Threat to republics as Yeltsin boards nationalist bandwagon

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PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin issued a stern warning to former Soviet republics yesterday, promising to make 1994 the year when Russia stands up for ethnic Russian minorities abroad.

In a state of the nation speech likely to shock Estonia, Latvia, Kazakhstan and other countries with large Russian communities, Mr Yeltsin said: 'Our duty is to make 1994 a year of close attention to the problems of people of Russian origin living in neighbouring states.

'We have numerous facts that clearly show our fellow countrymen are being discriminated against. If we are dealing with violations of Russians' legitimate rights, this is not the exclusive internal affair of some other country but our own national state affair. Russia has the right . . . to act firmly and harshly when this is really necessary.' He tried to sweeten the warning by adding: 'Our closest neighbours have an interest in seeing a stable and strong Russian state . . . The world community, too, needs a strong Russia, for otherwise it will be a constant source of threats to the security of mankind.'

Mr Yeltsin's opponents, such as the nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who was in the audience, felt there was not enough stick-waving. Mr Zhirinovsky wants the republics reincorporated into a Russian empire. Western diplomats, who believe Mr Yeltsin is being forced to play to the nationalist gallery, still hope Russian foreign policy will not change significantly.

The President said Russia alone could take on the burden of peace- keeping in former Soviet republics. He reiterated that Moscow could not accept an expanded Nato, a position the West has already taken into account by offering Eastern European countries the limited Partnership for Peace scheme.

However, Mr Yeltsin then gave notice that Russia expected to be taken more seriously in international affairs, and to be given a fair share of the world arms market. 'We see partnership as real co-operation and interaction in all spheres and at all levels, not as a mere exchange of courtesies,' he said, apparently with Nato's recent ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs in mind.

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