, declarative obligations." He says Slovakia intends to interpret the questionable clauses "in such a way that they will not harm Slovakia's priorities" concerning eventually joining NATO, the European Union and the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

Kukan denies media allegations that several other controversial treaties signed with Russia in April 1997 could prevent Slovakia from being invited to join NATO.

The Slovak foreign minister says treaties on protecting classified secrets and the use of Russian coding systems -- although questionable -- are in accord with existing Slovak legislation.

He says the military-technical cooperation treaty deals with products produced by the Slovak engineering industry under Russian license. He notes that Slovakia has a similar treaty with Turkey, while Russia has similar treaties with France, Germany, Greece and Italy. Nevertheless, he says -- should it become necessary -- Slovakia could terminate the treaty.

But Kukan was unable to answer a question concerning obligations contained in Article 1 of the military-technical cooperation treaty, which is valid until 2003. These include cooperation in air-traffic control and facilitating landing of military transport aircraft at the two countries' air bases, as well as servicing military transport aircraft and supplying aviation fuel on the basis of mutual billing.

The potential for a conflict of interest may exist in view of an agreement Slovakia signed earlier this month (Feb. 9) with the U.S. Air Force that allows the U.S. military unescorted access to the Malacky air base -- 25 km north of Bratislava -- as well as an adjoining weapons range. The deal permits the U.S. Air Force to conduct air-to-ground training missions at Malacky several times a year.

Alexander Duleba of Slovakia's Foreign Policy Association is a leading Slovak authority on Bratislava's relations with Moscow and Kyiv. He says Kukan's remarks constitute "an enormous change of position" by the current government from statements its members made prior to taking office following their victory in last September's parliamentary elections. At that time, the then-opposition denounced the controversial treaties and called for their abrogation.

Duleba says Kukan's declaration fails to state unequivocally that these treaties cannot prevent Slovakia from gaining membership in NATO and the EU. And he says the declaration leaves the basic questions about Slovakia's eastern policy unanswered.

In Duleba's words, "The mechanisms for cooperation remain the same, just as the Slovak ambassador in Moscow remains unchanged."