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Newsline - June 3, 1997


State Duma CIS Affairs Committee Chairman Georgii Tikhonov of the left-leaning Popular Power faction denounced the wide-ranging Russian-Ukrainian treaty and predicted that the Duma will reject it, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 3 June. Tikhonov argued that by renouncing territorial claims against Ukraine, Russia would clear the way for Ukraine to join NATO. "It is known that this military alliance does not accept countries that have territorial disputes with their neighbors," he explained. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko said many Duma deputies would object in particular to recognizing the Crimean port of Sevastopol as a Ukrainian city, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 June. However, Lukin predicted that the Duma would nonetheless ratify the treaty. Both State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev have said the Russian parliament will approve it.


The 31 May mayoral elections and by-elections in 20 constituencies where no candidate received a majority in the 27 January parliamentary ballot were marred by irregularities, Russian and Western agencies reported. The Grozny mayoral election, which was contested by 12 candidates, was pronounced invalid by Central Electoral Commission chairman Mumadi Saidayev on 2 June because less than 30% of the electorate cast votes, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Grozny. Also on 2 June, an Austrian businessman and five Chechens abducted in recent months were freed by Chechen police, Western agencies reported. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross has refuted press reports that the organization is ready to resume operations in Chechnya, according to ITAR-TASS (see RFE/RL Newsline, 30 May, 1997).


Nikolai Kolomeitsev, the chairman of the Communist Party branch in Rostov-na-Donu, has won a 1 June by-election for a State Duma seat in Rostov Oblast, Izvestiya reported on 3 June. According to preliminary results, Kolomeitsev gained some 37% of the vote. His nearest rival, Our Home Is Russia candidate and former Labor Minister Gennadii Melikyan, won just over 19%. However, unsuccessful candidate Boris Grinberg has vowed to appeal the result and demand a new by-election. He was arrested during the campaign by law enforcement officials from the Republic of Bashkortostan, where he is accused of economic crimes. Under Russian law, Grinberg should have been protected by immunity as a registered candidate for the parliament. Sergei Shakhrai gave up the Duma seat in Rostov last December, when he was appointed presidential representative in the Constitutional Court.


The 1 June by-election for a State Duma seat in the Republic of Khakassia was declared invalid because of low turnout, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. Only about 21% of the electorate went to the polls to choose a replacement for Aleksei Lebed. The minimum required level is 25%. Aleksei Lebed, who is the younger brother of former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, gave up his Duma seat after being elected head of Khakasia's government last December.


Officials say the World Bank has completed negotiations to extend nearly $1.7 billion in loans to Russia this year, Reuters reported on 2 June. The bank's board is expected to approve the loans in the coming weeks. The credits are to include a $600 million loan for structural reforms of the Russian economy and an $800 million loan for restructuring of social benefit programs. It was unclear whether the bank's board would consider a proposed loan of $500 million to restructure the Russian coal industry. In June 1996, the World Bank issued $250 million in credits to the Russian coal industry, but critics have said that little of the money reached miners. A World Bank mission toured coal mining regions last month to determine how money from the 1996 loan had been spent.


Russian regions planning to issue bonds denominated in foreign currencies will be encouraged by the recent successful eurobond issue by the city of Moscow, the Financial Times reported on 2 June. Moscow issued $500 million in dollar-denominated bonds, and investors on the secondary market have since driven up prices for the bonds. First Deputy Mayor Oleg Tolkachev told Interfax on 30 May that Moscow will float another $500 million eurobond later this year. St. Petersburg and Nizhnii Novgorod are expected to issue eurobonds worth $300 million and $100 million, respectively, in June. Several other regions, most recently Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, have also expressed interest in issuing eurobonds. Only "donor" regions--those that are net contributors to the federal budget--are allowed to issue bonds denominated in foreign currencies.


Police discovered 20 train cars filled with fake vodka in a Moscow train station, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 June. Officials estimated that the shipment of some 240,000 bottles of undrinkable alcohol with false labels would have been worth about 12 billion rubles ($2 million) on the black market. The alcohol was reported to have originated in North Ossetia. A large part of the North Ossetian work force was made redundant after the closure of factories supplying the military-industrial complex and subsequently turned to manufacturing fake alcoholic beverages, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 31 May. Fake vodka produced in Krasnoyarsk has killed at least 22 people during the last week.


Russian presidential press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 2 June condemned as "political blackmail" the resolution adopted by the Georgian parliament on 30 May laying down conditions for the continued deployment of a CIS peacekeeping force in Abkhazia, Interfax reported. The resolution calls for the peacekeepers' withdrawal unless they are redeployed throughout Abkhazia's Gali Raion by 31 July. The decision on their redeployment was taken at the March summit of the CIS heads of state. Yastrzhembskii hinted that Russia might withdraw the force, which is composed exclusively of Russian troops. Also on 2 June, in his regular Monday radio broadcast, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze proposed immediate talks with the Abkhaz leadership on guaranteeing continued compliance with the existing cease-fire, BS-Press reported. Shevardnadze said the withdrawal of the peacekeeping force would not preclude Russia's continued role in mediating a settlement of the conflict.


A sergeant serving on a contract basis with the CIS peacekeeping force in Abkhazia shot dead ten of his fellow servicemen and then committed suicide, Russian media reported. Shevardnadze issued a statement expressing his grief at the killings and extending condolences to the families of the murdered men, according to ITAR-TASS.


Interfax on 2 June quoted unnamed Azerbaijani government spokesmen as predicting that a solution to the Karabakh conflict will be reached this year on the basis of compromises between Baku and Yerevan. recently proposed by the three co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk group. Those compromises include the withdrawal of Karabakh Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory, international control of the Lachin corridor linking Karabakh and Armenia, and international control of all armaments deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh that will be considered part of Armenia's permitted CFE quota. Following talks in Ankara on 2 June with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Foreign Minister Tansu Ciller said that Turkey supports the OSCE Minsk Group initiative but will also continue to play its own role in seeking to resolve the conflict, TRT Television Network reported.


An unnamed Azerbaijani government spokesman told Interfax on 30 May that the country's leadership welcomes the signing of the Russia-NATO agreement because "the calmer the situation in relations between Russia and NATO, the calmer it is for other countries." Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili told journalists the next day that Georgia will not raise the issue of possible NATO membership "either today or in the near future" as the country is not ready for it. But he said that Georgia welcomes cooperation with NATO within the Partnership for Peace program. Menagharishvili said that full membership in the Council of Europe is currently more advantageous to Georgia than NATO membership, given the role the council can play in guaranteeing the stability and economic development of the Transcaucasus, ITAR-TASS reported.


Before his departure for Kazakstan on 2 June, Islam Karimov told Tashkent Radio that measures were taken months ago to prepare for complications along the Uzbek border with Afghanistan. He said he believed the problems in Afghanistan would have ended long ago if other countries had not interfered. In this connection, he singled out foreign sponsors responsible for arming the various warring factions. He also stressed that when problems broke out in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Uzbekistan remained neutral. Karimov called for the UN to assume a greater role in resolving the problems in Afghanistan and for the Taliban to renounce their aim of establishing "absolute power." In addition, he blasted the anti-Taliban coalition and the "mercenaries of some field commanders who have defected to serve new masters for large amounts of money."


In Almaty later the same day, Karimov met with Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbayev to discuss economic relations and new strategies for boosting bilateral trade, according to RFE/RL's Almaty bureau. The volume of trade between Uzbekistan and Kazakstan dropped by about one-third ($293 million) in 1996, compared with the previous year ($423 million). But at a joint press conference following their meeting, Afghanistan was the dominant topic. Karimov again called for countries to stop supporting various armed factions in Afghanistan by supplying them with arms. Nazarbayev was supportive but emphasized he did not want his country to get enmeshed in Afghanistan's problems.


Some 300 people assembled outside the government building in the Kyrgyz capital on 3 June to protest the 23 May decision to imprison two journalists from the weekly independent newspaper Res Publica for 18 months and bar two others from practicing journalism for the same period (see RFE/RL Newsline, 26 May 1997), RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. The demonstrators are demanding a meeting with government officials. Three have announced they will stage a hunger strike in support of the journalists.


Shortly before the third wave of privatization, Security Minister Felix Kulov voiced alarm at moves by finance and investment companies to gain control of the country's leading enterprises, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 June. Among the enterprises to be privatized in the third wave are Kyrgyzenergoholding, Kyrgyztelekom, Kyrgyzgaz, and the state airline Kyrgyzstan Aba Zholdoru. Kulov said some finance and investment companies have been buying privatization coupons from citizens who received those coupons as compensation for unpaid wages. Nearly a quarter of all coupons are unaccounted for. Kulov says this is because private citizens sold them to the companies, which will now reap in big profits.


A state interbank council was set up on 2 June to oversee the reorganization of the banking system, according to ITAR-TASS. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov said the move was necessary to continue to push ahead with economic reforms. Also on 2 June, Niyazov signed a decree requiring some Turkmen industries to be licensed by the government. Those affected are the meat, dairy, beer and soft drinks, and candy industries. All companies involved in the production of those goods will need licenses, regardless of whether they are privately owned or a joint venture using foreign capital. The aim of the new measure is to ensure quality control.


Presidents Leonid Kuchma and Emil Constantinescu signed a basic bilateral treaty in the Black Sea resort of Neptun, near Constanta, on 2 June. The treaty stipulates that the countries' existing borders are "inviolable" and includes extensive references to the rights of national minorities. It does not mention the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, which led to the annexation of territories now belonging to the Ukraine in the 1940s, but does condemn past "unjust actions of totalitarian regimes and military dictatorships." This ambiguous formulation obliquely denounces both the Soviet-Nazi pact and Romania's participation under Marshal Ion Antonescu in the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. The two countries' foreign ministers, Adrian Severin and Henadii Udovenko, exchanged letters detailing agreements on issues not mentioned in the basic document itself and on approaches to unsolved problems (see RFE/RL Newsline, 5 and 9 May 1997).


Alluding to criticism in Romania about the country's perceived renunciation of territories now part of Ukraine, Constantinescu said "national interest" should be defined in terms of a future of "general European collaboration" rather than in terms of the past. Kuchma said both Ukrainians and Romanians were forced in the past to accept the incorporation of their territories into other countries but the new treaty opens "a common path toward the European community." He added that membership in that community is conditional on the recognition of existing frontiers. The three Romanian parliamentary opposition parties were invited to send representatives to the signing ceremony, but they boycotted the event. Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the leader of Greater Romania Party, said the day was one of "national mourning." In Bucharest, there was a small protest demonstration organized by five non-parliamentary parties. The EU welcomed the signing of the treaty, as did an unnamed NATO official cited by Radio Bucharest.


State Department spokesman John Dinger told reporters on 2 June in Washington that the U.S. welcomes the political treaty signed by the Russian and Ukrainian presidents on 31 May as a move toward easing years of tension between the two nations. Dinger said the U.S. also welcomes the fact that each side has reaffirmed its commitment to respect each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity.


Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 2 June briefed his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, about his recent activities. Belapan reported that Yeltsin told Lukashenka on the telephone about his recent trips to Ukraine and Paris. The two presidents also discussed the recent summit in Tallinn of the leaders of Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Ukraine, and Estonia as well as union between Belarus and Russia.


The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have advised Estonia to continue its liberal economic policy, ETA reported on 2 June. A World Bank official said last week that it is not true that protective tariffs are a prerequisite for membership in the World Trade Organization, as the governing coalition has argued. The news agency also quoted Dimitrios Denekas, the IMF representative to Estonia, as saying the tariffs would be harmful for farmers, whom they are supposed to protect. The introduction of the tariffs is stipulated in the coalition agreement between the Coalition Party and the Rural Union. The opposition is opposed to them because it fears they will harm Estonia's reputation abroad as a tariff-free economy (see RFE/RL Newsline, 19 May 1997).


President Guntis Ulmanis told national radio on 2 June that suspicions about corruption among cabinet ministers are creating a negative image of the country, BNS reported. At the request of the prime minister, the Prosecutor's Office is currently examining whether members of the government are abiding by the anti-corruption law. According to the Latvian Company Register, some 12 ministers and state ministers hold posts outside the government. Ulmanis stressed, however, that he did not believe government stability is currently threatened. Meanwhile, a new party has been formed called the Latvian National Reform Party. Headed by Minister for EU Affairs Aleksandrs Kirsteins, the NRP aims at the implementation of economic and political reforms in order to speed up Latvian integration into the EU and NATO.


At the start of his tour of the Baltic States, Suleyman Demirel arrived in Vilnius on 2 June, BNS reported. Following a meeting with his Lithuanian counterpart, Algirdas Brazauskas, Demirel noted that three documents signed earlier that day finished "laying the foundation" for Turkish-Lithuanian cooperation. Those documents were a free-trade agreement, a protocol on cooperation between the countries' foreign ministries, and a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in combating terrorism and organized crime. Brazauskas said that he and Demirel discussed avoiding double taxation and signing agreements on investment guarantees. The two presidents also declared their countries' aim to become part of a united Europe and to choose their own security guarantees.


Pope John Paul II, speaking at an evening service in Gorzow, in southwestern Poland, on 2 June, asked his countrymen to pray for him so that he can lead the Roman Catholic Church into the year 2000. The service was attended by nearly 400,000 people. The pontiff said his mentor, the late Polish primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, had told him he would be the pope to take the Church into the third millennium of Christianity. Earlier the same day, the pope celebrated a mass in Legnica, also in southwestern Poland, at an airfield that was a Soviet military base under communism. On 3 June, the Pope is scheduled to meet with the presidents of Germany, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, and Hungary to commemorate St. Adelbert in the western Polish town of Gniezno. Adelbert is regarded as a symbol of an undivided Europe in medieval times.


Vaclav Havel on 2 June appointed new cabinet members as part of an emergency program adopted recently by the ruling liberal-conservative coalition to overcome the country's economic crisis, Czech media reported. Former Education Minister Ivan Philip has been appointed finance minister, and Karel Kuehnl, ambassador to Britain, becomes minister of trade and industry. Jiri Grusa, the country's ambassador to Germany, was appointed education minister. Havel decided not to accept the resignation of Interior Minister Jan Ruml, but Ruml told a news conference on 3 June that his decision to leave the cabinet is "irreversible."


Slovak Interior Minister Gustav Krajci told journalists in Bratislava on 2 June that he is not planning to resign. Slovakia's opposition parties have accused Krajci of marring the 23-24 May referendum on NATO membership and direct presidential elections and have demanded his resignation. Krajci had refused to include the question on direct presidential elections on the referendum ballots, despite a Constitutional Court ruling that such a question could be placed on the ballot. The opposition parties announced on 2 June they are planning demonstrations across Slovakia on 3 June. RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reports a representative of the opposition Christian Democratic Movement as saying the demonstrations are intended to show discontent over the referendum.


Defense Minister Gyoergy Keleti and his visiting Lithuanian counterpart, Ceslovas Stankevicius, signed a military agreement on 2 June, Magyar Hirlap reported. The two ministers told a press conference that the pact covers cooperation in peacekeeping, security, training, and environmental protection. Hungarian troops are expected to take part in a NATO Partnership for Peace exercise in Lithuania next year. Meanwhile, the Hungarian Defense Ministry wants a 65% increase in state funding in 1998. According to the ministry's press office, the increase is justified by the direct costs of NATO accession. The parliament's Defense Committee recently said the ministry's demand for an allocation of 160 billion forints ($880 million) out of the next year's budget was well-founded but difficult to satisfy.


Two explosions rocked downtown Tirana on 2 June, Koha Jone reported. The first bomb went off around midday and destroyed a restaurant run by Lush Perpali, who is a high official in the Interior Ministry and a member of the Socialist Party. Some 20 people were injured, including five seriously. Perpali later told reporters that he suspects the Democratic Party was behind the blast. He added that the bombers wanted to create an atmosphere in which elections could be neither free nor fair. Socialist Prime Minister Bashkim Fino told a press conference that he knew who planted the bomb but did not give names. A second explosion took place at a bus stop in the evening, wounding five people, including two seriously.


Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said in Tirana on 1 June that the multinational force in Albania will provide "a security cordon" for the 29 June parliamentary elections, the Albanian Daily News reported. Prodi added that he has discussed with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan prolonging Operation Alba's stay. Prodi stated that President Sali Berisha told him he will ease the curfew, a move that the opposition considers essential if the elections are to be free and fair. Meanwhile in Rome, the Italian Foreign Ministry said on 2 June that it is delaying naming a new ambassador to Tirana, Gazeta Shqiptare writes. The diplomat the ministry planned to appoint discredited himself in his superiors' eyes by publicly criticizing the ministry's work. The outgoing Italian ambassador was sacked for interfering in Albanian domestic politics.


Justice Minister Spartak Ngjela from the monarchist Legality Party took a complaint to the Constitutional Court in Tirana on 2 June. At issue is calculating the division of 40 seats in the parliament on the basis of proportional representation. The court promised a ruling later on 3 June, Gazeta Shqiptare wrote. Meanwhile in Luxembourg, the EU pledged on 2 June to support the Albanian elections in various ways. These include promoting free media, monitoring the vote, and training police. The EU also offered to call an international conference on Albania, a press release said.


Franjo Tudjman went to Beli Manastir on 2 June, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from there. He met with the newly elected local council, which includes Serbs. Tudjman appealed for mutual tolerance and "political courage" and urged his listeners to shun "extremism." The president assured the Serbs that their rights will be respected when the area returns to Croatian control in July. He also urged Croatian refugees to be patient about going home. A small group of Serbian nationalists staged a protest demonstration against the visit, but leading Serbian politician Vojislav Stanimirovic called Tudjman's stay "successful and encouraging." Stanimirovic noted that Tudjman promised all citizens regardless of nationality the right to go home.


After one year of talks, Muslim and Croat officials agreed in Mostar on 2 June on a plan to set up six district government councils, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Herzegovinian town. In Sarajevo, the OSCE announced that the Serbs have joined the Muslims and Croats in calling for an extension of the 16 June voter registration deadline. Only a fraction of the eligible voters have registered so far. In the port of Ploce, nearly 4,000 tons of arms began to arrive from the United Arab Emirates for the federal army as part of the U.S.-led plan to train and equip the mainly Croatian and Muslim forces. The shipment includes 50 tanks and 41 personnel carriers. And in Paris, the French Defense Ministry announced that France and Germany will soon begin helping the Bosnian Serbs and federal Yugoslavia destroy 150 tanks, 800 artillery pieces, and other weapons in keeping with limits set in the Dayton agreement.


Some 15 Kosovars go on trial on terrorism charges in Pristina on 3 June, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Kosovar capital. In Washington, the State Department on 2 June protested the recent sentencing of another group of 20 ethnic Albanians on similar charges. In Belgrade, the daily Blic on 3 June quotes State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns as saying that there is little chance that the remaining sanctions against federal Yugoslavia will be lifted soon. He said Yugoslavia "is not a normal country" and pointed to the problem of Kosovo and to Belgrade's failure to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal.


In Belgrade, Ljubisa Ristic, the president of the Yugoslav United Left (JUL), said on 2 June that Serbian elections will take place in the fall and that the joint candidate of leftist parties will again be President Slobodan Milosevic. The real leader of JUL is Mirjana Markovic, who is also Milosevic's wife and who has said that her husband will not run for the Serbian presidency. Meanwhile in Podgorica, former Montenegrin Trade Minister Nebojsa Zekovic was arrested on corruption charges, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Montenegrin capital.


The authorities in Moldova's Gagauz autonomous region banned a gathering of opposition forces in Comrat on 31 May. The organizers had planned to hold what they called the "first congress of Gagauzia's civil forces." Topics for discussion included changing the name of the autonomous region to "Gagauz Yeri Republic," restoring a "renewed USSR" in line with the "will of the majority of the population," passing a no-confidence vote in the region's leadership, and electing a coordination committee of all groups participating in the forum. Georgi Tabunschik, the region's governor, said that the gathering had intended to debate issues that are not within its legal competence and would require holding a referendum at a time when the law on referenda has not yet been passed, BASA-press reported on 2 June.


The Ministry of Interior says an investigation into the assets of custom officers at the country's border points shows that "a large proportion" of the "modestly paid" officials live in luxurious conditions. The investigation into more than 1,000 officials at 49 border-crossing points revealed that many of them drive new limousines and own expensive homes with swimming pools. An RFE/RL Sofia correspondent reported on 2 June that the investigation was carried out as part of the government's crackdown on corruption and organized crime. Meanwhile, another ministry statement said hotels, restaurants, night clubs, stores, and casinos at three large Black Sea resorts were also being investigated.


The government has approved the participation of military forces in the multinational UN force in Bosnia-Herzegovina under NATO command, Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova announced on 2 June. BTA cited her as saying the executive will ask the parliament to approve Bulgarian participation in SFOR. The cabinet intends to send a 35-strong engineering platoon to joining a Dutch contingent under an initial six-month mandate. The decision follows an exchange of letters between Prime Minister Ivan Kostov and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, who, Mihailova said, lauded Bulgaria's contribution to peacekeeping in Bosnia-Herzegovina and officially invited Sofia to participate in the mission.

A Victory for Ukraine

by Paul Goble

The Ukrainian-Russian friendship treaty and the agreement on the fate of the Black Sea Fleet are a major diplomatic victory for Kyiv, just as they meet several of Russian President Boris Yeltsin's most immediate political needs.

For Yeltsin, the accords are politically useful on several counts. Because the Ukrainians had long wanted a visit by the Russian leader, the agreements-- which were signed in the Ukrainian capital on 31 May--gave him the opportunity to reassert in public that Russia has a special relationship with Ukraine, even if Kyiv is less than wholly interested in it. Since those agreements suggest that neither party can reach an accord with a third party that would threaten the other, they gave him the opportunity to take some of the sting out of Ukraine's ever closer relationship with the West, which was consolidated with the recent initialing of a special Ukrainian-NATO charter.

And because the accords give Russia the right to use the naval base at Sevastopol for many years, they provide the Russian president with some political protection against those in Moscow who want the Russian government to press for sovereignty over Sevastopol or even Crimea as a whole.

Many observers both in the region and elsewhere tend to see the accords as a victory for Moscow in its efforts to maintain or even increase its influence in Kyiv--because of their political usefulness for Yeltsin and because his press spokesman declared they were the Russian president's "most important foreign policy move in 1997." But such an interpretation fails to take into account the far greater political benefits that the accords give to Ukraine as a whole and to its president, Leonid Kuchma. Beyond the specifics that Yeltsin and others have suggested benefit Russia, the accords provide three important, even critical, benefits to Ukraine.

First, they undermine the Moscow-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States. Kyiv has been unwilling to sign any CIS defense arrangement with Russia. But Moscow obviously wanted this "friendship" pact badly enough to be willing to forgive Kyiv some of its debt for energy supplies. This will not be lost either on other Commonwealth countries, which will likely chart an increasingly independent course as a result, or on Ukraine, whose government has just seen a demonstration of the value of its own efforts to move closer to the West.

Second, both the friendship treaty and, to an even greater extent, the accord on the Black Sea fleet provide a more precise definition of Ukrainian-Russian relations and give Kyiv a freer hand. Since the end of the USSR, the Russian government has sought to maintain enough ambiguity in its relations with the former Soviet republics to give it a freer hand in dealing with them. While the accord gives Russia the right to keep its fleet in Sevastopol, it specifies that Russia is there only on the basis of a lease for a specific time agreed to by Kyiv. Yeltsin did stress that the "Slavic" unity of the two countries was beyond challenge; but at the same time, he said that Ukraine's border was beyond question.

Third, these latest accords further reduce the differences between Ukraine and any other East European country.

Despite his occasionally flamboyant rhetoric, Yeltsin tended to treat the Ukrainian president and Ukraine in a way he would treat any other national leader or country. Given the pretensions of some Russian officials, that is indeed progress. Just two days after the signing of the accords with Russia, Ukraine made more progress toward that kind of status when Kuchma signed an agreement with Romanian President Emil Constantinescu that put an end to one of the most neuralgic border disputes in the region.

In a way that the Russian president probably did not intend, his signature on the Ukrainian-Russian friendship treaty will only expand the possibilities for Ukraine to make more friends elsewhere.