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Slavic leaders pronounce Soviet Union dead

By JEFF BERLINER

MOSCOW, Dec. 8, 1991 (UPI) -- The leaders of three Slavic republics emerged from a political summit Sunday and announced they had created their own union, sounding the death knell for President Mikhail Gorbachev's plans to preserve the Soviet Union.

''We, Republic of Byelorussia, Russian Federation and Ukraine, as the founding states of the U.S.S.R. who signed the union treaty of 1922, ... admit the fact that the U.S.S.R. as a subject of international law and a geopolitical reality does not exist any longer,'' the leaders of the three Slavic republics said in a statement released by the Soviet news agency Tass.

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At the same time, the three Slavic leaders announced formation of their own Union of Independent States -- effectively killing Gorbachev's vision of a new Union of Sovereign States made up of former Soviet republics.

The three republic leaders promised to control nuclear weapons, respect human rights and obey international treaties signed by the former Soviet Union.

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The republics said they will coordinate radical economic reforms to create market economies in their republics. They also agreed on a wide range of political, defense, border, economic, trade and monetary policies, including an agreement to settle Soviet debts.

Leaders of the three-republic Slavic union said they would admit other republics that agreed with their aims and principles, thus keeping the door open for a possible new union of the former Soviet republics -- but one which appeared to exclude the center, the Kremlin.

The statement was signed by Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk and Byelorussian leader Stanislav Shushkevich who spent Sunday cloistered in a remote Byelorussian hideaway to discuss the future of the disintegrating Soviet Union.

''The three nations have decided to act together,'' said Yeltsin, who informed President Bush in a 30-minute telephone call, but the White House withheld comment until it could study the agreement.

''We are extremely concerned over the situation resulting from the disintegration of the union,'' Shushkevich said. ''Because of this, and acting within the framework of rights granted to us by the constitution, we came up with the initiative to sign the agreement on the establishment of a commonwealth of the three independent states.''

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Shushkevich said, ''The signing of this document will entail certain structural changes and a redistribution of power.''

The Slavic leaders did not invite Gorbachev to their meeting, but all three were to meet Monday in the Kremlin with Gorbachev and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Even as the Slavic leaders were acknowledging the death of the country and outlining a blueprint for their new Slavic union, Gorbachev was appearing on Ukrainian television making yet another futile plea for his so-called Union of Sovereign States.

Even Nazarbayev, who has supported Gorbachev's union treaty, seemed to acknowledge that there was little left of the country to salvage on the eve of the meeting between Gorbachev and the leaders of the four biggest republics.

''We at least should make a political and military union so that there is control over all strategic weapons,'' Nazarbayev said as he arrived in Moscow late Sunday.

''We should not break down our state,'' Nazarbayev said. ''Of course, everyone wants to feel independent after many years of totalitarian empire thinking.''

Sunday's joint statement signed in Minsk, the Byelorussian capital, by Yeltsin, Kravchuk and Shushkevich, said, ''We, the leaders of the republics of Byelorussia, Russian Federation and Ukraine:

''-- Admit that union treaty negotiations have reached a deadlock. An objective process of republics' secession and formation of new states became a reality,

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''-- Admit that the short-sighted center's policy has led to a deep economic and political crisis, disruption of productive forces, disastrous decrease in living standards in all layers of society,

''-- Take into consideration the growth of social tension in many regions of the former U.S.S.R. which has led to many ethnic conflicts with numerous victims,

''-- Realize our responsibility before our peoples and the world community and the necessity of practical accomplishment of political and economic reforms.

''We declare the formation of a union of independent states, which is confirmed by the agreement signed on December 8, 1991.

''The Union of Independent States, which consists of the republics of Byelorussia, Russia and Ukraine, is open for all the states -- members of the U.S.S.R. and also for any state that agrees with the aims and principles of this agreement.

''The states, members of the union, aim at strengthening international peace and security. They guarantee the fulfilment of international obligations, set by treaties and agreements of the former U.S.S.R. and the control over nuclear weapons and its non-proliferation.''

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