Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 23

The Yeltsin-Chirac meeting capped a period of several days during which NATO enlargement took center stage for Russian policy-makers. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin opened the latest round of jousting between Russia and the West on the issue during a visit to Davos, Switzerland. Addressing the World Economic Forum there on January 30, Chernomyrdin repeated Moscow’s contention that the admission of new NATO members would undermine European security, and he emphasized that enlargement would continue to be opposed by Moscow. Chernomyrdin criticized Eastern European states for pursuing what he called the "mantra" of NATO membership, and claimed that they faced no military threat that justified joining the Western alliance. Chernomyrdin also repeated a threat that has more recently begun to emanate from Moscow: namely, that NATO expansion could adversely affect Moscow’s economic relations with the West.

There were, nevertheless, hints in Chernomyrdin’s remarks of a willingness to reach an accommodation with the West. He spoke of Moscow’s readiness both to develop cooperation with NATO under the aegis of the Partnership for Peace program and to draft "accords mapping out [Russia’s] relations with different NATO member states." Chernomyrdin also said that Moscow would like to become a member of NATO’s political council, with voting rights equal to those of NATO member states. (The New York Times, Interfax, January 31) That kind of status exceeds what the alliance has thus far been willing to offer the Kremlin in their negotiations over a NATO-Russian political or "charter" agreement.

A day after Chernomyrdin’s remarks in Davos, and on the eve of his own visit with Chirac, Yeltsin also underscored Moscow’s public opposition to NATO enlargement. According to his press spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Yeltsin had conveyed that message to Foreign Minister Yevgeni Primakov. "It is clear that there is a consensus among Russia’s political elite on key foreign policy issues…[including] opposition to NATO’s expansion," Yastrzhembsky added. (Reuter, January 31)

In fact, Primakov has emerged as the point man in Russia’s diplomatic battle against enlargement, and he has generally enjoyed the support of opposition forces on this and other foreign policy issues. But hard-line members of a new "anti-NATO" group in Russia’s Duma may be looking to put additional pressure on the Russian foreign minister. According to deputy Duma speaker Sergei Baburin, an ultra-nationalist and member of the "anti-NATO" group, Primakov is wasting his time in negotiations with NATO secretary-general Javier Solana. Baburin suggested that the Duma group would work to mobilize opposition to any show of flexibility in negotiations with NATO — a move that could make Primakov’s talks with Solana even more difficult. (Nezavisimaya gazeta, Radio Rossii, Itar-Tass, January 31)

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