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

Thousands of Belarussians cast off their national stereotype as passive people and took to the streets of Minsk last night in defiance of their conservative leader, President Alexander Lukashenko, who had earlier signed a treaty with President Boris Yeltsin on integration with Russia. The agreement stopped short, however, of creating a single state.

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."

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain