Ex-Soviet Republics Are Worried About Russian Parliament
Newly elected Russian nationalist speaks of an empire
MOSCOW — FORMER Soviet republics which, only recently gained independence from Moscow, are worried that their territorial integrity is in danger after an extreme nationalist party gained a surprise victory in Russia's parliamentary elections.
Leaders in several newly independent states, particularly Ukraine and the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, expressed surprise and concern when preliminary results showed Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party emerging with 24 percent of the Dec. 12 vote.
The three Baltic prime ministers were so disturbed by the election results that they added the topic to the agenda of a Dec. 15 summit meeting in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, said Ehtel Halliste, a spokeswoman for the Estonian government.
``We don't like Mr. Zhirinovsky particularly because he has really made very severe statements against Estonia being a sovereign and independent state,'' Ms. Halliste told the Monitor.
In a telephone interview from the Latvian capital of Riga, Edgar Abse, a spokesman for Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis echoed these sentiments, saying the Latvian leader was worried about his country's future dealings with Russia's new conservative-dominated parliament.
``We do not want any territorial expansion of Russia,'' Zhirinovsky told a packed news conference on Dec. 14, seeking to allay fears that he might try to make good on some of his campaign pledges. ``But some of those republics that belonged to the former Soviet Union will soon be crying with tears on their cheeks ... asking the new Russian president to take them back into the Russian state.''
An extreme nationalist whose election campaign abounded with calls for Russia to expand its geopolitical influence by reclaiming former Soviet territory that once was part of the Russian Empire, Zhirinovsky had earlier said his first targets would be the Baltic nations.
Independent between the two world wars, the three countries were absorbed into the Soviet Union in the 1940s.
Although they regained their freedom following the 1991 Soviet collapse, about 17,000 Russian troops still remain in Estonia and Latvia.
In recent weeks Zhirinovsky has toned down his vitriolic rhetoric, saying he plans to restore lost land not by force but through economic pressure, including stopping Russian aid to former Soviet republics and setting up strict customs controls with the Baltic and Caucasian republics.
``They made the choice to be free countries; let them build up their own armed forces and economies,'' Zhirinovsky told reporters. ``We're not going to help them.''
He also pledged to protect the rights of Russian-speaking minorities living outside Russia in former-Soviet territory - primarily those in the Baltics - whom he says are being denied basic human freedoms in lands that should rightfully belong to them.
`IF Estonians do not want to improve their relations with Russia, they will run out of fuel and energy,'' he vowed.
Tensions were also running high in Ukraine, where leaders are still suspicious of Moscow's intentions following the end of 300 years of forced inclusion into Russia.
Kiev's relations with Moscow have been strained since the Soviet collapse due to a prolonged tug-of-war over the future of the Black Sea Fleet and former Soviet nuclear weapons remaining on Ukrainian territory.
``As the elections have demonstrated, it's a far cry to democracy in Russia. The success of Zhirinovsky and the communists attest to this fact pretty well,'' said Dmytro Pavlychko, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Ukrainian Parliament, in an interview in the Kievskiye Vedomosti newspaper.
``Now I think that many people in the West will understand our position regarding the disarmament issue, '' Mr. Pavlychko said.
The heavy presence of nationalists and Communists in Russia's new parliament will ``naturally cause frictions between Russia and her neighbors,'' wrote Sergei Kichigin, publisher of the newspaper.
Other former-Soviet republics reacted similarly to the Liberal Democratic Party's lead in the polls.
In Belarus, an adviser to parliamentary chairman Stanislav Shushkevich, Valery Tsepkalo, called Zhirinovsky's victory ``frightening.''
``We, as well as other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, cannot accept'' opinions expressed by Zhirinovksy in his election campaign, Moldovan Deputy Parliament Speaker Viktor Pushkash told ITAR-Tass.
``If the party wins a majority in the Duma [lower house of parliament,] this can lead to difficulties in relations between Russia and the former Soviet republics,'' Mr. Pushkash added, referring to Zhirinovsky's claim that his newly independent nation is really a province of Russia.
But Zhirinovksy told reporters Dec. 14 that civil strife in countries such as Moldova and Tajikistan has proved that these countries were incapable of handling sovereignty.
``Let them try their independence,'' he stated. ``We are sorry to see millions of people die because their leaders want an independent country. But millions are doomed to die.''