NO BREAKTHROUGH IN RUSSIAN-NATO TALKS.
At three-hour talks yesterday in Moscow, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana failed to overcome differences delaying a charter between Russia and the Western alliance. The Russian Foreign Ministry later issued a brief statement saying that "positions on some issues became closer" but that "difficult questions remain," RFE/RL' s Moscow bureau reported. Both sides hope to sign a charter in Paris next month ahead of the NATO summit in July, when the alliance is expected to announce which Central European countries will be NATO's first new members. In an interview with the German magazine Stern this week, President Boris Yeltsin said Moscow would meet the target date for signing the Paris charter only if that document takes Russian interests into account. In particular, Russia wants NATO to pledge not to build military facilities in new member countries.
YELTSIN TAKING TROPHY ART TO GERMANY?
In the same interview with Stern, Yeltsin said he would bring "something" of the cultural treasures confiscated during World War II when he flies to Germany today for a summit meeting with Chancellor Helmut Kohl. He did not specify which art works he would bring. However, a Foreign Ministry spokesman told ITAR-TASS yesterday that the ministry knows nothing about Yeltsin' s plans to take cultural valuables to Germany. The Federation Council is scheduled today to debate a law that would ban the transfer of cultural treasures to foreign countries. The State Duma overrode Yeltsin' s veto of that law earlier this month. If the Council also overrides the veto, the controversy over trophy art could overshadow talks on the Russia-NATO charter and on Russian-German trade, the main items on the agenda of the Yeltsin-Kohl summit.
MIXED REACTION TO "BUY RUSSIAN" APPEAL.
Following Yeltsin' s appeal yesterday to buy Russian-made products, Nikolai Kharitonov, leader of the Agrarian faction in the State Duma, told RFE/RL that the president should impose higher customs duties on foreign goods, especially food. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said the state must help Russian farmers sell their products to stores in large cities. Sergei Belyaev, leader of the Duma faction of Our Home Is Russia, said he supports selective government assistance to enterprises but warned against imposing broad protectionist measures. Meanwhile, Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko suggested that the onus is on Russian producers to raise standards. "I' ll buy domestic products when they become better and cheaper than foreign goods," he said.
AEROFLOT TO BUY MORE BOEINGS.
Just hours after Yeltsin urged citizens to buy domestic goods, Aeroflot director-general Valerii Okulov confirmed that his airline will purchase 10 Boeing 737 airplanes for $400 million, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. Yeltsin appointed Okulov, his son-in-law, to head the 51% state-owned airline last month. Aeroflot signed a letter of intent on the deal last September, prompting protests among domestic manufacturers. Yevgenii Shaposhnikov, the airline' s director-general at the time, argued that the government, not Aeroflot, should be responsible for saving Russia' s aircraft manufacturing industry. Aeroflot acquired its first foreign planes in 1992.
TULEEV SAYS RUSSIA LOSING CIS MARKETS TO WEST.
CIS Affairs Minister Aman Tuleev says Western companies have supplanted Russian ones as trading partners in CIS countries, Interfax reported on 14 April. Tuleev noted that 90% of Kazak enterprises have capital from partners outside the CIS and that Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have also "become reoriented to the West or created their own customs union inside the CIS." He attributed Russian problems in trading with Azerbaijan to economic barriers erected by Moscow, which, he noted, had "pushed Azerbaijan into the arms of the West." According to Tuleev, the West has invested $30 billion in former Soviet republics, while the CIS countries' debts to Russia total $6 billion.
COMPROMISE ALLOWS GAZPROM EXECUTIVES TO KEEP CONTROL OVER GOVERNMENT STAKE.
Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev says the gas monopoly' s executives will continue to manage 35% of the company' s shares under a compromise reached with First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, Russian news agencies reported yesterday. In exchange, Gazprom will pay half of its tax debt--about $1.2 billion--by 10 June. Nemtsov' s press secretary confirmed Vyakhirev' s announcement in a telephone interview with RFE/RL. Last week, Nemtsov suggested reviewing the agreement granting Gazprom managerial control over state-owned shares in the monopoly. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said yesterday he is "categorically against" restructuring Russia' s monopolies and denied that he is distancing himself from forming government policy on the issue, ITAR-TASS reported. Chernomyrdin was absent from a cabinet meeting last week at which relations with Gazprom were discussed.
BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER IN MOSCOW.
Stefan Sofiyanski says an agreement on constructing a new gas pipeline will double or triple the volume of Russian gas exports via Bulgaria, Interfax reports. Sofiyanski and Chernomyrdin signed the agreement in Moscow yesterday. Russia exported about 6 billion cubic meters through Bulgaria in 1996. Chernomyrdin and Sofiyanski also discussed further military-technical cooperation, including the possible sale to Bulgaria of MiG-29 fighter jets. Chernomyrdin told the Bulgarian premier that Moscow would respect Bulgaria's decision to apply for NATO membership, although it remains adamantly opposed to the expansion of the alliance, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian First Deputy Prime Minster Boris Nemtsov told Interfax yesterday after his talks with Sofiyanski that the two countries have agreed to create a joint free-trade zone.
VODKA PRICES RAISED.
The Economics Ministry has announced an 37.5% increase in the minimum retail price of vodka in order to curb the black market in vodka and raise government revenues, Russian and Western agencies reported yesterday. The price hike affects spirits produced in Russia or the former Soviet Union whose alcohol content exceeds 28%. Imports from other countries are not affected. Aleksei Golovkov of Our Home Is Russia, who is deputy chairman of the Duma Budget Committee, told RFE/RL' s Moscow bureau that the measure was needed to stem the flow of low-quality imported vodka, which, he said, was causing the state "enormous" revenue losses.
NIZHNII NOVGOROD ELECTIONS SET FOR JUNE.
The legislature of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast will hold gubernatorial elections on 29 June, RFE/RL' s correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod reported yesterday. Former Governor Boris Nemtsov became first deputy prime minister last month. The legislature's decision is in accordance with the oblast charter, which stipulates new elections must be held within six months of the elected governor quitting the post. Yeltsin suggested postponing the ballot until March 1998, when Nizhnii Novgorod is scheduled to hold legislative elections. Ivan Sklyarov, mayor of Nizhnii Novgorod, has already announced he will run for governor. Recent opinion polls suggest that he is the front-runner.
GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ PEACE TALKS TO RESUME?
Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili says Tbilisi has accepted Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba's offer to resume quadrilateral peace talks in which the UN and Russia will also take part, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. The Abkhaz parliament, however, opposes resuming negotiations until the Russian trade embargo against Abkhazia is lifted. It also rejects the decision of the March CIS summit to broaden the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia. Menagharishvili said implementation of that decision would be "an indicator of whether or not the CIS can perform its function." But he denied that Georgia will consider leaving the CIS if the decision is not implemented.
TAJIK TALKS BEGIN AGAIN.
Representatives of the Tajik government and opposition have returned to the negotiating table in Tehran, ITAR-TASS reported today. The current round of talks is scheduled to decide the legal status of political parties and movements in Tajikistan. Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani met with both sides yesterday, telling them to forget their differences and move toward a final peace. Opposition accusations that some of its members were being held in Moscow led to the breakup of the talks last week.
FEWER ORT BROADCASTS TO KYRGYZSTAN.
As of today, Russian Public Television (ORT) will slash its daily programming in Kyrgyzstan' s Chu Oblast from 18 to six hours, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russian network's debts to Kyrgyz relay stations now total 860 million rubles. Kyrgyzstan is trying to reach an agreement with ORT over settling the debt. It is also seeking payment from Russia' s RTR network and Radio Mayak, which have debts totaling some 2 billion and 895 million rubles, respectively. ORT's newscast was the most popular program of its kind in Chu Oblast, where the capital Bishkek is located.
BELARUS REJECTS EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT CRITICISM.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry says a European Parliament resolution criticizing the union agreement between Moscow and Minsk is unjustified, ITAR-TASS reported yesterday. Last week, the European Parliament passed a resolution saying it would not recognize the agreement until the Belarusian legislature has been consulted and warning that it will block a planned trade and aid pact between the EU and Belarus unless Minsk undertakes genuine political and economic reform. The ministry said the resolution proved that the European Parliament does not understand the ongoing development of Belarusian-Russian ties.
NEW INFORMATION ON BELARUSIAN DELEGATION'S TRIP TO NATO.
Details of a Belarusian delegation's visit to NATO headquarters last week are just becoming available, RFE/RL' s Brussels correspondent reports. The delegation was headed by Ural Latypof, a top adviser to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who stressed Minsk's desire for closer Belarusian-NATO cooperation. Latypof said Minsk would soon be submitting ideas for its participation in the Partnership for Peace program. Belarus has applied to join that program but has not yet met membership requirements by submitting its participation proposals.
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ON RELATIONS WITH UKRAINE.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka says there are almost no problems in Belarusian-Ukrainian relations, ITAR-TASS reported. Lukashenka was speaking in Minsk yesterday at talks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennady Udovenko. Udovenko told Lukashenka that relations with Belarus are a high priority for Kyiv, noting that a recent meeting between Lukashenka and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has boosted bilateral ties. According to RFE/RL' s correspondent in Minsk, Udovenko reiterated the Ukrainian government's position that a Russian-Belarusian union will destroy the CIS. Today, Udovenko and his Belarusian counterpart, Ivan Antanovich, initialed a treaty defining the countries' common border.
ISRAEL' S SHARANSKY MEETS WITH UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT.
Israeli Trade Minister Natan Sharansky says Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has assured him that Kyiv will not help Russia build a nuclear reactor in Iran. Sharansky told reporters in the Ukrainian capital yesterday that Israel has received "clear assurances" that Ukraine will not supply Moscow with any parts needed to build the nuclear power plant near the Iranian city of Bushehr, which Russia is helping Tehran construct. Sharansky also said Ukraine agreed that it will never supply Iraq, Iran, or Libya with parts needed to build nuclear weapons. Today, Sharansky, a former Soviet political prisoner and native of Ukraine, is due to meet with members of the Ukrainian Jewish community and visit Babi Yar, site of the Nazi massacre of some 34,000 Jews in 1941.
EU OFFICIAL URGES LEGISLATIVE CHANGES IN ESTONIA.
EU Commissioner for CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE Hans van den Broek said yesterday that Estonia needs to speed up legislative changes before it can be considered for EU membership. Van den Broek, who was in Tallinn on a two-day visit, noted that Estonia lags behind other former communist countries in adopting European single market legislation and suggested that an ombudsman be appointed to handle minority and non-citizen complaints. He also criticized Russia for trying to link minority rights to the conclusion of a border treaty. Meanwhile, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday in Moscow that negotiations on the treaty are "complicated" by the Estonian stand, ITAR-TASS reported. Estonia considers the text drawn up last fall to be final, while Moscow insists it has the right to make amendments to the document before signing it.
GERMAN CHANCELLOR PRAISES BUSINESS TIES WITH LITHUANIA.
During his meeting with Lithuanian parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis in Bonn yesterday, Helmut Kohl praised growing German-Lithuanian business ties and pledged support for closer links between Vilnius and the EU and NATO, dpa reported. In particular, Kohl stressed the close dialogue between the two countries and positive developments in bilateral trade. Last year, German exports to Lithuania totaled 1.1 billion German marks ($636 million), while imports from Lithuania were valued at 739 million marks, according to German government figures. Germany is Lithuania's second major trading partner after Russia.
POLISH PRIME MINISTER SIGNS DECLARATION ON CONCORDAT.
Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz yesterday signed a government declaration clearing up controversial issues that have postponed Poland's ratification of the 1993 Concordat with the Vatican, RFE/RL' s Warsaw correspondent reported. Cimoszewicz expressed satisfaction that following months-long negotiations with the Vatican, agreement has now been reached on the contents of the declaration. The document says that Catholic Church will not refuse burial in Catholic cemeteries to non-believers or people of other denominations. It also states that civil and religious marriages will have the same legal status and that priests providing voluntary religious education in state schools will be treated and paid like other teachers. Pope John Paul II is due to visit Poland from 31 May to 10 June.
CZECH PRESIDENT, PREMIER MEET WITH EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT.
Vaclav Havel met with European Commission President Jacques Santer in Brussels yesterday to discuss Czech efforts to join an expanded NATO and EU. Havel told CTK after the meeting that the Czech Republic has always belonged to Europe as far as history and culture are concerned. He said the question now is joining European organizations and cultivating a European political culture. Earlier the same day, Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus met with Santer, who told journalists later that the Czech Republic is well prepared for EU enlargement. In a meeting with Klaus following his two-week vacation in Italy, Havel expressed support for the package of economic measures that the government will unveil today in an effort to stem negative economic trends. Havel called on the opposition to support those measures.
SLOVAKIA TAKES ISSUE WITH U.S. CRITICISM.
Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Korcok says Slovakia has officially asked the U.S. State Department to explain spokesman Nicholas Burns' recent statements on Slovakia, Slovak TV reported yesterday. Following his talks with Czech Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec in Washington on 14 April, Burns told journalists that the Czech Republic's policies of opening its economy and striving for close economic and political cooperation with the EU are correct but that Washington is disappointed that similar changes have not taken place in Slovakia. Korcok said the Foreign Ministry was surprised at Burns' statements. He remarked that Slovakia is a pluralistic, parliamentary democracy, which, he said, should be the main criterion for assessing political reform.
OSCE HIGH COMMISSIONER ON MINORITIES IN SLOVAKIA.
Slovak President Michal Kovac has told Max van der Stoel, who is in Slovakia, that "things have not much improved" since his last trip to Slovakia half a year ago. The president's spokesman told journalists today in Bratislava that the two men discussed the lack of a law on ethnic minority languages in Slovakia, the abolition of bilingual school reports, and the recent Education Ministry decree that some subjects be taught only by ethnic Slovaks. Van der Stoel said the decree violated the spirit of the Slovak Constitution. He also said Slovakia' s ethnic Hungarians have convinced him that they have no separatist aspirations.
PENAL CODE DEBATE BEGINS IN HUNGARY.
The parliament yesterday began debating proposed amendments to the penal code, the Hungarian media reported. Justice Ministry State Secretary Dezsoe Avarkeszi said the four-fold increase in crime since the beginning of the 1990s justifies comprehensive changes to the code. Under the proposed amendments, those sentenced to life imprisonment would not be eligible for parole until they have served between 20 and 30 years, as opposed to 15-20 years stipulated in the current code. Those found guilty of tax fraud could receive prison sentences of between two and eight years. Harsher sentences for child pornography and sexual abuse are also included. Setting up an organization for the purposes of criminal activity would also be punishable.
ALBANIAN PREMIER WELCOMES FOREIGN TROOPS.
Bashkim Fino said yesterday in Tirana that the arrival of multinational troops will help restore peace and order after months of violence. In particular, he thanked Italy, which is leading the force of 6,000 troops from eight countries. The first 1,200 troops from Italy, France, and Spain began arriving yesterday by air and sea. Fino also thanked the UN, the EU, the U.S., and the OSCE for backing the mission. The OSCE's chief envoy in the crisis, former Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky, arrives in Tirana today for two days of talks. Meanwhile, Turkish Defense Minister Turhan Tayan said in Ankara yesterday that more than 500 Turkish marines will leave next week to join the force. The Turks' main task will be to secure Tirana airport. Greece is to send 760 soldiers to Albania today.
ALBANIA'S LEKA TO BACK KOSOVAR INDEPENDENCE.
The new Kosovar independent daily Koha Ditore yesterday quoted Leka, pretender to the Albanian throne, as saying he would back independence for Kosovo if the people there wanted it. He argued that the monarchy could be a "useful unifying force for our brothers and sisters living outside Albania." He stressed, however, that unity must be achieved by peaceful means. Leka added that he would like to visit Kosovo "if the Serbian authorities have no objections." The current Albanian government works closely with its Western allies on minority issues and does not encourage irredentism.
TUDJMAN'S PARTY CLAIMS WIN IN CROATIAN ELECTIONS.
According to unofficial returns, the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) won 41 of the 63 upper house seats contested in the 13 April elections. The party had 37 seats in the outgoing legislature, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb yesterday. The HDZ announced that it expects to govern the capital city, where the opposition has had a majority in the municipal council since October 1995. The HDZ looks set to win 24 of the 50 council seats and is seeking at least two more votes among the fragmented opposition. President Franjo Tudjman vetoed the old council's four attempts to elect a mayor, saying he cannot entrust Zagreb to "enemies of the state."
UN OFFICIAL PLEASED WITH SLAVONIAN VOTE.
Jacques Klein, chief UN administrator in Serb-held eastern Slavonia, said in Vukovar yesterday that 85% of the local Serbs cast their ballots on 13-14 April. He added that the high turnout shows their commitment to the future and to democracy. Yesterday, voting in some places continued for an unscheduled third day. Results will not be announced until the authorities have counted the absentee ballots from some 70,000 Croat refugees living outside the region. Eastern Slavonia reverts to Croatian control in July.
BOSNIA'S IZETBEGOVIC VOWS TO HOUND WAR CRIMINALS.
Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of the joint Bosnian presidency, said at a military parade in Sarajevo yesterday that he will do everything in his power to pursue war criminals. "We cannot and will not forgive them. We will chase them to the end of the world," he pledged. Momcilo Krajisnik, Serbian member of the presidency, said after meeting with Pope John Paul II on 13 April that Bosnia needs calm and that insistence on catching war criminals could lead to a new war, Nasa Borba reported on 14 April. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal says the trials are necessary to identify guilty individuals lest victims blame entire peoples for the crimes.
BOSNIA GETS NEW CURRENCY.
U.S. and Bosnian officials announced in Sarajevo yesterday that the three Bosnian sides have agreed to set up a central bank and a common currency, an RFE/RL correspondent in the Bosnian capital reported. The new unit will be called the convertible mark and will be pegged to the German mark on a one-to-one basis and backed by hard currency reserves. Bank notes printed in the Croatian-Muslim federation and in the Republika Srpska will have different designs, but all bank notes will be devoid of nationalist symbols and valid throughout Bosnia. The Dayton peace agreement and foreign investors regard the common bank and currency as crucial.
MONTENEGRO'S PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER SLAMS PRESIDENT.
Svetozar Marovic yesterday blasted President Momir Bulatovic's call for a special session of the parliament to investigate the State Security Service (SDB). Marovic said that only the speaker can determine the parliament's agenda and that routine checks have uncovered no wrongdoing by the SDB. AFP reported yesterday that the SDB has been working against agents of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic sent into Montenegro from Belgrade. Nasa Borba reports today that Bulatovic made clear at a meeting of the governing Democratic Socialist Party that he wants to fire Marovic and Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.
ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON NATO BID.
Adrian Severin says that if Bucharest is left off the short-list of new NATO members, the alliance would be robbed of the chance to bolster its southern flank. In an interview with Reuters before his departure for Italy and the U.S., Severin said that a "logical enlargement would include the strengthening of NATO's most vulnerable flank, and that is not the nordic, but the southern one." He pointed out that in the south, there are numerous threats posed by terrorism, illegal immigration, and drugs and arms trade. He also offered to forge special ties with Poland to safeguard NATO's interests in the Baltic and Black Seas and to help Ukraine integrate with Europe. Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry has launched a "White Book" on Romania's bid for NATO membership. RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reports that the book says Romania is capable of making its own contribution to the alliance.
ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT TO SUPERVISE PRIVATIZATION DIRECTLY.
The government yesterday announced it will directly supervise the State Property Fund (FPS), which oversees the privatization process, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Until now, the FPS has been supervised by the parliament. Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea said the decision was taken after an FPS spokesman had denied that a list of 10 state companies singled out by the executive either for liquidation or privatization was final (see RFE/RL Newsline, 14 April 1997). The spokesman has since been dismissed.
MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION PARTY ATTACKS AGREEMENT WITH TIRASPOL.
The Party of Revival and Accord (PRAM) yesterday denounced the 10 April agreement between Chisinau, Moscow, and Tiraspol to amend the memorandum on normalizing Moldovan-Transdniestrian relations, Infotag reported. The PRAM said that President Petru Lucinschi's "policy of concessions" contravenes constitutional norms and that the compromise term "united state" in the agreement contravenes the constitutional provision stipulating that Moldova is a "unitary state." Deputy Eugen Rusu argued that "united state" may mean several things, including "federative state" or "confederation." PRAM deputy chairman Nicolae Andronic told Infotag that the memorandum "will create a dangerous precedent and the separatists in Crimea will just rub their hands with joy."
RUSSIAN DELEGATION WRAPS UP VISIT TO MOLDOVA.
Aman Tuleev, Russian minister for CIS affairs, says energy supplies to Moldova might be cut within 30 days if the issue of Moldova's debt to Gazprom is not resolved. Tuleev was speaking in the Moldovan capital yesterday at the end of a Russian delegation's two-day visit. The two sides agreed to examine the possibility of settling the $570 million debt ($300 million of which is owed by the breakaway Transdniester region) through bonds and shares in Moldovan companies. Tuleev and Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister Valeriu Bulgari signed several long-term economic cooperation agreements. One accord provides for a five-year 150 billion ruble credit for the purchase of Russian-made agricultural machinery and another for Russian participation in Moldova's electrification program, ITAR-TASS reported.
KING SIMEON CALLS FOR "BROAD COALITION" IN BULGARIA.
Speaking in the northern town of Veliko Tirnovo yesterday, Bulgaria's former monarch called for a "broad coalition" to be set up after the 19 April parliamentary elections. An RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia says the call is to be regarded as endorsing the new Union for National Salvation, which includes several small pro-monarchy parties and whose backbone is the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms. Simeon said he was "extending his hand" to all political forces because "patriots can be found in every camp." He called on voters to cast their ballot in favor of the reforms. The former monarch is due today to meet with President Petar Stoyanov before returning to Madrid.
EBRD PREDICTS SOARING INFLATION IN BULGARIA.
According to an EBRD report, inflation in Bulgaria could soar to 1,000% this year, reflecting the "extreme" economic crisis in the country. An RFE/RL correspondent in London says the report predicts a 10% slowdown in growth, a serious drop in living standards, and a huge increase in bread prices. Most other indicators, including Bulgaria's external debt and its rising budget deficit, also show economic deterioration. The EBRD says that the crisis reflects lack of progress toward reforms as well as corruption and mismanagement. But it predicts that if action is taken and the measures agreed by the government and the IMF work, this year could witness the "beginnings of a turnaround."
New Geo-Political Alliances On Russia's Southern Rim
by Liz Fuller
Over the five years that have elapsed since the disintegration of the USSR, two alliances among the Soviet successor states have emerged on Russia's southern borders. Both of these new groupings comprise political, economic, and military components.
The Central Asian Union evolved from a January 1994 agreement between Kazakstan and Uzbekistan providing for the abolition of customs barriers to create a common economic space. Kyrgyzstan acceded to that agreement almost immediately. From its inception, the union was intended as a model for closer economic integration within the CIS. Over the past three years, it has developed supra-national coordinating structures--including an Executive Committee of Heads of State and Government and a Council of Foreign Ministers--that are far more effective than its CIS equivalents. The leaderships of the three member states reportedly coordinate their positions on all regional issues. Moreover, the union has created a Central Asian peacekeeping battalion, which has the official benediction of the UN, and a Central Asian Bank for Cooperation and Development.
Moscow apparently does not perceive the Central Asian Union as posing a major threat to Russian economic interests. There are several possible reasons for this attitude: Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbaev's support for integration within the CIS, the simultaneous membership of Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan in the customs union with Russia and Belarus, and Moscow's observer status within the Central Asian Union, granted last year. Alternatively, Russia may have other plans for safeguarding its economic interests in Central Eurasia. One Moscow policy analyst recently proposed that Russia join the Economic Cooperation Organization, whose members are Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, and the five Central Asian Soviet successor states.
In contrast, Moscow was swift to express disapproval of a second nascent "Union of Three," composed of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine. (Kazakstan and Uzbekistan have been mentioned as possible future members.) Russian concern over the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Ukraine alignment, which was formed late last year and remains informal, may have several origins. The alliance is uncompromisingly Western in orientation, and its members may even aspire to NATO membership. They are also interested in military cooperation among themselves: Ukraine supplies arms to Azerbaijan and has offered to send peacekeeping forces to both Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia, thereby undercutting Russia's jealously guarded monopoly on CIS "peacekeeping."
The gravest threat to Russian interests, however, is the grandiose plan to export Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Georgia and the Black Sea to Europe--bypassing Russia altogether. What is more, the western Union of Three has the implicit backing of Western states (notably the U.S. and France), which are eager to circumscribe Russian dominance and to protect Western economic interests in the Transcaucasus.
Nor is Georgia's membership in the western Union of Three the only aspect of Georgian foreign policy to ring alarm bells in Moscow.
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze is simultaneously cultivating ties with several of Russia's North Caucasus republics, including Chechnya. Some Russian observers suspect Shevardnadze of planning to realize the vision, shared by his late predecessor Zviad Gamsakhurdia and deceased Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev, of a broader Caucasian union. They perceive such a configuration as a threat to the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.
The emergence and possible implications of the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Ukraine alignment have not gone unnoticed in Armenia, which has traditionally been Moscow's most stalwart ally in the Transcaucasus. But some Russian commentators have interpreted recent reports of Russian arms supplies to Armenia as heralding a fundamental reassessment of Russian policy in the Transcaucasus to Armenia's disadvantage. In the wake of those reports, one senior Armenian official has advocated closer bilateral relations with Ukraine. (Armenia responded to the reports of Russian arms deliveries by charging that in recent years, Azerbaijan has received comparable, if not larger, quantities of military hardware from Turkey. This suggests that the Armenian leadership has, for the moment, relinquished its hopes for rapprochement with Ankara.)
The ultimate criterion for the viability, if not the survival, of both the eastern (Central Asian) and western Unions of Three is not their economic potential but how much of a threat they pose to Moscow. At last month's CIS summit, Russian President Boris Yeltsin made it clear that "integration" within the CIS should take priority over alternative alignments. CIS member states, he commented, are "free to seek friends to the West, to the South, and to the East. But what kind of friendship is it that harms your neighbors?"