Exchange Links Up East, West

President Boris Yeltsin opened an international switching station Thursday that provides a digital telephone link between Europe and the Pacific region.

"The whole world is encircled now," Yeltsin said proudly at the opening ceremony at Moscow's International Communications Station No. 9.

The privately funded project to create a trans-Eurasian communications channel along the shortest route and to provide Russia with much-needed international telephone lines has already taken 2 1/2 years to complete.

International telecommunications companies, including Siemens AG of Germany, Alcatel Alsthom of France, NEC Corp. of Japan and Rostelecom of Russia, participated in the project.

The new switchboard links three fiber-optic cables, connecting Russia with Denmark in the west, Turkey and Italy in the south, and Japan and Korea in the east. That adds many new international communications channels to the few that existed in the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, all telephone calls abroad had to be booked through Central Telegraph in Moscow.

"The project became possible because of the growing awareness in the whole world that ours is the time of government openness and human interaction ... caused by the democratization of individual states and international relations as a whole," said Yeltsin.

The western line opened in 1993, the one in the Far East in 1995, and the southern line earlier this month, when an international switchboard was opened in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.