|A disagreement may be the shortest cut between two minds. - Kahlil Gibran|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 247, Part I, 28 December 1998
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 247, Part I, 28 December 1998 A daily report of developments in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia prepared by the staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. This is Part I, a compilation of news concerning Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia. Part II covers Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe and is distributed simultaneously as a second document. Back issues of RFE/RL NewsLine and the OMRI Daily Digest are online at RFE/RL's Web site: http://www.rferl.org/newsline xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * YELTSIN, LUKASHENKA SIGN NEW "UNION" AGREEMENT * DUMA APPROVES 1999 STATE BUDGET ON FIRST READING * NEW PRIME MINISTER APPOINTED IN KYRGYZSTAN End Note: A DIVISIVE CALL FOR UNITY xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA YELTSIN, LUKASHENKA SIGN NEW "UNION" AGREEMENT... On 25 December, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed a series of agreements that they said pointed toward a new "union of Russia and Belarus," Russian agencies reported. The documents call for a staged integration of the economic and political systems of the two countries over the next year, public discussion and a possible referendum on union, and opportunities for citizens of each country to participate in the political life of the other. But Lukashenka denied reports that he was preparing to run for the Russian presidency. (For further discussion of these accords, see today's Endnote.) PG ... BUT MANY UNCERTAIN OF ITS MEANING. Lukashenka suggested that the accords pointed to a rapid reunification of the two former Soviet republics, a position supported by Russian Communist Party chief Gennadii Zyuganov. But other Russian officials were much more cautious. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov noted that the documents signed were "a declaration, not a treaty of further unification." And Yeltsin's own spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin said that no one was talking about a single army or a single budget for the two, still sovereign states. But CIS executive secretary Boris Berezovskii suggested that the new agreements ended what he said was an "unnatural" relationship between Russia and Belarus and could be adopted by other former Soviet republics as well. PG TATAR PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON RUSSIA-BELARUS TREATY. Mintimer Shaimiev told journalists on 26 December that if the treaty signed between Russia and Belarus means the creation of an allied state between them, Tatarstan will seek the same powers as the allied republics will have, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Shaimiev said the Declaration on unification and other documents signed by Yeltsin and Lukashenka contain a lot of indefinite and uncertain principles. If they mean economic integration, it should be welcomed, he said. But creation of an allied state will cause many problems, Shaimiev added, as Tatarstan, and other Russian republics will declare their place and participation in the new state. In the decades following the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the Hungarians frequently blocked Vienna's attempts for a constitutional reorganization of the Austrian half of the Monarchy (raising the status of the Czech language, et.c) by claiming that if Austria changed its constitutional "nature," the 1867 agreement became legally invalid. LF/PM DUMA RATIFIES RUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN FRIENDSHIP TREATY. By a vote of 244 to 30, the lower house of the Russian parliament on 25 December ratified the Russian-Ukrainian treaty on friendship, cooperation, and partnership that had been signed in Kyiv in May 1997. Officials in both capitals greeted the move, with Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov saying that the ratification of this treaty and the accord with Belarus "will become a step toward the unification of the three Slavic nations." PG YELTSIN PROMISES CAMPAIGN AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM ... Speaking on ORT television on 26 December, President Yeltsin said that he will soon launch a "powerful offensive" against anti-Semitism and extreme Russian nationalism, Russian agencies reported. Noting that both have surfaced in recent weeks -- including the anti-zionist declaration of Russian Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov that was released on 23 December -- Yeltsin said that he plans to propose a draft law that would allow the authorities to combat these evils and show that these qualities "after all, are not typical of Russia." PG ... DISCOUNTS POSSIBILITY OF EARLY PRESIDENTIAL VOTE ... In his ORT interview, the Russian president said that he sees no reason to expect an early presidential election. "No, and once again no," he said, according to Interfax. Yeltsin suggested that talk about elections is premature and those who were starting their campaigns this soon were making a mistake. But he promised that he will eventually name the person he would like to see as his successor. In another comment, Yeltsin indicated that he is opposed to sharing more power with either the parliament or the government. Were the country to be turned into a parliamentary election, Yeltsin said, "we'll simply lose Russia. That mustn't be allowed to happen." PG ... PRAISES PRIMAKOV... In other remarks during his ORT interview, Yeltsin suggested that Prime Minister Primakov "is today the most efficient premier" and "enjoys the support of all parts of the government, Russian agencies reported. According to Yeltsin, Primakov "has a unique kind of intuition, which is of course the product of his former diplomatic career." And, Yeltsin added, "I just enjoy seeing him find solutions" to the country's problems. PG ... AND PROMISES TO PROTECT MEDIA FREEDOMS. Calling the country's media the fourth branch of law enforcement, the Russian President told the leaders of the leading television networks on 24 December that he will not allow the reimposition of censorship or other restrictions on the media, Russian agencies reported. And he added that he wants to provide them with more assistance so that they can do their jobs of informing the public. PG DUMA APPROVES 1999 STATE BUDGET ON FIRST READING. Following a threat by Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov to resign if the lower house failed to approve the budget, the Duma on 24 December voted 303 to 65 for the measure on its first reading, Russian agencies reported. Majorities of most parties, except for Yabloko, voted for the measure. Perhaps more importantly, on 26 December, the government and the parliament reached agreement on a 49.5 percent-50.5 percent split in tax revenues between the central government and the regions. PG A BAD YEAR IN THE ECONOMY. Based on statistics for the first 11 months of 1998, the Russian economics ministry said that the country's GDP would likely end down five percent for the year, Russian agencies reported. The ministry said that federal budget revenues had fallen 19 percent and tax revenues had declined 11 percent over the same period. It said that inflation for the year would likely reach 82 percent. And Russian trade minister Georgii Gabunia told Interfax on 28 December that Russian trade had fallen 17 percent from the year before. Exports dropped to $72,000 million and imports to $44,000 million. Meanwhile, the finance ministry reported on 25 December that Russia's external debt is expected to rise to $145,000 million by January 1999. PG RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT DISCOUNTS FOOD SHORTAGES IN 1999. Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik told "Komsomolskaya Pravda" on 26 December that there will not be any food shortages in the Russian Federation in 1999. He said that the government is taking measures to ensure the delivery of food to distant regions and is also promoting imports of certain foods to help the country survive after its bad harvest in 1998. PG RUSSIAN LIVING STANDARDS TO CONTINUE TO DECLINE. Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants told the Duma on 23 December that the living standards of Russians will continue to decline in 1999 but not by as much as they have fallen during 1998, Russian agencies reported. In 1998, per capita incomes fell 15.6 percent, and he said they will likely fall another 7.5 percent in 1999 before beginning to recover. PG POLITICAL COOPERATION REJECTED. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said on 24 December that he would not cooperate with UES chief Anatolii Chubais, and a day later Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed said that he would not cooperate with Luzhkov in upcoming elections, Russian agencies reported. But Luzhkov continued his own political campaign: his new deputy Sergei Yastrzhembskii said that he would work to ensure that everyone knows "the true Luzhkov," "Kommersant" reported on 25 December. PG SHOKHIN LEAVES NDR FACTION. Following his ouster as leader of the Our Home is Russia parliamentary faction, Aleksandr Shokhin quit the NDR party altogether on 25 December, Interfax reported. Shokhin was ousted after a power struggle with Viktor Chernomyrdin on a 36 to 4 vote. PG CORRUPTION SEEN AS GROWING THREAT. Corruption has grown to such an extent that it now "constitutes a threat to the Russian state," according to the press center of the Office of the Russian Prosecutor General, Interfax reported on 28 December. Indeed, according to one senior prosecutor, Russia now ranks in the top 10 countries around the world in terms of corruption. The announcement came as the chiefs of law enforcement agencies met in Moscow to map a strategy for overcoming this problem. Yurii Skuratov, the prosecutor general, said that economic crimes alone have cost the country 18,000 million rubles (some $900 million). True bank deposits are three or four times greater than official statistics suggest, and criminal groups keep more than 5,000 million Swiss francs in Swiss banks alone. PG PRIMAKOV TO KEEP DEFENSE SPENDING AT 3.58 PERCENT OF GDP. The Russian prime minister said on 28 December he will try to keep defense spending in 1999 at the 3.58 percent that the military has requested, Interfax reported. His remarks come after a lobbying campaign by Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, who noted that the military needed this much if it was to buy a single additional tank in next year. But despite its poverty, the Russian military installed a new regiment of Topol-M missiles on 27 December and tested a new helicopter. In a related matter, the Federation Council rejected a draft law on military reform on 24 December. PG RUSSIA EARNS $2,200 MILLION ON ATOMIC EXPORTS ... Lev Ryabev, Russia's deputy atomic energy minister, said that Moscow would earn $2,000-2,200 million from the export of nuclear equipment, materials and technology in 1998, Interfax reported on 24 December. While that figure was approximately the same as in 1997, Ryabev said that he expects major increases in earnings during 1999. PG ... AND EXPECTS TO EARN EVEN MORE FROM ARMS EXPORTS IN 1999. Russian Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants said on 25 December that Russia expects to export 20 percent more arms in 1999 than it did in 1998, Russian agencies reported. Much of the increase will come through sales to India. PG US ACTIONS IN IRAQ SEEN AFFECTING TIES WITH MOSCOW. Russian diplomats told Interfax on 25 December that the US-UK attack on Iraq had cooled relations between Moscow and Washington. Russian public opinion, polls suggested, was overwhelmingly against the airstrikes. And the Russian air force commander said on the same day that the airstrikes had been much less effective than Washington has claimed. But the Russian ambassadors to London and Washington, earlier recalled for consultations, have now returned to their posts. PG CENTER-RIGHT COALITION NAMES COORDINATING COUNCIL. The Center-Right Coalition named former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, former tax service chief Boris Fyodorov, former first deputy premier Anatoly Chubais, and Aleksandr Yakovlev as well as the governor of Tver Valerii Platov and the chairmen of all the political parties that make up the coalition members of its coordinating council, Interfax reported on 25 December. PG KIRIENKO RULES OUT PRESIDENTIAL BID. In a message released via the Internet on 24 December, former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko said that he will not run for president in the year 2000. But he did say that he will take an active part in the New Force movement during the 1999 parliamentary elections and indicated that he might cooperate with Grigorii Yavlinsky of the Yabloko party and with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's Fatherland movement. PG RUSSIA UNWILLING TO EXCHANGE INSPECTORS WITH US. In announcing the completition of a series of five non- nuclear tests at the Novaya Zemlya facility, Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Lev Ryabev said on 24 December that the Russian government is opposed to having any American inspectors present during these tests or to sending Russian inspectors to the United States, Interfax reported. "The U.S. is inviting us to its own test sites and wants to be present at ours. But we don't go to them and don't let them come here," he said. RUSSIAN SECURITY COUNCIL WORRIED ABOUT KALININGRAD. Vyacheslav Mikhailov, first deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council, told a meeting in Kaliningrad on 24 December that Moscow "needs to give more attention" to that region's internal problems "in order to secure" Russia's national interests, BNS reported. Moreover, Mikhailov said, the central government needs to address the very special nature of this enclave rather than treating it simply as a member of the federation like all others. PG RUSSIANS -- NARROWLY -- WANT DZERZHINSKY STATUE BACK. According to a mid-December poll by the Public Opinion Fund, 45 percent of the 1500 people queries said they would like the statue of the founder of the Soviet secret police returned to Moscow's Lubyanka square, whereas 36 percent opposed such a step, Interfax reported on 27 December. Residents of the capital and highly educated people were generally opposed to the move; rural residents and the supporters of the Russian Communist Party were in favor. PG OCALAN NOT TO RETURN TO RUSSIA. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin has categorically denied Russian media reports that Kurdish Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan has returned from Rome to Russia to seek asylum there. Rakhmanin told ITAR-TASS on 24 December that Ocalan will not enter Russia. Federal Security Service Public Relations Department chief Aleksandr Zdanovich refused to comment on the media reports, which Kurdish representatives in Moscow have also denied. ITAR-TASS on 23 December had quoted members of Ocalan's entourage as saying that the PKK leader would like to settle in Ukraine, Estonia or the Czech Republic. LF CHECHEN RELIGIOUS COURT EXONERATES PRESIDENT ... Chechnya's Supreme Shariah court ruled late on 24 December that President Aslan Maskhadov had violated some provisions of the Chechen Constitution, but that those violations do not warrant his impeachment as demanded by field commanders Shamil Basaev, Salman Raduev and Khunkar-pasha Israpilov, ITAR-TASS reported. The court also found Maskhadov guilty of appointing to senior positions officials who had allegedly collaborated with the Russian-backed Chechen government during the 1994-1996 war, and called for the dismissal of Prosecutor-General Mansur Tagirov and Deputy Prime Minister Yusup Soslambekov. LF ... BUT SUSPENDS PARLIAMENT. Also on 24 December, the Supreme Shariah court called on Maskhadov to dissolve the Chechen parliament, arguing that its legislative activities contravene Islamic law. The court specifically called for the dismissal of parliament chairman Ruslan Alikhadjiev for having allegedly made repeated public statements that defy Islamic law, according to ITAR-TASS. The court proposed that the parliament be replaced by a council of top military commanders. The Chechen parliament met in closed session on 27 December to debate the court verdict. Former Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin told Interfax on 26 December that the Chechen Shariah court ruling violates the Chechen constitution. LF TRANSCAUCASUS & CENTRAL ASIA NEW PRIME MINISTER APPOINTED IN KYRGYZSTAN. The People's Assembly approved 54-year-old Jumabek Ibraimov as the country's new Prime Minister on 25 December, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Only the approval of the People's Assembly is required to confirm a Prime Minister. President Askar Akayev nominated Ibraimov to the post after the Kyrgyz government resigned, at Akayev's request, on 23 December. Prior to his appointment as Prime Minister, Ibraimov was the chairman of the State Property Committee. He is known to have health problems. Outgoing Prime Minister Kubanychbek Jumaliev was elected governor of the Jalalabad Region by the region's assembly the same day Ibraimov was confirmed as Prime Minister. Akayev sacked the previous Jalalabad governor, Bekbolot Talgarbekov, on 17 December. BP KAZAKH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES COMPLAIN ABOUT "OBSTACLES." Presidential candidate Gani Kasymov, who is head of Kazakhstan's Customs Committee, said no locations where he can meet with voters have been made available to him, Interfax reported on 24 December. Kasymov also said his election posters and leaflets have been torn down and documents outlining his programs have been sent to, but not published by, Kazakh media outlets. Kasymov referred to a poll conducted by the Kazakh Television Channel which showed him trailing incumbent candidate Nursultan Nazarbayev by 13 percentage points. Meanwhile, Communist Party presidential candidate Serikbolsyn Abdildin said at a 25 December news conference in Almaty that Kazakh authorities are interfering with his campaign. Abdildin claimed that in Karaganda, where Nazarbayev has wide support, the head of the regional election committee "made it understood that the other candidates (to Nazarbayev) have no chances." BP OSCE WILL NOT SEND OBSERVER MISSION TO KAZAKH ELECTION. Judy Thompson, the coordinator of the OSCE mission in Kazakhstan, said on 24 December that the organization will not send observers to monitor the10 January presidential elections, Interfax and Reuters reported. Thompson repeated the OSCE view that the announcement of the elections in early October did not give candidates enough time to prepare. Thompson also said that "the refusal to register two potential candidates poses a serious problem." The OSCE will send a 15-member team to assess the election process, but stressed that should not be mistaken for an observer mission. BP NEW KAZAKH POLITICAL PARTY EXPERIENCING DIFFICULTIES. Almira Khusainova, an advisor to the Republican People's Party, has been accused of breaking the law, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported on 25 December. Police claim that according to the law, they should have been allowed to attend the 17 December meeting which officially created the party. Khusainova is accused of barring the police from attending. The Republican People's Party is headed by former Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who was prohibited by a court decision in November from participating in the 10 January presidential elections. BP TURKMENISTAN WILL RESUME GAS SUPPLIES TO UKRAINE. Russia's Gazprom agreed on 27 December to a deal allowing Turkmenistan to resume shipments of gas to Ukraine, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. That decision cleared the only remaining obstacle to delivery of Turkmen gas to Ukraine which had been cut off in early 1997. On 23 December, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma visited Turkmenistan to negotiate terms for the resumption of gas shipments. Kuchma signed an interstate agreement with his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, under which Turkmenistan will provide Ukraine with 20 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 1999. Interfax reported that the price of 1,000 cubic meters of gas at the Turkmen-Uzbek border will be $36. The same amount of gas will cost $68-72 at the Russian-Ukraine border. Ukraine will pay Turkmenistan 40 percent of the cost of the gas in hard currency and the remaining 60 percent in goods and services. BP ARMENIA, GEORGIA, BULGARIA SIGN TRANSPORT AGREEMENT. The transport ministers of Armenia, Georgia and Bulgaria signed a protocol in Yerevan on 23 December on transporting freight to Europe via a recently inaugurated ferry link from the Black Sea Georgian ports of Poti and Batumi to Varna, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Iran has also expressed an interest in joining the tripartite agreement, and Iranian diplomats attended the signing ceremony. Armenian Transport Minister Yervand Zakharian said access to those rail and ferry connections could boost Armenia's external cargo turnover by 20-30 percent in 1999. LF ARMENIA ANNOUNCES CONFERENCE ON DIASPORA RELATIONS. Armenian Presidential Press Secretary Vahe Gabrielian announced on 24 December that Armenia will hold a major conference in September, 1999 on relations with the diaspora, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. President Kocharian has created a government commission to prepare for the conference, headed by Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. In a press statement, the two ministers said that diaspora aid to Armenia since independence "has not been sufficient and coordinated" to deal with "pan-national issues." "On the eve of the 21st century we have been given an opportunity to consolidate our spiritual, material and intellectual abilities for the sake of attaining national goals," the statement concludes. LF AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER ENDS MOSCOW VISIT. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 24 December following a two-day visit by his Azerbaijani colleague Tofik Zulfugarov, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov acknowledged that serious problems persist in relations between the two countries, Russian agencies reported. Ivanov said that both sides acknowledged the need to resume talks within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group on resolving the Karabakh conflict. He also said that coonsultations will continue between the two countries on resolving their disagreement over the optimum approach to determining the legal status of the Caspian Sea. Finally, Ivanov again denied that Russia's intensive military cooperation with Armenia is directed against Azerbaijan. He said Moscow aspires to "the closest possible friendly relations" with Baku in the interests of furthering integration within the CIS and stability in the Caucasus region. LF AZERBAIJAN, JAPAN SIGN NEW OIL CONTRACT. The Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR signed a $2.3 billion contract on 25 December with five Japanese oil companies to develop three off-shore Caspian oilfields with estimated recoverable reserves of 75-90 million metric tons. The contract is the sixteenth Azerbaijan has signed with international companies. LF GEORGIA DENIES LANDING TROOPS IN ABKHAZIA. Speaking in Tbilisi on 26 and 27 December respectively, Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze and Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze denied Abkhaz Defense and Interior Ministry claims that a 12-15 man Georgian landing party had disembarked on 25 December near the village of Primorskoye in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali raion, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Lortkipanidze on 26 December said that Abkhaz Premier Sergei Bagapsh had also said that no Georgian force had landed in Primorskoye, but Abkhaz Interior Minister Astamur Tarba insisted on 28 December that the initial reports were true. Tarba added that a Georgian vessel opened fire on Abkhaz coastguards who tried to prevent the Georgian force from landing. LF GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ON RUSSIAN BASE, ARMS PURCHASES. Speaking at a news conference in Tbilisi on 24 December, Davit Tevzadze called for the signing of a new treaty on Georgian-Russian military cooperation that would resolve what he termed the "legal vacuum" surrounding the status of the Russian military bases in Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. The Georgian parliament has pegged ratification of a bilateral treaty on military cooperation signed in early 1994 to Russian help in restoring Tbilisi's control over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Tevzadze also conformed media reports that Georgia is to purchase decommissioned tanks from the Czech Republic, Caucasus Press reported. Tevzadze conceded that the quality of the tanks is not optimum, but said that they are "relatively cheap." Meanwhile two senior Georgian army officers have been placed under house arrest for purchasing sub-standard weaponry, also from the Czech Republic, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 December. LF GREEK DIPLOMAT SHOT DEAD IN TBILISI. Anastasios Mitzitrasos, a 37-year-old security attache at the Greek Embassy in Georgia, was shot dead at the entrance to his Tbilisi apartment on 24 December. The killers escaped. Caucasus Press on 25 December quoted an anonymous Georgian official as confirming media speculation that Mitzitrasos had been engaged in illegal financial activities. LF END NOTE END NOTE: A DIVISIVE CALL FOR UNITY by Paul Goble An agreement between the Russian and Belarusian presidents to move toward the merger of their countries is sending shockwaves through both countries, the other post-Soviet states, and the West as well. And it is having this effect even though many people in all three places are now dismissing this accord either because they oppose such a new union state or because they doubt that these two former Soviet republics will ever form one. On 25 December, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed a series of accords in the Kremlin that both men said pointed toward the unification of the two countries into a single state, possibly as soon as mid-1999. And while they promised that there would be "public discussion" of this idea -- the Russian press even called for a plebiscite -- the two presidents said that they had already agreed to introduce a single currency and common tax system early next year. Not surprisingly, this announcement has had an immediate impact in the two countries most directly affected. In Russia, reformers have spoken out against this move. On the one hand, they are concerned about the way in which this agreement was reached. And on the other, they view it as a threat to democracy and free market economics, with many fearful that such a reunification would transform the authoritarian Belarusian president into a major player on the Russian political scene. That latter possibility -- a Lukashenka run for the Russian presidency -- has somewhat dampened the enthusiasm of Russian communists and nationalists who otherwise welcome what they see as a restoration of the past and a challenge to NATO and the West. Consequently, at least some of them may oppose the reunification of the two countries for the same reason they have blocked it earlier: the enormous financial costs unity would impose on Russia itself. Meanwhile, in Belarus, the impact of the accord has been still more dramatic. Given the extent of Lukashenka's increasingly authoritarian control in Minsk, Belarusian officials have dutifully backed the Yeltsin-Lukashenka deal. But democratic activists opposed to it clashed with police over the weekend. And the Belarusian Popular Front issued a statement noting that the accord reflects Lukashenka's willingness "to eliminate Belarusian statehood" in order to enhance his power. This fundamental difference of opinion sets the stage for ever sharper political combat between Lukashenka and those Belarusians who are committed not only to national independence but to democracy, free markets, and cooperation with the West. As dramatic as that clash is likely to be in the coming weeks and months, the consequences of the Yeltsin-Lukashenka accord on Russian relations with the other post-Soviet states and with the West are likely to prove far more significant. The Yeltsin-Lukashenka accord appears certain to presage an expanded effort by Moscow to promote the reintegration of the former Soviet republics. And such a move will almost certainly exacerbate relations within and among them. Within many of these countries, some political factions will welcome proposals for closer relations, given their current economic difficulties. But there will be many more who will oppose any such moves lest they lead as with Belarus to the extinction of national statehood. And whatever the outcome in the short term, such domestic conflicts are likely to leave many of the governments involved weakened politically, thus setting the stage for increased Russian influence there despite Moscow's current weakness. But the greatest challenge by far that is posed by the Yeltsin-Lukashenka agreement may be to Western governments: First, it represents a direct challenge to NATO which is now scheduled to include Poland as a member later this spring. Second, it highlights the continuing influence in Moscow of those interested in reversing the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union and calls into question Yeltsin's past commitments to oppose any such revision. And third, by setting the stage for greater conflict among the post-Soviet states as well as between Moscow and the West, this agreement may force Western governments to play a very different role than they would like. While increased conflict in the region may lead some to advocate a further retrenchment of Western involvement in the region, increased conflict between Moscow and the West would likely have precisely the opposite effect. And for all these reasons, the Yeltsin-Lukashenka accord appears likely to define the nature of many conflicts in the post-Soviet states during the next year as well as the ways in which all the players will respond. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. 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