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Yeltsin Says Russia's Interests Lie in Nations of Former Soviet Union

By John M. Goshko
The Washington Post

Russian President Boris Yeltsin told the United Nations Monday that Russia's priority interests lie in the newly independent nations of the former Soviet Union, and he served notice that Moscow believes it has the prime responsibility for ensuring peace and stability among those neighboring states.

Yeltsin, who joined President Clinton in addressing the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly, echoed a theme that has been sounded with growing frequency by Russian leaders in recent months - a theme that has stirred concern in the West about whether resurgent nationalism could spur Russia to assume an arbiter's role in Central Asia and other adjoining regions.

Yeltsin, who begins a two-day meeting with Clinton in Washington on Tuesday, said his country's "economic and foreign policy priorities lie in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. ... Russia's ties with them are closer than traditional neighborhood relations; rather, this is a blood relationship."

Some diplomats and domestic critics of Clinton's foreign policy feel that Washington's courting of Russian support in the U.N. Security Council for the U.S.-led military intervention in Haiti was a mistake because it revived the Cold War concept of spheres of influence.

According to this argument, Russia can maintain that if the United States can take such actions in the Caribbean, Russia has a similar right to intervene in the smaller and weaker countries of its neighborhood.

Some U.S. officials said they are interested in seeing how strongly Yeltsin asserts this position in his talks with Clinton this week.

Yeltsin insisted Monday that Moscow's desire for greater political and economic integration of the former Soviet republics is shared by those states and has "a foundation of goodwill and mutual benefit."

But he left no doubt that Russia considers conflicts in the region "a threat to the security of our state," and he added: "The main peacekeeping burden in the territory of the former Soviet Union lies upon the Russian Federation."

He also obliquely but unmistakably repeated a warning made last week by Yevgeny Primakov, director of the Russian equivalent of the CIA. Primakov said that efforts by the West to stand in the way of reintegration of the former republics are "dangerous and should be reconsidered."