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Date: Tue, 18 Feb 97 14:55:53 CST
From: (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Moscow Has Trouble Over NATO, Economy

Moscow Has Trouble Over NATO, Economy

By Maurice Williams, The Militant, Vol.61, no.7, 17 February 1997

When Russian president Boris Yeltsin met with French president Jacques Chirac February 2 to discuss NATO expansion plans, he maintained Moscow's position of opposition to the eastward expansion of the imperialist alliance. The Kremlin is pressing NATO members to sign a formal treaty not to deploy nuclear missiles, heavy conventional weapons, or station troops, on the territory of the eastern European countries belonging to the alliance.

While Washington and other states in NATO are opposed to a legally binding agreement, Moscow is seeking to "exploit tension" among imperialist regimes "especially between Paris and Washington," the Financial Times reported. A NATO summit in Madrid, to be convened this summer, is expected to extend invitations to some eastern European countries to join-most likely Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia.

While Washington appears set on moving ahead with the expansion, some big-business commentators have recently panned the idea. Writing in the January 22 New York Times, for example, Thomas Friedman sympathetically cited Sen. Joseph Biden as asking, "If we are really going to alienate the Russians, what are we going to get for it?"

Expressing alarm over the NATO

move, Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin warned that ultrarightists such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky would blame the Kremlin for acquiescence to a military encirclement by Washington and other imperialist countries. "Developments in Russia could take an ominous turn," he said. "We know that NATO means a powerful nuclear presence, nuclear forces, and all of this is being moved toward Russia."

Differences among the ruling caste in Moscow over NATO expansion plans have also emerged. "Enlargement would be unacceptable to Russia under any conditions," Anatoly Chubais, Yeltsin's chief of staff, told a February press conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Later that day, Chubais retreated from his stated opposition, saying that if a satisfactory agreement could be reached before the July NATO summit, it would "open doors for future NATO enlargement." He added, "Russia has never said it was against any kind of enlargement."

Russian administration official, Sergei Shakrai, said it would be "senseless" to observe arms treaties limiting the deployment of conventional forces in Europe if NATO expanded.

At a meeting of senior ministers in Moscow, Shakrai asserted that unification with the former Soviet republic Belarus, would be the regime's most effective response to NATO expansion. "The unification with Belarus would correspond to their strategic interests, consolidate power, and bolster Russia's authority in the international arena," he declared.

Yeltsin floated the unification idea in a letter to the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, an outspoken opponent of NATO expansion. The letter proposed the two governments consider holding a referendum on unification, which could involve a single government with a joint currency and taxation system, and unified energy supply. The two countries signed an agreement last April strengthening economic and military ties. Russian soldiers currently guard Belarus's western border with Poland.

In the past, Moscow has opposed merging with Belarus, trying to avoid absorbing that country's inflation and unemployment problems. Yeltsin's bluster was "intended as a shot across NATO's bows," primarily as a bargaining chip as discussions heat up over NATO expansion, the Manchester Guardian noted.

Depression conditions for workers

Depression conditions continue to deepen for the working class in Russia. Some $8.3 billion in back wages are currently owed to workers in a wide range of industries. Russian gold mining companies, which employ around 500,000 people, have not paid workers since the end of November. Some 400,000 coal miners, who had not been paid for months, went on strike December 3 demanding back wages.

A growing number of factories are paying workers in goods for barter. At the Armina factory in Volgograd, garment workers walked off their jobs in January to protest getting paid in brassieres. "All our relatives and friends have got them already and we do not know what to do with the rest," one worker explained. "We are paid in bras at 18,000 rubles each. That makes seven to nine bras a month. That's too many for one woman."

A condition of permanent crisis and instability stalks the government. On January 22, the lower house of Russia's parliament voted 229 to 63 to remove Yeltsin from his post because of poor health. While the vote had no legal force, it reflected the initial preparations for a power struggle. Just over three years ago, Yeltsin launched a military assault to resolve a conflict in the Russian legislature.

Before the vote in parliament, the president had not been seen by the public since January 6.Yeltsin developed double pneumonia earlier in January after recovering from quintuple-bypass heart surgery on November 5.

As Yeltsin's health declines, former general Aleksandr Lebed is campaigning to win support from Washington and other imperialist regimes in his bid for the Russian presidency. During a trip to the United States, prominently covered in the New York Times, Lebed met with business magnate Donald Trump in New York and executives at the Du Pont company in Delaware.

While Lebed is courting the U.S. rulers, the editors of the Times pleaded "not to be so quick to talk of discarding" Yeltsin. Lebed's "approach to politics" was "unnerving" and besides "it will be several months before sound judgment about [Yeltsin's] fitness can be made," they stated.

In a related development, Aslan Maskhadov, the military commander who led the 21-month war to drive up to 60,000 Russian troops out of Chechnya, was declared the victor in the republic's presidential election January 27. Moscow's bloody attempt to crush Chechnya's independence was defeated, but resulted in the deaths of an estimated 80,000 people.

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