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Newsline - May 23, 1997


Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka have signed in the Kremlin a charter on the Russian-Belarusian union, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 23 May. Yeltsin and Lukashenka resolved the last outstanding differences over the terms of the charter in negotiations on 22 May. The text of the charter has not been released, but according to RFE/RL's bureau in the Russian capital, it stipulates that decisions of the Russian-Belarusian Supreme Council must be signed by both presidents. A few hours before the signing, Lukashenka told Ekho Moskvy that he and Yeltsin agreed to remove a Russian-proposed clause under which the ultimate aim of the the union of Russia and Belarus would have been to form a single federation. Lukashenka also said the charter will not move Russian-Belarusian integration further but "will confirm 'de jure' what has existed 'de facto' for quite a while."


Yeltsin signed a decree on 23 May appointing Army Gen. Igor Sergeev to head the Defense Ministry, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Sergeev, previously head of the Strategic Rocket Forces, was appointed interim defense minister on 22 May immediately after Yeltsin fired Igor Rodionov. Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin told Interfax on 22 May that the Strategic Rocket Forces are in better shape than other branches of the military. He described Sergeev as a "very thrifty leader" who has not wasted a "single kopeck" allocated to his forces. Also on 23 May, Yeltsin appointed Lt.-Gen. Anatolii Kvashnin as interim first deputy defense minister and head of the General Staff. Kvashnin was previously the commander of the North Caucasus military district. According to NTV, Yeltsin asked Far East Military District Commander and Col.-Gen. Viktor Chechevatov to head the General Staff, but Chechevatov rejected the offer.


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said Yeltsin sacked Defense Minister Rodionov and Chief of Staff head Viktor Samsonov without cause, Interfax reported on 22 May. Saying Yeltsin himself "ruined" the army, Zyuganov slammed Defense Council Secretary Baturin as an "American representative in the Kremlin." Duma Security Committee Chairman Ilyukhin said Rodionov and Samsonov were fired because of their "integrity," adding that Yeltsin does not tolerate officials "who tell him the truth." Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed said Yeltsin, not Rodionov, is to blame for the slow pace of military reform, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, a member of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia faction, also said he saw "no good reason" to fire Rodionov and Samsonov. Nevertheless, Rokhlin praised new Defense Minister Sergeev as an "intelligent man of integrity."


First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov says that Yeltsin on 22 May formed two government commissions to oversee military reform, ITAR-TASS reported. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will chair one of the new commissions, and First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais will head the other. Nemtsov also said the number of troops serving in units not under the Defense Ministry or Interior Ministry's control should be cut. He claimed that more than 4 million armed troops are serving in units subordinated to 17 different government agencies. Others have estimated that Russia has about 1.8 million troops affiliated with the Border Guards, Interior Ministry, and agencies including the Railways Ministry and the Ministry for Emergency Situations.


Yeltsin signed a decree on 22 May appointing First Deputy Prime Ministers Chubais and Nemtsov, as well as presidential Chief of Staff Valentin Yumashev, to the Security Council. Chubais was appointed to the Defense Council last summer.


Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, addressing a closed session of the State Duma on 23 May, described the terms of the NATO-Russia Founding Act, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 23 May. Primakov did not give deputies a copy of the accord, which is to be signed on 27 May. But Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, a leading Communist, told Interfax that most deputies were "satisfied" with Primakov's presentation. Ilyukhin said Primakov and Duma deputies agreed that the Russian parliament may revise the accord after it is signed. The Founding Act is not a treaty and does not require ratification, but Russian officials have said it will be submitted to parliament for approval.


The State Duma has voted 321 to 11 to delay considering the government's proposed budget sequester until June, Reuters reported on 23 May. The Duma was scheduled to vote on the budget cuts during its 23 May session. Deputies have called on the government to propose ways to increase revenues in addition to spending cuts.


The Communist Party (KPRF) Duma faction has instructed 17 party members to withdraw their signatures from a Yabloko-sponsored motion to call a no confidence vote, Interfax reported on 22 May. Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin, who is also co-leader of the Popular Power faction, helped collect signatures for the motion. He told an RFE/RL Moscow correspondent that he was not admitted to the Communist deputies' meeting, where he had hoped to make the case for holding a no confidence vote. If the 17 deputies withdraw their signatures, the motion's proponents would no longer have the 90 signatures needed to put a vote on the Duma's agenda.


Yeltsin on 22 May sent a telegram to his Chechen counterpart, Aslan Maskhadov, asking him to facilitate cooperation between Russian and Chechen law enforcement agencies to ensure the release of seven journalists abducted in Chechnya over the past few months. Kommersant-Daily suggested the same day that the Chechen leadership knows the journalists' whereabouts and the identity of their abductors but is reluctant to launch an operation to secure their release because the killing of one of the abductors could prompt a revenge killing by his relatives. Segodnya on 19 May quoted Ingushetia's Vice President Boris Agapov as saying that bands from several north Caucasian republics are engaged in hostage-taking. Agapov said persons abducted in one republic are frequently taken to another, which, he said, makes it more difficult to locate and release them.


Japanese Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda, who is due to meet with Russian officials in Moscow on 23 May, told ITAR-TASS the previous day that "complete normalization" of relations with Russia includes "settling the problem of the northern territories," meaning the Kuril Islands, which the Soviet Union annexed after World War II. Interfax cites a "Japanese diplomatic source in Moscow" as saying that while Japan has nothing against Russia's participation at next month's G-7 summit, "it is desirable that there are no disputes between members of the group." The same source added "if this matter is left aside, the Japanese people will hardly support development of relations with Russia." Also on 22 May, four Japanese fishing vessels were "expelled" from waters near the Kurils by Russian patrol boats, which fired warning shots.


Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov and Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy on 22 May signed an agreement on joint crime-fighting measures, AFP reported. The measures include an exchange of experts and information-sharing, in particular in the case of drug-trafficking. Israeli police say that the Russian mafia is flourishing in the Jewish state, which it is using for illegal money laundering. Israeli security officials say they are ready to revoke the citizenship of more than 30 Russian immigrants suspected of having links with organized crime. Last week, Israeli police arrested suspected Russian mafia kingpin Tzvi Ben Ari, known in Russia as Grigorii Lerner.


A Fuel and Energy Ministry commission has arrived in Primorskii Krai to help resolve the crisis that has caused massive power cuts this month in Vladivostok, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 May. Nemtsov, who is also fuel and energy minister, blamed the krai administration for the crisis and vowed to "restore proper order there, under presidential control," by early June, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 May. He noted that neighboring Khabarovsk Krai has been spared similar power cuts. The government announced earlier this week that the Fuel and Energy Ministry would release 70 billion rubles ($12 million) to pay wage arrears and 30 billion rubles to pay electricity fees in Primore. A few strip mines then resumed coal shipments to power plants after miners were paid back wages through March.


At the second annual Russian Economic Forum in Yekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel said Russian economic policy should draw on the "positive experience of the Soviet period." In particular, Rossel called for more state support of "strategic industries." He also advocated printing additional money. Keeping inflation and the budget deficit down by deliberately not paying wages or state orders would not solve Russia's economic problems, he argued. Last month Rossel called for reviving the Ministry of Defense Industry, which was eliminated in the March cabinet reshuffle (see RFE/RL Newsline, 17 April 1997). Rossel told Rossiiskie vesti on 22 May that the Yekaterinburg forum would be attended by economists, entrepreneurs, and bankers from more than 60 Russian regions.


A press release reportedly issued by the CIS Affairs Ministry claims that CIS Affairs Minister Aman Tuleev was offered a $300,000 bribe not to run for governor of Kemerovo Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 May. The press release did not say who allegedly offered the bribe but commented that "persons in the government and presidential administration" do not want to see current Governor Mikhail Kislyuk replaced. Tuleev chaired the Kemerovo legislature before he ran for president last year and was subsequently appointed to the government. He would be the front-runner in a race in Kemerovo, the only oblast that has not yet held a gubernatorial election (see RFE/RL Newsline, 20 May 1997). According to Segodnya on 22 May, the wage and pension arrears problem in Kemerovo is worse than in any other Russian region.


Representatives of the Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition resumed talks in Tehran on 22 May, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The talks broke off in mid-April. UN special envoy to Tajikistan Gerd Merrem presented a proposal for resolving the Tajik conflict by giving the UTO 30% of seats in government, reforming the government's power ministries, and disarming of the UTO. No details have been made public, while the two sides review the proposals and formulate counterproposals. Because of the Iranian presidential elections today, the two sides will not meet again until 24 May.


Richard Matzke, head of international operations for the U.S. oil company Chevron, says that construction of the export pipeline from Kazakstan's Tengiz oil field to Novorossiisk may fall behind schedule, according to the Financial Times on 23 May. Matzke said that talks on tariffs have not yet begun with four Russian regions through which the pipeline will pass. A 25 April Russian government decree, published in Rossiiskaya gazeta on 23 May, instructs the government of the Republic of Kalmykia and the administrations of Astrakhan Oblast and Stavropol and Krasnodar Krais to make land available for construction of the pipeline. Matzke argued that export pipelines should be owned by the companies engaged in exploiting the oil fields in question. He also criticized unnamed "independent promoters" of export pipelines as a "disruptive force."


Askar Akayev on 22 May signed a decree banning all forms of privatization except auctioning, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Akayev said "state-owned facilities" have been sold at "unjustifiable" low prices. (An RFE/RL correspondent in Bishkek reports that the Osh silk factory was valued at 93 million som [$5.5 million] but its sale price last year was only 1.5 million som.) He ordered Procurator-General Asanbek SharshenAliyev to prepare a report on privatization to date "in the shortest possible time." Batyrbek Davletov, the head of the president's economic policy department, said the ban is not the end of privatization but a way to keep a check on "offenses and outrages" before the third privatization wave begins. Forty of Kyrgyzstan's leading companies are slated to pass into private ownership during that wave. Since 1992, Kyrgyzstan has privatized 61% of state-owned industrial enterprises.


Meeting in Tbilisi on 21 May with UN Under Secretary-General Marrack Goulding, Eduard Shevardnadze said that although the UN has played an important role in creating the legal framework for a settlement of the Abkhaz conflict, it should take "a more principled position" in order to expedite the peace process, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 23 May. Shevardnadze argued that the presence of a CIS peacekeeping force along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia is an obstacle to the negotiating process. He also said its withdrawal would not lead to a resumption of hostilities, Interfax reported on 22 May.


Volodymyr Horbulin, secretary of Ukraine's Security and Defense Council, said on 22 May that progress has been made in talks with Russia over the Black Sea Fleet, Reuters reported. But he noted that some people in Russia are trying to stop the fleet deal, which is scheduled to be signed next week. Horbulin said he had a "bad feeling" about Russian President Boris Yeltsin's planned visit to Kyiv on 30 and 31 May, which has been canceled six times. "A very active campaign has begun in Russian circles...aimed at breaking off President Yeltsin's visit," Horbulin commented. Interfax on 22 May quoted Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii as saying the visit would take place as planned but that it was unclear what documents would be ready for signing.


ITAR-TASS reported on 23 May that Olexander Moroz has filed suit against Pavel Lazarenko for retaining his parliamentary mandate while serving as premier. Some 41 deputies had urged Moroz to take legal action following a ruling last week by the Constitutional Court that allowed Lazarenko to hold onto his parliamentary mandate. The court ruled that parliamentary deputies cannot hold government positions but permitted lawmakers who were elected before June 1995 and held state office continuously since before that date to keep both jobs. According to Interfax, Moroz said the clause does not apply to Lazarenko because he was not appointed to a government position until July 1995, one month after the cutoff date. The largely anti-reform parliament has been battling with Lazarenko's government over tax and economic reforms.


Valeri Idelson, a spokesman for the nuclear power station in Chornobyl, told journalists on 22 May that the only reactor still functioning is back on line after a four-day breakdown. Idelson said the reactor was shut down owing to a still unexplained problem with an electrical transformer. But no increase in radiation levels around the reactor has been reported. Chornobyl's fourth reactor exploded 11 years ago, causing the worst-ever civil nuclear catastrophe.


Oscar Luigi Scalfaro told his Estonian counterpart, Lennart Meri, in Tallinn on 22 May that Italy supports Estonian membership in the EU and NATO, BNS reported. Scalfaro commented that Estonia's hopes to become an EU member are justified owing to its rapid economic and political progress. The same day, Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Patrizia Toia signed agreements on the readmission of illegal immigrants and on cooperation in culture, education, science, and technology. In address to the Latvian parliament on 22 May, before his departure for Estonia, Scalfaro endorsed Latvia's bid for EU and NATO membership. He said that EU membership would guarantee Latvia's security vis-a-vis "its bigger neighbor, Russia." He also noted that Italy wants to see "clear security prospects" for all states in the course of NATO expansion and after the accord between Russia and NATO is signed.


A third round of free trade talks between Estonia and Poland in Tallinn on 21-22 May failed to result in agreement, an Estonian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told BNS. She said the two sides do not see eye to eye on farming questions but gave no further details, noting only that the negotiations will continue. Tallinn had hoped to reach an agreement with Warsaw last month. Poland is Estonia's main trade partner in Central Europe. Bilateral trade totaled some $55 million last year.


Hundreds of detainees at a refugee camp in the eastern town of Pabrade rioted late on 21 May to protest poor living conditions and restrictions on their movements, Reuters reported. Two guards were beaten up by the detainees, most of whom are from countries such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, and Iraq. The situation stabilized after riot police were sent to the camp. A UNHCR representative in Vilnius said the riot highlighted the need for a less authoritarian regime at the camp. Meanwhile in the capital, some 150 people pitched tents outside the parliament building on 22 May to protest a proposal to return homes to their pre-Soviet owners. The protesters fear they will be forced out of their homes, but the government has denied this will be the case. The law received its first reading the same day.


The parliament on 22 May voted down a draft resolution by the opposition Social Democrats (CSSD) asking the government to recall Trade and Industry Minister Vladimir Dlouhy and Finance Minister Ivan Kocarnik. It also approved the government's economic program, despite the country's current economic difficulties. Meanwhile, an alternative economic program presented by the CSSD on 21 May was rejected by Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and criticized by leading economists as "socialist." Leaders of the three coalition parties met on 22 May with President Vaclav Havel to discuss plans for government changes. Havel told journalists after the meeting that the country is not in economic and social crisis. The coalition leaders said they will announce changes in the government within several days. Meanwhile, the Central Bank on 22 May again spent several hundred million dollars in an effort to prevent the devaluation of the Czech crown.


Vo Van Kiet arrived in the Czech capital on 22 May for an official two-day visit, the first by a Vietnamese leader in 20 years, Czech media report. The trip is aimed at improving economic relations between the two countries. During his visit, Vo Van Kiet is to meet with President Vaclav Havel, Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, and Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec. He and Czech officials are scheduled to sign agreements on avoiding double taxation and on civil aviation.


Michal Kovac on 22 May appealed to the public, mayors, and state officials to respect the Central Referendum Commission's decision to issue referendum ballots with four questions--three on NATO membership and a fourth on direct presidential elections. The previous day, the Constitutional Court ruled that the constitution can be changed by a referendum, paving the way for including the fourth question. The court, however, also ruled that if voters endorsed changing the constitution, it remains unclear how the change would take place. The government has responded by claiming this means the question on direct presidential elections is not legally binding and should not be included on ballots. Interior Minister Ivan Krajci on 22 May ordered that ballots be printed with only the three NATO questions. Kovac called Krajci's actions "illegal" and said the "emerging chaos is quite deliberate."


In a letter delivered to Kovac and released to journalists on 22 May, U.S. President Bill Clinton wrote that he is concerned about Bratislava's slow pace of democratic reform. The letter hints that Slovakia will not be among the countries invited to apply for membership in the first wave of NATO expansion. Clinton said Slovakia must do more to promote an "atmosphere of openness to opposing views and concerns of minorities." He added that NATO's core principles are clear regarding which countries will be invited to join at the Madrid summit in July. "Each prospective member country must demonstrate a commitment and respect for democratic principles," he noted. Clinton also said the U.S. is "committed to ensuring that [NATO's] enlargement process will continue after the Madrid summit."


In a statement released to mark the transfer of tapes of RFE/RL Hungarian-language broadcasts to the Hungarian government, U.S. President Clinton said that "for more than 40 years, Radio Free Europe has helped keep alive the flame of democracy and promoted freedom of expression behind the Iron Curtain." Clinton says the tapes, which will be available to researchers in the National Szechenyi Library, are a "unique part of the Hungarian cultural heritage." He says the U.S. "can be proud of the triumph of democracy in Hungary and the role that Radio Free Europe played in making that possible."


Voting seems set to go ahead on 29 June following the Socialists' announcement in Tirana that they will take part (see RFE/RL Newsline, 22 May 1997). OSCE special envoy Franz Vranitzky said in Vienna that Socialist Prime Minister Bashkim Fino told him that the other opposition parties will also participate. Vranitzky added that the international community will help Albania in its political and economic recovery. He stressed, however, that the ultimate responsibility lies with the Albanians themselves, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Austrian capital. Vranitzky told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that he can well imagine Operation Alba being extended for three months beyond the elections. He said that the Albanian political scene contains many "absurdities" rooted in that country's recent history but that the elections should nonetheless go ahead because they will contribute to stability.


Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in New York on 22 May that Washington has a lasting concern over Bosnia's stability and will do all it can to preserve peace and promote unity there. She warned that the U.S. insists on full implementation of the Dayton accord and "the parties cannot pick and choose [to enforce only] those elements they prefer." Albright added that "Bosnians should either join the effort to make [Dayton] work or get out of the way." She said that SFOR could expand its role to provide "a secure environment for managed refugee returns" and to help with civilian reconstruction projects, such as restoring telecommunications links. However, Pentagon officials stated that NATO already does such things. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns added that there are no plans to keep SFOR troops in Bosnia after their mandate runs out in June 1998. The New York speech was Albright's first major address on Bosnia as secretary of state and marks the end of a six-week policy review.


Nasa Borba reported on 23 May that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic discussed federal Yugoslav citizenship for Bosnian Serbs in his recent meeting with Bosnian Serb leaders. Such a move would contradict the provision of the Dayton accords saying Bosnia is a unitary state made up of two entities. Milosevic also wants dual citizenship for Croatian Serbs but denies it to Yugoslavia's own Albanians, Muslims, Hungarians, and Croats. In another move that may run counter to the spirit of Dayton, the Bosnian Serb authorities said on 21 May that they will set up a company to be called RS Airlines to connect Banja Luka with five or six neighboring countries.


Milosevic told supporters in Arandjelovac, in the Serbian heartland of Sumadija, on 22 May that the "opposition parties with foreign assistance are trying to destabilize Serbia," an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the area. The Serbian president also promised his audience that this year their country will enjoy the highest growth rate in Europe, which, he claimed, will be twice as high as that of any other country. Independent Belgrade media, meanwhile, suggested that Milosevic will replenish state coffers before the elections due later this year by selling off half of the state telephone monopoly to an Italian firm for $923 million.


At least six opposition parties agreed in Zagreb on 22 May to back the Liberals' candidate, Vlado Gotovac, in next month's presidential elections, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the capital. The move in effect narrows down the race to Gotovac, President Franjo Tudjman of the Croatian Democratic Community, and the Social Democrats' Zdravko Tomac. Polls suggest that Tudjman will easily win another term. Also in Zagreb, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia wants to extend by six months the mandate for a reduced UN peacekeeping force in eastern Slavonia. Tudjman insists the mandate end as scheduled on 15 July.


Railroad workers halted all freight traffic throughout the country on 23 May after management sacked the members of the strike committee. The unions say they will stop all trains later in the day if the strike leaders are not given back their jobs. Also in Ljubljana, President Milan Kucan said on 22 May that he will seek another term when elections take place later this year. The 56-year-old Kucan has been in office since 1990 and was last re-elected in 1992 with 64% of the vote. Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court has put off a decision on the legality of foreigners owning land in Slovenia. The issue must be clarified before Slovenia can join the EU. Many Slovenes fear that Italians with family ties to Slovenia will buy up land if allowed to do so.


At the beginning of his three-day visit to Greece, Emil Constantinescu met with his Greek counterpart, Konstantinos Stephanopoulos, and Premier Costas Simitis on 22 May, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The talks focused on bilateral relations. Stephanopoulos reiterated Greece's full support for Romania's accession to NATO in the first wave of expansion. Constantinescu said the two countries are united in a "strategic political partnership" that may enable them to become an "axis of stability in the region." The two countries' foreign ministers, Theodoros Pangalos and Adrian Severin, signed a cooperation memorandum providing for Greek support for Romania's bid to join NATO and the EU. Greece pledged to inform other members of the two organizations on Bucharest's progress in the democratization of its legal, economic, and military systems.


Senator Alphonse d'Amato and Representative Christopher Smith, the joint chairmen of the U.S. Congressional Helsinki Commission, have called on U.S. President Bill Clinton to back Romania's quest to become a NATO member in the first wave of expansion, an RFE/RL Washington correspondent reported. In a letter addressed to Clinton on 22 May, they say Romania deserves to be invited because of its recent progress toward meeting admission criteria and because of its strategic position in what will be NATO's southeastern tier. The U.S. legislators also say that, in particular, Romania meets the criteria on respect for human rights, treatment of national minorities, freedom of expression, and a free press.


The extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) and several other associations staged a demonstration in Bucharest on 22 May against the forthcoming signing of the basic treaty between Ukraine and Romania. PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor said the government's decision to conclude a treaty that recognizes Ukrainian sovereignty over northern Bukovina, southern Bessarabia, and the Herta territory (incorporated into the former Soviet Union in 1940) is an act of "national treason." He added that the government had no right to sign the treaty without first submitting it to a national referendum. The demonstrators carried maps showing the old borders of the country.


A Romanian parliamentary commission says the South Korean Daewoo Motor Company has broken pledges made when it acquired 51% of the ownership of a Craiova car manufacturer, AFP and Romanian media reported. Daewoo undertook to ensure that 60% of the parts were produced in Romania, but only 10% are in fact produced locally, the commission said. The commission accuses the Koreans of wanting to "give work to the South Koreans only" and to "profit from facilities without honoring its commitments." It says Daewoo has imported 20,000 cars into Romania at "dumping prices" and benefited from exemption of custom duties because it declared the cars were spare parts needed for production. A spokesman for Daewoo said more time is needed to ensure that the pledges undertaken will be fulfilled.


At a press conference in Chisinau on 22 May following his return from Washington, Ion Ciubuc said the memorandum signed by Moldova and the World Bank in the U.S. capital earlier this week provides for a loan of $100 million, which is to be repaid by Moldova over 30 years, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported. Ciubuc said that 20% of the loan carries a 2% interest and that the first installment of the loan, worth some $35 million, could reach Chisinau as early as June. The loan is conditional on Moldova's reducing the budget deficit to 3% of GDP by the end of this year, land privatization, demonopolization of the agricultural and energy sectors, and speeding up the reform of the social protection and pension systems.


by Jolyon Naegele

Slovakia's 23-24 May referendum on NATO membership comes at a time when Bratislava's relations with Brussels are strained while its ties with Moscow are blossoming.

Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia have not taken a stand on how they would like to see the public vote. NATO membership is part of his government's 1995 program. But Meciar's two coalition partners, the nationalist Slovak National Party and the left-wing Party of Slovak Workers, advocate a "no" vote in the referendum. Opposition parties are calling on the public to vote "yes."

The referendum comes just one month after Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin paid a three-day visit to Bratislava during which he and members of his delegation signed 16 agreements with Slovakia. Those range from cooperation in the fields of nuclear energy and military technology to the supply and transit of Russian natural gas. But none has been published. It remains to be seen whether any of them will help ease Slovakia's $1.5 billion trade deficit with Russia.

The chairman of the opposition center-right Democratic Party of Slovakia Jan Langos, who was Czechoslovak Interior Minister from 1990 to 1992, says Meciar's policies support the interests of Russia. He notes that the content of the 16 accords are known, even though the Slovak government has tried to keep them secret. Langos says that through signing the agreement on military technical cooperation with Russia, Meciar promised that whatever is to be produced in Slovakia in cooperation with the Russians cannot be sold on third markets without Moscow's written agreement.

Alexander Duleba, analyst of Slovak relations with Russia and Ukraine in the independent Research Center of the Slovak Society for Foreign Policy, says Russia and Slovakia have concluded 130 agreements since Slovakia became an independent state in January 1993. In Duleba's opinion, Slovakia's decision to sign the agreement on cooperation in military technology, which will require both sides' consent to export to a third market, was prompted by political rather than economic interests.

Duleba says "these relations [with Russia] limit Slovakia's ability to conduct foreign policy." Slovakia and Russia are unequal partners in bilateral relations, he argues. Duleba also comments that the Meciar government's pro-Moscow orientation is not based on pan-Slavic ideals of shared values; rather, it is being conducted by pragmatists who made careers in the Communist Party until 1989 and who now see the opportunity to enrich themselves. He says that because of its close relations with Russia, the Meciar government is both unwilling and incapable of leading Slovakia into NATO and the EU. As Duleba puts it, "this government is closer to Moscow than to its own people."

RFE-RL has obtained a draft of the agreement on the protection of state secrets against leakage to third parties or misuse against the Slovak Republic and Russian Federation. The draft, which is a "bid to strengthen traditionally friendly relations and develop mutually beneficial cooperation," says that in the event of a loss or betrayal of a state secret, the two sides are to hold immediate joint consultations, organize an investigation, and inform each other within 90 days after the loss or leak has been discovered. The side responsible for the loss or betrayal is to pay damages to the other.

The draft also says that the accord is valid for five years and is automatically renewable. Terminating the agreement does not relieve the parties of the duty to protect secrets gained while the treaty was in effect or to continue to bear responsibility for the loss or betrayal of secrets covered by the accord.

Igor Cibula, a leading Slovak intelligence expert who nearly five years ago co-founded Slovakia's intelligence service, the SIS, says this and other treaties on cooperation in the military sector call into question Slovakia's declared intention of joining NATO and the European Union.

Meanwhile, in another pro-Moscow move, the Slovak government has granted newly established Slovak Airlines the status of "national carrier". The airline is backed by a Russian-controlled Slovak-registered bank, Devin banka, which was also involved Russia's transfer of MiG-29 fighters to Slovakia as partial repayment for outstanding debts. In that deal, Devin banka took a 5% commission of the equivalent of nearly $10 million.

Slovak Airlines will fly new, Russian-made Tupolev aircraft. Slovak Airlines president Viliam Veteska told Slovak TV last week that flights will begin in late October on routes between Moscow and the Slovak cities of Bratislava and Poprad.