Moscow extends military role

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ASHKHABAD, Turkmenistan - Russia strengthened its grip as policeman of the Commonwealth of Independent States yesterday, signing agreements with seven of its neighbours which effectively abolish a unified CIS defence command.

The bilateral agreements give Moscow the right to oversee military policies of its neighbours, as well as doing away with the joint CIS command, whose head, Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, resigned in June.

The accords - on military and technical co-operation - were signed by Russia's Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, with seven of his CIS counterparts a day ahead of a CIS summit due here today.

Military leaders from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan signed the agreements that Russian officials said would reinforce a 1992 collective security pact agreed in Tashkent. That treaty called for joint operations if one member state is attacked by another, and specifically allows Russia to intervene militarily in other CIS member states.

Under the new accords, the joint CIS command is replaced by a co-

ordinating body which will give priority to bilateral accords rather than to the defunct central command. The command had lost much of its power in recent months.

In the first enactment of the new relationship established under yesterday's accords, ministers agreed to dispatch Russian troops to defend Turkmenistan's borders with Iran and Afghanistan.

The agreement, signed by President Boris Yeltsin and President Saparmurad Niyazov, was hailed as a significant step towards strengthening ties between the two former Soviet republics. Russia has already sent several thousand border guards to the Tajik-Afghan border, as part of a 25,000-strong CIS force. Foreign ministers also decided yesterday to prolong the mandate of the forces.

In other developments, Russia and Turkmenistan signed landmark agreements on establishing dual citizenship. Mr Yeltsin was made an 'honorary citizen' of the Central Asian country.