Yeltsin Expects Commonwealth of 10 Republics
Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin, clearly asserting his authority as the new leader of the disintegrating Soviet Union, said Monday that the new Commonwealth of Independent States will grow to 10 republics by the month’s end.
With Secretary of State James A. Baker III standing at his side in the ornate St. Vladimir’s Hall of the Kremlin, Yeltsin said the United States agrees with many of the plans for the commonwealth, including creation of a joint military authority to control nuclear weapons and command all armed forces, except for ground troops. The latter presumably would be placed under the control of the individual republics.
By week’s end, Yeltsin said six more republics will join the commonwealth and by year’s end, its membership will total at least 10--all but two of the remaining republics in the crumbling union. The commonwealth was formed earlier this month by the three Slavic republics of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
Yeltsin did most of the talking in his press conference with Baker, although the secretary of state insisted that Washington will play no part in the internal political struggle between Yeltsin and Soviet President Mikhail S Gorbachev.
Later, Baker met with a subdued-looking Gorbachev, who repeated his claim that the way in which Yeltsin and his allies created the commonwealth violated the Soviet constitution. “This, of course, is a very serious thing both for our nation and for our partners and, of course, the United States is one of the partners of the Soviet Union,” Gorbachev said.
Baker praised Gorbachev’s courage in launching the Soviet Union on the path of dramatic economic and political change. But he gave him no reason to hope for American support in his uphill effort to cobble together a new union in competition with the Yeltsin-led commonwealth. “We are interested in continuing to work in partnership with you and others here to see these developments proceed in a reasonable and responsible way,” Baker said.
Baker and Yeltsin met for almost four hours, about twice as long as Baker’s meeting with Gorbachev. Later, the Russian Federation president said they had covered more than 20 subjects, including previously undisclosed details of the commonwealth agreement.
Apparently asserting Bakers’s acceptance of many of the provisions, Yeltsin said: “We believe they represent a joint (Baker-Yeltsin) point of view.”
Yeltsin did not name the 10 republics he predicts will be in the commonwealth by year’s end, but all of the 12 that remain from the old Soviet Union have expressed lively interest in joining except Georgia, which is “studying” it.
In an attempt to overcome American concerns about the disposition of about 27,000 nuclear warheads in the Soviet arsenal, Yeltsin said that members of the commonwealth will sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He said that three of the republics where nuclear weapons are now stationed--Ukraine, Belarus (formerly Byelorussia) and Kazakhstan--will become non-nuclear powers, while Russia will assume the Soviet nuclear role as a “temporary exception” to the commonwealth’s nuclear-free status.
“I personally feel very reassured with respect to these (nuclear) questions,” Baker said at a late night press conference after completing all of his meetings in Moscow.
Baker today visits the Central Asian republics of Kyrgyzstan (formerly Kirghizia) and Kazakhstan and will visit Ukraine and Belarus on Wednesday.
Yeltsin said that no weapons would be transferred to Russia. He said that arms now in the other three republics would be destroyed on the spot.
On the Russian side of the table, along with top officials of the republic, were two powerful members of Gorbachev’s Cabinet: Defense Minister Yevgeny I. Shaposhnikov and Interior Minister Viktor P. Barannikov. In his remarks to reporters, Yeltsin introduced the ministers as officials “of the former union.” The presence of the leaders of the armed forces and of the ministry that controls the national police were clear signs of Yeltsin’s ballooning power.
A more poignant sign came later after Baker met with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, a longtime personal friend. As they met reporters after what may have been their last official meeting, both Baker and Shevardnadze looked subdued.
“I cherish the relationship that developed between us,” Shevardnadze said in comments resembling a eulogy or a valedictory. “When I quit (almost a year ago), that was not the worst time. When I came back, it was a very difficult period.”
Seemingly resigned to the union government’s end, Shevardnadze said the future of foreign policy will be determined by “the presidents of the independent and sovereign states.” He called for “transition arrangements” in foreign policy but seemed to be pessimistic that his ministry would be allowed to handle even that.
In outlining plans for the commonwealth, Yeltsin said the loose alliance would control nuclear forces, the air force, navy, air defense and military intelligence. That would apparently leave the army to republic control. He said there would be no interior ministry in the new commonwealth, apparently relegating to history the national police force, which once made the letters MVD a feared symbol of oppression.
He said the military will be commanded by a uniformed officer responsible to a council of the leaders of the member republics. He denied published reports that Gorbachev would be offered the job of commander in chief. In a show of annoyance, Yeltsin almost shouted “shame on the media” that reported the rumors.
Yeltsin said he repeated to Baker the request, first made on Sunday by Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev, for the United States to extend diplomatic recognition to Russia as an independent nation. Yeltsin also called for United Nations membership for Russia and said his republic should take over the permanent Soviet seat on the Security Council “that is becoming vacant.”
His founding commonwealth partners--Ukraine and Belarus--are already full members of the United Nations under a disputed post-World War II agreement that gave the Soviet Union three seats in the world body to counter what Soviet dictator Josef Stalin considered Western bias. The Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia obtained U.N. membership shortly after they were granted independence from the Soviet Union.
In a related development, Kazakhstan became the last of the 15 former Soviet republics to proclaim its independence, with only 12 negative votes in the 300-member Parliament. Kazakhstan’s leaders had long expressed hope that Gorbachev could create some sort of new union. Their declaration of independence seems to indicate that they are resigned to the union’s final breakup.
Technically, the Russian Parliament has not proclaimed its independence, but that has not bothered Yeltsin in his maneuvering for diplomatic recognition. In Oslo, Norway announced that it had recognized Russian independence.
And in Ankara, Turkey recognized all the republics that have declared independence from the Soviet Union, a step it hopes will balance its conflicting interests in the turbulent world unfurling around it.
Meanwhile, European Community finance ministers, meeting in Brussels, decided to proceed with loan guarantees of $650 million for food aid for the 12 Soviet republics.