After Successful Summit, Yeltsin Returns to Trouble
`WELCOME HOME, BORIS'
AFTER tightening Russia's links with leading industrialized nations at the Tokyo summit, President Boris Yeltsin has returned home to confront a myriad of problems threatening his country's territorial integrity.
Mr. Yeltsin met with leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations at the end of their annual economic summit, held in Japan last week. Unlike previous G-7 summits - which produced statements of support for Russia's reforms, but little more - Yeltsin left the Tokyo meeting Saturday with concrete commitments.
"We have settled all the issues we planned for this trip," Yeltsin said.
The Russian president in particular praised the G-7 decision to provide a $3 billion package to speed privatization. Moscow officials say the assistance will help establish regional funds in Russia to support promising, newly privatized businesses as they try to transform into profitable enterprises.
Following bilateral talks, Yeltsin hailed President Clinton's pledge to seek the lifting of cold-war-era United States trade restrictions with Russia. Moscow officials claim the restrictions, especially limits on high-tech imports, hinder Russia's economic recovery efforts.
The US and Russian leaders also agreed to push for trilateral talks with Ukraine to discuss Kiev's reluctance to give up the nuclear warheads it inherited following the breakup of the Soviet Union. No details of the proposed talks were revealed.
In addition, Yeltsin used the Tokyo visit to try to mend strained relations with Japan. The two nations have feuded over four islands in the Kurile archipelago claimed by Japan but controlled by Russia since the end of World War II. The dispute has forced Yeltsin twice to postpone official visits to Tokyo, but after meeting Japanese officials, the Russian leader announced plans for a fall trip to Tokyo.
On his way back from Japan, Yeltsin stopped in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, where he held talks with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on the withdrawal of the Russian Army from German territory. The two said the withdrawal was proceeding on schedule.
Yeltsin may have enjoyed success in Tokyo and Irkutsk, but difficult times await him in Moscow where his efforts to promulgate a new constitution have run into serious difficulties.
The constitutional process currently is deadlocked over how to distribute power among federal authorities and the federation's regions and autonomous republics, or nominal ethnic homelands. The Yeltsin-proposed federative structure would define the republics as "sovereign states," while the regions would be called "state-territorial formations."
Some regions, inhabited mainly by ethnic Russians, perceive the formula as disadvantageous and have taken unilateral steps to raise their status to that of a republic within the Russian Federation. The highly industrialized Sverdlovsk region started the trend when it voted July 1 to become "the Ural Republic." Other regions - including Chelyabinsk, Chita, the Far East, and Vologda - have also declared themselves "republics."
The moves have prompted the Yeltsin government to threaten retaliation against the renegade regions, including the removal of Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel. Several autonomous republics also have responded angrily. Leaders in the Tuva Autonomous Republic said they may consider seceding from the Russian Federation.
The wrangling has greatly reduced the chances that Russia's Constitutional Assembly will agree on a new Basic Law text when it meets today for what is supposed to be its final plenary session. Yeltsin, who convened the assembly June 5, says a new constitution is essential to prevent the breakup of Russia and to protect its economic reforms.
Yeltsin's troubles are not limited to the constitutional process. On Friday, the conservative-dominated Russian parliament touched off a new crisis with neighboring Ukraine by adopting a resolution claiming the Ukrainian port city of Sevastopol as Russian territory.
Sevastopol, located on the Crimean peninsula, is the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, control of which also has been the subject of a bitter dispute between Russia and Ukraine. The Crimea was part of Russia until 1954, when Moscow transferred jurisdiction over the peninsula to Ukraine.
Ukrainian leaders denounced the Russian parliament's decision, calling it tantamount to a declaration of war. Yeltsin, who needs external tranquility so he can concentrate on his domestic agenda, sought to soothe Ukrainian outrage, saying he was "ashamed" by parliament's decision. The fleet and territorial disputes "must be solved both calmly and gradually," he said.
Despite the tension, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus announced their intention to forge closer economic links. The three Slavic states signed an agreement Saturday on a free-trade union, saying an economic integration treaty may be ready Sept. 1.