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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russians Abroad: Decree Signed

The issue of the rights of Russians abroad has risen to the top of President Boris Yeltsin's agenda and is enshrined in a new presidential decree, according to a top Kremlin official.

Yeltsin's decree, signed last Thursday, sets up a government commission to coordinate policy on the more than 25 million Russians living in the ex-Soviet Union outside Russia, whose plight has become one of the hottest topics in Russian political debate.

Abdulakh Mikitayev, the chairman of Yeltsin's Citizenship Committee in an interview this week said explicit policy would now be to link Moscow's relations with neighboring states with their treatment of their Russian minorities.

"If these states infringe the rights of their Russians, we will take appropriate economic measures," Mikitayev said.

He said ministries might now refuse a neighbor economic credits or tear up a trade contract if it mistreated its Russian minority. But there was no question of turning off energy supplies, which would harm Russians working in local industries.

One of the aims of the new official policy is to prevent a massive influx of Russian refugees from abroad. The commission will promote radio and television stations and cultural projects to try and give Russians reason to stay in their adopted countries.

Russia will also carry on pressing ex-Soviet states to give full citizenship or dual citizenship rights to their Russians. So far only Turkmenistan of the ex-Soviet states has legalized dual citizenship.

Most of Russia's anger in recent months has been directed at Estonia and Latvia, whom Moscow accuses of discriminating against their Russian minorities.

Mikitayev said he had warned the Estonian president and prime minister personally about their citizenship policy, saying the large Russian minority could destabilize the country if it was not given full rights.

Moscow might be forced to give the Russians of Estonia Russian citizenship, Mikitayev said, and they would form enclaves inside the two countries "under the protection of Russia." Or they could simply start forming little autonomous regions inside Estonia and electing their own leaders to look after them.

Outrage at the treatment of Russians in the Baltic countries has been one of the battle cries of the opposition to Yeltsin, especially from ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. The decree is proof that Yeltsin has now taken that battle to the opposition and adopted some of their ideas.

However, the new Yeltsin doctrine is not as explicitly nationalistic as some opposition figures would like.

Mikitayev, who is himself a Kabardinian from the North Caucasus, was careful to stress that the decree was not ethnically motivated and applied equally well to the 5 million people, mainly Tatars, who have ties to the Russian Federation but are not ethnically Russian.

Mikitayev said the new government commission should be appointed by

Sept. 1. He said he expected the head of the commission to be deputy prime minister Sergei Shakhrai, who lost his job as Nationalities Minister in May and who is known to be looking for a high-profile job.