WASHINGTON -- The United States will recognize Russia this week as the successor state to the Soviet Union, automatically transferring all relations with the Kremlin to Boris Yeltsin's government, a senior official said last night.
The decision, which quickly followed a similar action by the European Community, came after a 25-minute telephone call yesterday morning from Mr. Yeltsin to President Bush. In effect, it means that the United States is accepting Russia as the state filling the Soviet Union's international role.
Together with Britain and France, the United States also will support Russia's claim to fill the permanent United Nations Security Council seat held by the Soviet Union, giving Russia a veto, officials said.
China theoretically could veto Russia's assumption of the Soviet seat.
The other independent republics will be treated differently. The United States plans to recognize the independence of all 12 Soviet republics and establish diplomatic relations with Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Byelarus, Kirgizia and Armenia. But it will withhold diplomatic relations from the others until it sees how well they progress with democratic reforms and human rights.
The decision on how to handle recognition of the former Soviet Union's republics was disclosed as officials anticipated the imminent formal resignation of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and the transfer of control over the nuclear "button" to Mr. Yeltsin.
It came two days after 11 republics, including Russia, made formal the establishment of a Commonwealth of Independent States.
The new commonwealth, meeting in Alma Ata, Kazhakstan, over the weekend, agreed to let Russia assume the permanent Security Council seat and to let the Russian president control the Soviet Union's strategic nuclear arsenal "on the basis of procedures drawn up jointly by the member states."
The decision by the United States and Europe to view Russia as the successor state to the Soviet Union simplifies the recognition procedure. It also marks acceptance of the fact that Russia occupies by far the largest share of Soviet territory and is assuming much of the Soviet Union's military and foreign affairs bureaucracy, as well as its debt.
In his conversation with President Bush, Mr. Yeltsin asked the United States to recognize Russia. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Mr. Bush replied that he would consult with his top advisers and allies before making a decision.
Sept. 4, Secretary of State James A. Baker III spelled out five "principles" intended to guide the Soviet republics as they moved toward independence: peaceful change, and respect for human rights, international law, democratic processes and existing borders.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Baker said that Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kirgizia "already are showing their intention to accept the responsibilities of the democratic community of nations."
But Georgia, caught up in heavy fighting, and Azerbaijan have been singled out by the U.S. as flouting the Baker principles.
A senior official traveling with Mr. Baker said last week that relations with the republics would vary. "Recognition can mean a lot of different things," he said. "It can mean recognizing the independence of a particular republic; it can mean establishing formal diplomatic relations, and . . . it has various meanings with respect to the nature of the relationship and how warm and friendly it is."
The United States had wanted assurances from leaders of the republics that the Soviet nuclear arsenal would remain under a unified command so that proliferation of nuclear power could be avoided. Mr. Baker got assurances that were described as "more than just adequate."
Yesterday's action indicates that the United States views the new commonwealth as at most a loose arrangement. The senior official said last week, "I think we'll be dealing with a number of sovereign independent nations that may nor may not have an agreement between . . . them providing for common defense arrangements [but are] completely independent in all other respects."