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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yavlinsky, Lebed Rail Against Yeltsin's CIS Plan

On the eve of a summit of four CIS nations, three Russian presidential candidates released a statement Wednesday criticizing President Boris Yeltsin's efforts to deepen integration with some former Soviet republics as damaging to long-term prospects for reunification.

"Nothing will come of this but farce and the complete discrediting of the very idea of uniting our peoples," Grigory Yavlinsky, Alexander Lebed and Svyatoslav Fyodorov said in the joint statement. "If today Russia lunges into concluding separate treaties with two or three states, it could forever kill off the desire of all the others for integration."

Yeltsin is scheduled to meet with the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan on Friday to sign agreements on expanding a customs union, equalizing the pace of economic reforms in the four countries and developing a common currency, Russia's CIS Minister Valery Serov said Tuesday.

The Russian president has recently made integration with CIS countries a top policy priority. He is scheduled to sign on Tuesday a bilateral treaty strengthening ties with Belarus, a plan that sent thousands of nationalist protesters into the streets of Minsk on Sunday. Yeltsin will visit Kiev on April 4 to seek to improve links with Ukraine.

The three candidates said in their statement: "The political games surrounding integration of the CIS countries are taking on an ever more threatening character. They have reached the point of experiments with statehood. The victim of this pre-election hullabaloo will be the very constitutional foundations of Russia."

This was the second joint statement issued by Lebed, Fyodorov and Yavlinsky, who have flirted with a nebulous political group called the Third Force to advance a candidate to oppose Yeltsin and front-runner Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party.

The parliamentarians offered their own program for integration based on "a series of small but maximally concrete steps."

These included concluding an economic union of CIS countries, signing a treaty of joint defense of external CIS borders and providing for normalization of citizenship and other laws.

Analysts contested the three politicians' thesis that partial integration now could sabotage later efforts at CIS-wide unification. "It might be 10 years before all the CIS countries are equally ready for such integration," said Viktor Kremenyuk, a political analyst at the USA/Canada Institute.

"If some countries are already prepared for integration, they should push ahead with it."

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko defended his policy of closer ties with Moscow in a speech to parliament Wednesday, in which he backpedaled on earlier statements that suggested the two countries might form a single state.

"We are not creating a new state, rather we are forming a union of two states," Lukashenko said in Minsk, according to Itar-Tass.

Kremenyuk said the proposed four-nation union would probably benefit Russia least of all, because the economies of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are almost entirely dependent on Russia.

"They are parts of a formerly united economy that are now separated and trying to survive on their own. For Russia this is easier, because it has a large economy, but for the others it is nearly impossible," he said.

Russian is bound to gain from easier access to these markets. While trade within the CIS increased by 5 percent in 1995, Russia experienced a trade deficit with the other members, Serov said.

Russia must increase financial credits to the CIS beyond the 200 billion rubles ($41 million) in the 1996 budget to help improve the health of members' economies, Serov said.