Fearful former Soviet republics reject bid by Russians for special status

December 25, 1993|By New York Times News Service

MOSCOW -- In a renewed display of tension over the resurgence of Russian nationalism, the former Soviet republics grouped in the Commonwealth of Independent States rejected a Russian proposal to grant special status to Russians living inside their borders.

The proposal was put forward by President Boris N. Yeltsin at a meeting in Turkmenistan of the leaders of the 12 countries that make up the commonwealth, which comprises all the former Soviet republics except the three Baltic countries.

Some 25 million Russians live in former Soviet republics, the so-called "near abroad." Their status has been a major issue for critics of Mr. Yeltsin, who charge that they are being treated as second-class citizens in the new countries, particularly in Central Asia.

The critics specifically cite steps by the new republics to discriminate against Russians in schools, take away their jobs and property, force them to learn local languages and deny them full citizenship rights.

These issues were a rallying cry for Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, the ultra-nationalist whose party did well in the Dec. 12 elections in Russia.

Even before Mr. Zhirinovsky success, Mr. Yeltsin had complained about discrimination against his compatriots as a way of muting criticism from Russian conservatives.

But after the strong showing of Mr. Zhirinovsky in the elections, many commonwealth members wanted assurances that Mr. Yeltsin would not swing Russia's weight even harder on the issues of nationality and sovereignty.

At their meeting, which took place in the city of Ashgabat in Turkmenistan, the commonwealth leaders also showed their desire for cooperation with Russia by signing agreements on mutual tax policies and a joint military headquarters to coordinate technical cooperation.

The rise in Russian nationalism was an important issue throughout the meeting, Ukraine's deputy foreign minister, Boris Tarasyuk, said afterward.

The final declaration emphasizes the territorial integrity of member states and urges members to "abstain from any actions that may be considered as interference in internal affairs, infringement of the interests of sovereign states and lack of respect to the national dignity of peoples."

In another development, Russia's new constitution granting Mr. Yeltsin sweeping powers took effect yesterday when state-run news media began publishing the official text.

The country's first post-Soviet charter was approved in a referendum during the Dec. 12 polling.

The new constitution gives Mr. Yeltsin authority to dissolve the Parliament and call early elections.

Mr. Yeltsin, meanwhile, ordered Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to submit proposals for the reorganization and trimming of Russia's government.

Since the parliamentary elections, Mr. Yeltsin has fired several officials considered partly responsible for the drubbing suffered by reformist candidates.

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