Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 80

Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on April 21 restated Moscow’s adamant opposition to NATO enlargement, but, following talks with Czech leaders in Prague, suggested that the Kremlin would not let differences on that issue impede bilateral trade or broader political relations. During a press conference after a meeting with Czech prime minister Vaclav Klaus, Chernomyrdin announced that Boris Yeltsin does intend to sign a NATO-Russian political agreement on May 27, as the Russian president had declared during his recent visit to Germany. But Chernomyrdin added that, even in the event of the signing, Russia would continue "to object to enlarging the [NATO] alliance and moving its military infrastructure, especially nuclear forces, closer to our border." Klaus told reporters that he and Chernomyrdin had not discussed the NATO issue, but had only presented their respective positions.

Despite the dissonance on NATO, both men declared themselves satisfied with their talks, and they announced the signing of two intergovernmental agreements. The first involved an agreement on the repayment by Moscow of the former Soviet Union’s debt — some $3.5 billion. The two sides also signed an accord on cooperation between their respective Interior Ministries in the fight against organized crime, terrorism, and drug-trafficking. In addition, Klaus and Chernomyrdin instructed their national gas companies to draft a contract that will extend a current agreement, set to expire next year, on Russian gas supplies to the Czech Republic. Prague recently signed a long term contract to buy gas from Norway in an effort to diversify its suppliers. (Itar-Tass, NTV, ORT, April 21; Interfax, April 21-22)

Moscow appears to have struggled in recent months over whether to increase political and economic pressure on the Central European countries seeking NATO membership. In late January the Kremlin appeared to be moving toward a policy of intimidation when a deputy foreign minister suggested publicly that accession by countries of that region to NATO could harm their broader relations with Moscow. That same hard-edged message was conveyed to the Czech Republic when Russia’s ambassador warned on January 24 that Prague’s entry into NATO could lead to a deterioration of Russian-Czech trade relations and would also likely have an adverse impact on their broader bilateral ties. (See Monitor, January 28) Chernomyrdin’s latest remarks suggest that Moscow has decided, at least for the moment, to offer the carrot rather than brandish the stick.

Russia Declines to Join EU Actions Against Iran.