The Kremlin’s rapprochement with Lukashenka is also advancing rapidly on the political track. Last week, President Boris Yeltsin invited Lukashenka to visit Russia’s Yaroslav Oblast "at any suitable time," in addition to the two president’s regular meeting as heads of the Russia-Belarus Union. The Kremlin’s announcement was timed to the day when Russian ORT TV reporters Pavel Sheremet and Dmitry Zavadsky went on trial in Belarus. Yeltsin’s gesture dramatized a reversal of policy and may even be perceived in Minsk as amends: last October the Kremlin canceled Lukashenka’s scheduled visit to Yaroslav in protest over the reporters’ indictment, triggering a torrent of abuse from the Belarusan president.
Yesterday Russia’s cabinet of ministers approved a request that the Belarusan embassy in Moscow be authorized to open branch offices in St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Murmansk, Krasnodar, and Tyumen. And on the previous day, the Energy Ministry in Minsk reported an abrupt increase in Russian oil deliveries to Belarus — something that Lukashenka had long striven to obtain. (Russian agencies, December 21-22)
A "Free Press" in Uzbekistan?