Russian president Boris Yeltsin yesterday cabled an invitation to his Belarusan counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka to visit Russia’s Yaroslav Oblast "whenever convenient to him." Yeltsin added assurances that he has instructed the government to "fully support the visit," which, Yeltsin said, "advances the goals of our Union." Lukashenka is also due to meet Yeltsin in Moscow for a summit of the Russia-Belarus Union. Lukashenka’s visit to Yaroslav Oblast had originally been scheduled for October 2-3, but Moscow canceled it at the last moment to demonstrate displeasure over the detention and criminal indictment of Russian ORT Television reporters in Belarus.
Also yesterday, the Kremlin announced that Yeltsin has approved the draft of a Russia-Belarus military cooperation agreement, prepared by Russia’s Defense and Foreign Affairs Ministries. Yeltsin instructed Defense Minister Igor Sergeev to travel to Minsk on December 18-19 in order to sign the agreement for Russia. (Russian agencies, December 17)
The timing of the Kremlin’s moves adds to their significance. It was yesterday that Belarusan authorities began the trial of Russian ORT TV reporters Pavel Sheremet and Dmitry Zavadsky. The two are charged with crossing the border of Belarus illegally in the course of their work last July. Yeltsin’s chief spokesman and foreign policy coordinator, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, reacted by expressing hope for a "humane verdict." Deputy Prime Minister Valery Serov, meanwhile, came close to supporting the indictment. He stated that the reporters had engaged in "provocative acts on behalf of certain forces" — an allusion to Russian critics of Lukashenka’s authoritarian rule. Serov, who is responsible for CIS affairs in the Russian government, stated that "Russia-Belarus relations graphically illustrate a successful integration." (Itar-Tass, Radio Mayak, December 17) By the same token, the relations illustrate the Kremlin’s acceptance of Lukashenka’s dictatorial excesses for the sake of "strategic interests," as Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin put it last week in Minsk.
U.S. Award Recognizes Shevardnadze’s Historic Role.