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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

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

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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
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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.
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