Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who departed Moscow today on an official visit to the U.S., will reportedly warn the Clinton Administration that NATO’s enlargement plans could cause a backlash in Russia that will strengthen hard-line forces while undermining those — like President Boris Yeltsin’s government — committed to reform. In a long interview given to the Washington Post prior to his departure, Chernomyrdin restated Russia’s well-known objections to NATO’s expansion plans, and the Kremlin’s now familiar dismissals of Western justifications for it. He also reiterated Moscow’s demand that any political agreement reached by Russia and NATO must be politically binding and subject to ratification by its signatories.
But Chernomyrdin appeared to emphasize in this interview not the strategic threat that many in Moscow allege an expanded NATO would pose to Russia, but the undesirable — and potentially calamitous — impact that he claims enlargement could have on Russia’s domestic political situation. According to Chernomyrdin, the consummation of NATO’s expansion plans would leave Russia’s current government vulnerable to charges of having failed to protect the country’s national interests. The result, he intimated, would be a strengthening of extremist political forces like those of ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and a decision by Moscow to rearm itself. "The [defense] production facilities are there in brand new condition, they are waiting," Chernomyrdin reportedly warned. "This is how the employment problem will be resolved… The tanks will be rolling out, and the planes. Do we need this?" (The Washington Post, February 4)
Against the background of Boris Yeltsin’s failing health, such arguments are likely to resonate in some Western capitals. But warnings of an imminent takeover by extremist forces have now been sounded by the Kremlin for more than three years, and their power to frighten has been blunted. This process has been greatly abetted, moreover, by the Yeltsin government’s own adoption of much of the hard-line opposition’s bellicose rhetoric, particularly with regard to Russia’s alleged right to dominate the territory of the former Soviet Union. Indeed, it is this very transformation of Russia’s political and economic reformers into security policy "hawks" that has tended to intensify the efforts of many Eastern European elites–and, increasingly, their counterparts throughout the former Soviet Union — to seek membership in the Western alliance while spurning Moscow.
…As Moscow Elites Line Up to Criticize the Western Alliance.