Russia cements links with stricken Belarus
Back in the USSR: Deal falls short of re-creating Soviet Union but provokes anger on streets of Minsk and concern in West
Wednesday 03 April 1996
Yesterday's peaceful rally was smaller than one last month, when Belarussians thought the President was about to surrender their national sovereignty. But it was enough to sour the atmosphere on the day that Mr Yeltsin and Mr Lukashenko launched their Community of Sovereign Republics, which creates the closest economic and political partnership of any ex-Soviet republics.
Because Belarus is in deeper economic trouble than Russia, Mr Lukashenko has been pressing for the closest possible relationship. But Mr Yeltsin has been more cautious, lest Belarus becomes a burden.
Under the deal, each side will preserve its independence, territorial integrity, flag and national anthem. The republics will co-ordinate foreign policy and work out common defence principles. By the end of next year they aim to have their economic reforms synchronised, so that a common market becomes possible. "This document opens a qualitatively new stage in the history of our two brotherly peoples," Mr Yelstin said at the ceremony in the Kremlin's St George's Hall. Mr Lukashenko said Belarus and Russia were following the example of the European Union.
The new mini-community is open to other members of the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States but they have preferred to keep a greater distance.
The signing is a boost for Mr Yeltsin, who is running for re-election in June. Under pressure from the Communists, calling for the restoration of the Soviet Union, he will be able to tell voters that his alternative policy of seeking voluntary integration among ex-Soviet republics is bearing fruit.
But he cannot yet say the same about his plan to end the Chechnya war, seen as crucial to his chances of winning a second term. Yesterday the Chechen separatist leader, Dzhokhar Dudayev, wielded his power to influence the election and kept his enemy in the Kremlin waiting for a response to his peace initiative.
Fighting continued in Chechnya despite Mr Yeltsin's announcement of an end to military operations and a partial troop pull-out. On Sunday he said a campaign last month had left federal forces controlling two-thirds of Chechen territory, enabling a withdrawal of units not needed for the fight against "terrorists". He called for parliamentary elections and, surprisingly, offered talks through mediators with General Dudayev, whom Moscow has up to now called a criminal.
But 48 hours after Mr Yeltsin's speech there was a resounding silence from the mountains of southern Chechnya, where General Dudayev has hidden since being forced out of his capital, Grozny, last year. In a telephone call to Russian television, one of his fighters said the Muslim Chechens would not respond officially until their top leadership had met. But General Dudayev's spokesman, Movladi Udugov, gave a fair indication of the likely reaction when he told Ekho Moskvy radio: "All the political steps taken by the Russian side can be no more than pre-election action with the aim of raising Yeltsin's authority and making him Russian president for a second term."
- 2 Friends 20th anniversary: Alison Jackson photographs reunited cast
- 3 There is literally not a single woman in this iPhone 6 queue
- 4 Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
- 5 Scottish independence: Tory revolt against 'devo max' grows as Rail Minister Claire Perry joins
Scottish independence referendum: Frankie Boyle reacts to nation's 'No' vote - 'To be fair, I've always hated Scotland'
Scottish independence live: Scotland gives a clear 'No' in historic referendum - as it happened
Iranian blogger found guilty of insulting Prophet Mohammad on Facebook sentenced to death
Scottish independence: Tory revolt against 'devo max' grows as Rail Minister Claire Perry joins
Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: The Queen breaks silence on referendum debate – as think tank warns of £14bn black hole if Scotland votes Yes
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...
£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...
£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...
£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...