Three Slavic Republics Act To Dissolve Soviet Union

Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia Form a Commonwealth In Setback to Gorbachev

By Elisabeth Rubinfien, Staff Reporter. With Natalia A. Fedushak in Minsk
The Wall Street Journal

December 9, 1991

Moscow -- In a swift and startling agreement, Russia, the Ukraine and Byelorussia have declared the Soviet Union dead.

The three Slavic republics established a "commonwealth" that dashes any hopes for Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's renewed union and increases the likelihood that he will soon be out of a job. "The U.S.S.R. is ceasing its existence as a subject of international law and a geopolitical reality," they declared in a preamble to their Sunday agreement to establish a "union of independent states."

Under the new union, existing borders will be recognized, military and strategic matters and nuclear arms will be under joint command, nuclear disarmament will be pursued and Soviet authority is invalidated. The new union will be coordinated from the Byelorussian capital of Minsk.

The three republics also agreed "to build economic relations and accounts on the basis of the existing monetary unit, the ruble," and to conclude inter-bank agreements to restrict printing of new money.

"We are extremely concerned over the situation resulting from the disintegration of the union," Byelorussian leader Stanislav Shushkevich told reporters yesterday. "Because of this . . . we came up with the initiative to sign the agreement on the establishment of a commonwealth of the three independent states. The signing of this document will entail certain structural changes and a redistribution of power."

The decision by the republican leaders came after two short days of discussions at a forest resort home near the city of Brest in Byelorussia. Because these republics account for the vast bulk of the former Soviet Union's military, industrial and agricultural strength, any agreement they reach will be presented as a fait accompli to Mr. Gorbachev. The republican leaders plan to meet Mr. Gorbachev and Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev today in Moscow.

Mr. Nazarbayev, looking subdued and concerned upon his arrival in Moscow, told state television, "We need at least not to frighten the world and we can't destroy the union just like that. It would be a pity if we don't agree." Mr. Gorbachev meanwhile spent more than an hour in an interview on Ukrainian television repeating his pleas to keep the union together so as to avert violence and disaster.

To reach this agreement the three Slavic leaders had to put aside fears, at least for the moment, that Russia would try to dominate any new union, that the Ukraine would oppress ethnic Russians within its borders, and that Byelorussia's already faint republican identity would fade completely.

"The republics have refused to voluntarily delegate to the center the powers which it has demanded of them," Russian president Boris Yeltsin said in a speech to the Byelorussian Parliament Saturday upon signing a bilateral treaty there.

The swift trilateral agreement was provoked by the 90% pro-independence vote in the Ukraine a week ago, which ended hopes for Ukrainian participation in any kind of political union.

But while others in the Soviet government have acknowledged that the tide of change seems irreversible, Mr. Gorbachev is lagging ever more dangerously behind events.

Just days after the Ukrainian independence election, as euphoria swept the new state, Mr. Gorbachev tried to flex some muscle. According to Ukrainian Parliament Chairman Ivan Plusch, the Soviet president threatened that he could issue a decree that would wipe out all the Ukrainian decisions. Mr. Plusch responded, amazed: "Mikhail Sergeyevich {Gorbachev}, what kind of decree could you issue {to do that at this point}?"

The trilateral statement declares that the new union is based on mutual recognition of "each other's sovereignty, principles of equality and non-interference in internal affairs."

The three states decided to preserve the joint command over common military-strategic facilities and a single nuclear arms controlling body. They defined other areas for joint activity: external political activity, the development of common economic space, the European and Eurasian markets, customs and migration policy, transportation, communication, ecology and crime prevention. They pledged to observe the United Nations charter and international norms of human rights. They invited any other former Soviet republics or other states to join the union.

Russian and Ukrainian observers say that, in practice, the new union could involve ties as intricate as those of the European Community or as loose as those within the British Commonwealth.

Meanwhile, in the military sphere, another block to republican power was removed with Saturday's ouster of the Soviet Chief of the General Staff, Vladimir Lobov. The former head of the Warsaw Pact command, the outspoken general opposed the creation of republican armies and urged a strong central command. One of the few things the former Soviet republics have lately agreed upon, however, was the right of each to form its own military.

Mr. Lobov had succeeded General Mikhail Moiseyev, a supporter of the attempted coup in August.

Mr. Lobov has been succeeded by General Viktor Samsonov, head of the St. Petersburg military district, who actively opposed sending troops to the city during the August coup attempt.

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