Bonn Boosts New Commonwealth Concerned about Migration and Loans, Germany Aims to Stabilize Economies to the East

Article excerpt

BONN is watching events in the new Commonwealth of Independent States with more scrutiny than perhaps any other West European capital.

There are still 233,000 Soviet Army troops on German soil. Because Germany loaned the most to the former Soviet Union, it also stands to lose the most if the newly independent republics fail to pay. The economy of eastern Germany, suffering from the collapse of trade with the former superpower, awaits a resumption of commercial ties.

And because of their sheer proximity to the commonwealth republics, Germans worry that they will be the first to be hit by a wave of immigrants if the economy of the commonwealth grows much worse - as experience in Central and Eastern Europe shows it is sure to do.

Germans will miss Mikhail Gorbachev. It was Mr. Gorbachev, after all, who allowed Germany's reunification. Within minutes of Gorbachev's resignation, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl issued a statement resonating with gratitude. "The decisive contributions of Mikhail Gorbachev to German unity, and to the new beginning in relations between our peoples, remain unforgettable. We Germans - and I personally - owe him a great debt," Mr. Kohl said. "Without Mikhail Gorbachev, it would have been impossible to overcome the East-West conflict."

But the Germans cannot hold on to the past. So far, they have officially recognized Russia and the Ukraine as independent states and expect to recognize the other republics soon. In November, Russian President Boris Yeltsin visited Bonn, and Kohl is expected to return the visit soon.

Helping the new commonwealth achieve economic and social stability is the Germans' highest priority. "Our chief concern is in the economic field - that the new organization of republics be a positive step to speed up economic reform and initiate economic recovery," says a senior government official here.

One of the factors behind this concern, he admits, is the threat of mass migration from the east.

For example, nearly 2 million Volga Germans, whom Stalin forceably relocated to the central and east Asian parts of the Soviet Union, are automatically eligible for German citizenship simply because they are ethnic Germans. Bonn fears these Germans will flood the country if their economic and cultural situation does not improve. With considerable assistance from Bonn, Mr. Yeltsin is trying to reestablish an autonomous homeland for the Volga Germans, says the government official.

On the subject of economic aid to the new commonwealth, the Germans say they have reached their limit and are pushing hard for a coordinated, international effort. …