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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Backs Kuchma, Kebich in Coming Polls

The State Duma's top official for CIS affairs said Friday that Russia would be best served if two non-nationalists won next week's presidential elections in Ukraine and Belarus. Konstantin Zatulin, who chairs the State Duma's committee on relations with the former Soviet republics, told a briefing that Russia's relations with its two Slavic neighbors would sour if either Ukraine's President Leonid Kravchuk or the former Belarus head of state Stanislav Shushkevich were elected. Kravchuk and Shushkevich signed the December 1991 agreement with President Boris Yeltsin that put an end to the Soviet Union. Both are facing a strong challenge in the upcoming elections from men who favor closer ties with Russia: Ukraine's former prime minister, Leonid Kuchma, and Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kebich of Belarus. Kuchma, who was Ukraine's prime minister for one year until September 1993, favors an economic union with Russia and gradual market reforms similar to those championed by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. At a briefing Friday, Zatulin charged that Kravchuk had stirred up crises with Moscow over the mainly Russian-speaking Crimea in order to improve his standing among the nationalist-dominated west of Ukraine. Kebich orchestrated the removal of Shushkevich in February, saying Belarus was not ready for the kind of political neutrality and economic independence from Russia favored by the latter. Zatulin said Friday that recent agreements on closer ties between Russia and Belarus, including a pact uniting the two countries' monetary systems, depended on Kebich's election. While Kebich and Kuchma are the most prominent pro-Russian candidates, their similarity ends there. Kuchma is a moderate reformist who last week even won the endorsement of Yegor Gaidar's Russia's Democratic Choice party. A recent poll on the June 26 elections put him behind Kravchuk, 28 to 23 percent. Kebich's affinity for closer ties with Russia comes partly from his opposition to the market reforms championed by Shushkevich. Kebich is seen as the favorite in the Belarus poll, the first round of which is scheduled for next Thursday. The main challenger to Kebich is not Shushkevich, but legislator Alexander Lukashenko, an associate of ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky who favors an even quicker reunification with Russia. A spokesman for Lukashenko said by telephone from the Belarus capital, Minsk, that the candidate narrowly escaped death when his car was fired on by unidentified assailants Thursday night.