Revived 'Soviet Union' on table

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The Independent Online
THE HEAD of Russia's foreign intelligence service yesterday unveiled a report on the future of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that was clearly intended to sell to the West the idea of a revived union of former Soviet republics. Yevgeny Primakov denied any linkage but the report's release and President Boris Yeltsin's imminent departure for a summit in the United States could hardly be coincidental.

The report, Russia and the CIS - Does the Western Position Need Correction?, outlined different scenarios for development in the former Soviet Union. One possibility, it said, was that sovereign CIS states would create a common economic space like the EU, perhaps even opt for political integration and a single defence command. In such a case stability and reform would be guaranteed and the West would not need to have any fears about the threat of chaos in a state with nuclear weapons.

But another scenario was that separatists would prevail in the republics, leading to growing authoritarianism, anti-democratic tendencies, and Islamic extremism. The report warned: 'General destabilisation in the CIS space will pose a threat to the security of the world community.'

The foreign intelligence service, which was formed from the external branches of the old KGB, said it understood the West's fear of seeing its Cold War enemy return. There was no danger of that, it promised. But some circles in the West were interpreting the drawing together of CIS states as Russian imperialism because they did not like to see Russia re-emerging as a world power.

'The process of integration is an undoubted fact,' Mr Primakov told reporters. 'And if the negative attitude to it gets rooted in Western capitals, it could strongly cool relations between these capitals and Moscow.'

The revival of the Soviet Union was once the hobby-horse of extreme Russian nationalists such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky. But now mainstream politicians, including Mr Yeltsin, are talking about a new union, albeit loose and voluntary and excluding the Baltic states, whose independence is accepted. Only radical reformers, such as Yegor Gaidar, are against the idea because they fear weaker republics could be an economic drain on Russia.