Europeans Are Wary Of Divisions Within New Commonwealth


WESTERN European countries are moving to full recognition of the newly independent republics of the former Soviet Union. But relief and amazement that such an astonishing revolution has taken place with so little strife are being replaced by concern over signs of building tension among some of the new republics and some lingering questions about Russian President Boris Yeltsin."Officially we're quite satisfied with the way much of the change has taken place," says one French official, "and the size of the accomplishment shouldn't be minimized. But less publicly, we have a number of growing worries. We, the [European Community], and the West certainly have a role to play, but after that we can only sit by and watch." Following a process for granting diplomatic recognition approved by EC foreign ministers earlier this month, several EC countries have begun recognizing various republics. Last week Germany recognized Russia and the Ukraine, while France recognized only the latter. France said that as the "legal successor" to the Soviet Union, Russia did not require recognition. That position irritates some former Soviet republics, who fear Russian dominance and do not want to see Russia representing them in all international institutions. But it reflects France's desire not to see any questioning of the United Nations Security Council makeup at a time when Germany and Italy have come out for a membership reform. Russia has taken over the Soviet seat on the Council, where France is also a permanent member. The Netherlands, which holds the EC's revolving presidency until Portugal takes over Wednesday, said last week that the Ukraine and Armenia qualified. A Dutch official said the EC might await the outcome of today's summit of former Soviet republics in Minsk, Byelorussia, before approving additional republics for recognition. EC countries have pledged to recognize all 11 republics making up the new Commonwealth of Independent States as they meet a list of criteria set by Community foreign ministers. The list, based on points embodied by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, includes respect for human and minority rights and for democratic principles. Another EC criterion is adherence to international arms control accords. The issue of the former Soviet armed forces and vast nuclear arsenal is to be taken up at today's summit. Across Europe, there were no grand speeches heralding the end of communism like last week's televised address by President Bush. For most Europeans, the time of celebration was two years ago, when the Berlin Wall fell. That enthusiasm has now mostly been replaced by deep concern over the complexity of problems facing Europe in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse. Beyond the issue of nuclear arms and their control, attention is now turning to the economic problems, as well as political, social, and cultural tensions threatening the new commonwealth's stability. Officials in several countries said EC members would watch today's Minsk summit closely for what one of them called "breathing space" on the nuclear arms issue and prospects for interrepublic cooperation. German officials, whose country is the most deeply involved Western power in the former Soviet economy, say economic issues, from short-term assistance to long-term reforms, dominate their concerns. One French observer worries about "economic guerrilla warfare" among the newly independent republics - including cutoffs of interrepublic trade in vital products or a proliferation of internal taxes or tariffs on items that until now circulated freely. "How they decide to share what until now were common resources bears watching for signs of how peacefully things will go," says a French official.

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