Although it was devoted primarily to domestic issues (see also yesterday’s Monitor), Russian President Boris Yeltsin also used his state-of-the-nation speech yesterday to reiterate Moscow’s opposition to military strikes on Iraq and to highlight several other important foreign and security policy issues.
Yeltsin’s remarks on Iraq were noteworthy for the relative moderation of their tone — a sharp contrast to the Russian leader’s recent heavy criticism of Washington for planning air strikes on Iraq. Yeltsin’s speech also appeared to place an unexpected emphasis on Baghdad’s obligations to the world community. It seemed to admit the possibility of military strikes, albeit as a last resort and one with potentially "dangerous" consequences. Moscow has tended to mute talk of Iraqi misdeeds while accenting instead its calls for a diplomatic rather than military solution to the current crisis. Yeltsin’s formulation of Russia’s position on Iraq yesterday was unusual enough that it compelled a Foreign Ministry spokesman to tell reporters that the Kremlin’s views on a settlement of the crisis "remain unchanged." (AP, Russian agencies, February 17)
Despite the disagreement over Iraq, Yeltsin portrayed Russian-U.S. relations in positive terms. He pointed in particular to increasing trade and economic cooperation between the two countries, and to what he described as progress in advancing toward a START III strategic arms control treaty. He called on the Duma to ratify the START II treaty. (Itar-Tass, February 17)
But Yeltsin also underscored once again Russia’s opposition to NATO enlargement and particularly to any talk of NATO membership for the Baltic countries. He repeated Moscow’s warning that admission of Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania into NATO would compel Moscow to rethink its current cooperative relationship with the Western alliance. He also reemphasized Moscow’s desire that the role of the OSCE be increased in European security affairs and named the drafting of a European security charter as one of Russia’s chief diplomatic goals for 1998. (Itar-Tass, February 17) Moscow has long argued that the OSCE, and not NATO, should be the cornerstone of Europe’s security system, and Yeltsin has complained increasingly of late that the United States plays too great a role in European defense matters.
Russia Gets Serious with the WTO.