Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 100

National Security Council Adviser Sandy Berger conducted two days of talks in Moscow last week, during which he met briefly with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and with the country’s newly confirmed prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov. Berger also held more intensive consultations with his Russian counterpart, Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov, and with several other top Russian officials. Little information about the substance of the talks was made public, but both sides did seem intent on presenting an upbeat picture of Russian-U.S. relations in the runup to next month’s summit meeting between Putin and U.S. President Bill Clinton. Berger got a warm reception in the Russian capital, one which saw Putin, Kasyanov and Ivanov all go out of their way to underscore Moscow’s desire for friendly ties with the United States.

Exactly what the basis of those friendly ties will be, however, remained unclear. Reports suggested that the discussions between Berger and Putin, and particularly between Berger and Ivanov, focused on the continuing deadlock in Russian-U.S. strategic arms control negotiations. But there was no hint during Berger’s stay in Moscow of movement by either country on these issues (AP, Reuters, Russian agencies, May 18-19).

Indeed, if a Washington Post report is to be believed, U.S. officials have now given up hope either of an arms control breakthrough being possible during the June 4-5 summit meeting in Moscow, or, apparently, of the Clinton administration’s chances of negotiating a comprehensive arms control agreement–the so-called “grand bargain”–with Moscow prior to the end of the Clinton presidency. The “grand bargain” is believed to involve a deal whereby Moscow would agree to changes sought by Washington in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in exchange for Washington’s assent to even greater cuts in the Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals under a follow-up START III accord. According to the Post, Clinton administration officials are now suggesting that arms control issues will not necessarily be central to the summit meeting, and that the U.S. president will strive instead during his visit to boost Russian-U.S. ties more generally. What the administration reportedly wants most of all to avoid at this point, the Post said, is a situation in which this first summit with Putin ends badly due to Russian-U.S. differences over arms control (Washington Post, May 19).

That the discussion agenda for the June summit may go well beyond arms control was also suggested–though hardly emphasized–during Berger’s visit to Moscow. Kasyanov, for example, told reporters after his talks with the American that Russia “is ready to move ahead in all directions” on cooperation with the United States (Reuters, May 19). Ivanov made the same point more concretely, telling reporters that Berger’s talks in Moscow on May 18 had demonstrated that the two countries were capable of discussing “the entire complex of problems related to strategic stability,” as well as “prospects for economic cooperation and trade, the joint battle against terrorism and crime, cooperation between our atomic energy ministries, as well as questions related to the nonproliferation regime.” To back up his point, he told journalists that the talks with Berger had also included Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov (who handles arms control issues), Russian space agency head Yuri Koptev, acting Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov and acting Trade Minister Mikhail Fradkov (Russian agencies, May 18).

Preparations for the June 4 summit will continue this week, when U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott is scheduled to arrive in the Russian capital for several more days of talks with Russian officials. Both sides, meanwhile, are underscoring that Clinton’s summit talks with Putin next month will be only the first of four occasions in which the two leaders will meet face to face this year. Their next encounter will come in July during a meeting of the G7 countries and Russia in Japan. They will then meet in New York in September at the UN General Assembly meeting, and again in November at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

This series of high-level meetings notwithstanding, relations between Russia and the United States are likely to continue to be tested in the coming months–and not merely because of the two countries’ enduring differences over key arms control issues. Even during Berger’s stay in Moscow, for example, Moscow and Washington crossed swords yet again over Russia’s war in Chechnya. The cause of the most recent clash was a decision by Washington to grant an entry visa to the Chechen government’s foreign minister, Ilyas Akhmadov. In response, a representative of the U.S. embassy was reportedly summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on May 18–the day of Berger’s arrival–and was presented with a protest from the Russian government over the U.S. move. Russian government sources, meanwhile, were quoted as saying that Moscow regards the U.S. decision as both an “unfriendly” act and as a form of “encouragement of Chechen terrorists and bandits.”

The denunciation was a standard one for Moscow, which has reacted furiously to all welcomes which foreign governments have given to Chechen officials. What was interesting was that the public protest was apparently conveyed unofficially rather than in a statement released to the press by the Foreign Ministry. That more muted response may have been for Berger’s benefit. At the same time, however, the unofficial sources also suggested that Moscow considered the U.S. move especially significant because it comes on the “eve of the Moscow summit between Russia and the United States and [before] other important Russian-American political contacts focusing on strengthening international security and stability” (Russian agencies, May 18).

If Moscow chose during Berger’s visit to softpedal Russian-U.S. differences on this one divisive issue, the United States apparently decided to do the same on another equally difficult question. There was apparently no public mention made during Berger’s visit of the sharp criticism which Washington directed at Moscow last week over the Russian government’s earlier decision to host a visit by Yugoslav Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic (see the Monitor, May 16, 18). On May 16 the U.S. State Department ripped Moscow for the invitation to Ojdanic and criticized Russian authorities for their failure to detain the indicted war criminal. The Clinton administration, however, apparently chose not to pursue the issue during Berger’s Moscow visit, and it remains to be seen whether the Kremlin’s apparent intention to boost ties with Belgrade will emerge as a subject of contention in the leadup to, or during, the June summit meeting.