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Off to be Yeltsin's spokesman

Russia's dapper ambassador to Slovakia, Sergei Yastrzhemski, is leaving his post at the end of September to become President Boris Yeltsin's spokesman, the Russian Embassy in Bratislava announced. At the end of his three-year stint in Bratislava, which both Slovak and Russian officials called "extremely successful," Yastrzhemski became the second diplomat departing independent Slovakia to be awarded the Order of the White Double Cross, an honor given to foreign citizens in recognition of their extraordinary contributions to Slovakia's development. The first was the former French ambassador posted in Bratislava, Michel Perrin.


Sergei Yastrzhemski is "double-crossed" by President Kováč.
TASR

Russia's dapper ambassador to Slovakia, Sergei Yastrzhemski, is leaving his post at the end of September to become President Boris Yeltsin's spokesman, the Russian Embassy in Bratislava announced.

At the end of his three-year stint in Bratislava, which both Slovak and Russian officials called "extremely successful," Yastrzhemski became the second diplomat departing independent Slovakia to be awarded the Order of the White Double Cross, an honor given to foreign citizens in recognition of their extraordinary contributions to Slovakia's development. The first was the former French ambassador posted in Bratislava, Michel Perrin.

Yastrzhemski's mission was fruitful, at least by the count of Russian contacts: Bratislava saw President Yeltsin; Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin came twice; and Slovakia was the first country visited by Yevgheni Primakov, the foreign minister, after he assumed his post earlier this year.

During Yastrzhemski's tenure, Russia and Slovakia signed 83 bilateral treaties, and Slovakia was among the first countries cancelling visa obligations for Russian visitors coming for less than a month. At his farewell press conference, Yastrzhemski said he thought the solid foundation of Slovak-Russian relations are rooted in economic and historical reasons.

"People in most countries suffer from Russiaphobia, while Slovaks are Russophiles," Yastrzhemski said, because, "No war came to Slovakia from the East." Yastrzhemski added that Slovakia completely depends on Russia for gas, oil and nuclear energy.

While diplomatic relations between the Slovak government and Western diplomats sometimes may be chilled, contacts with Russia - an erstwhile opponent of NATO expansion - have been flourishing. The often East-leaning inclination of Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar's government has created speculation over his double game in foreign policy. While officially Slovakia looks toward NATO membership, the Slovak opposition press often criticized the administration for developing too close political ties with Russia.

Meanwhile, the signals from the Euro-Atlantic structures have grown darker lately as Slovakia's prospects to be in the first group of post-communist countries to join the alliance is in serious jeopardy, if not lost already because of a perceived lagging democracy.

Yastrzhemski, who thinks that NATO expansion is "not a panacea" for European security, nonetheless said it is not Russia's views that is affecting Slovakia's bid. "Nobody should blame Slovakia's problems with joining NATO on Russia," Yastrzhemski said. "When I have problems, I first look for the mistakes in myself."

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