Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 58

Russian Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov called it a "crushing defeat" for Moscow and — referring to the humiliating conditions imposed upon Germany by the treaty ending World War I — a "Russian Versailles." U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright, conversely, enthused that "President Clinton made history in Helsinki." (Reuter, March 22) The reality of the March 20-21 Russian-U.S. summit was something less spectacular than either of those assessments would suggest. Yet, despite low expectations and a pre-summit deepening of tensions, the twelfth meeting between Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton was noteworthy for what it did manage to accomplish: five accords and a conciliatory atmosphere that could ease relations between Russia and the West, facilitate NATO’s expansion plans without isolating Moscow, advance strategic arms control, and increase the flow of Western investment into Russia.

The agreements concluded by the two presidents took the form of joint statements on European security, on the scope of future nuclear arms reductions, on anti-missile defense, and on chemical weapons. A Russian-U.S. "economic initiative" was also adopted. As was expected, the two sides failed to resolve their differences on NATO enlargement, and the joint statement on European security contained a blunt declaration by Yeltsin that enlargement "will lead to a potentially threatening buildup of permanently stationed combat forces of NATO near to Russia." But the two sides chose "to minimize the potential consequences of these differences" by speeding negotiations on a Russian-NATO political agreement. That process is likely to be facilitated by Yeltsin’s decision to drop Moscow’s earlier insistence that the Russian-NATO agreement be a legally binding document requiring ratification by the 16 NATO legislatures. Yeltsin indicated that he expects the agreement to be ready before NATO’s July summit meeting in Madrid. (The New York Times, March 22; Russian and Western news agencies, March 21-22)

Clinton Administration officials were clearly buoyed by the results of the summit talks and by Yeltsin’s decision to replace bluster with pragmatism and conciliation — an apparent vindication of the Administration’s faith in the personal relationship between the two presidents. The summit’s successes nevertheless remain highly tenuous. The perception that he gave more than he got has already subjected Yeltsin to intense criticism at home, and the Russian president has a long history of bending to such pressures. The events of recent weeks have also underscored once again the extraordinary extent to which political will and action in Moscow are dependent upon Yeltsin’s own vitality. The Russian president’s recently improved health notwithstanding, that is a sobering consideration given that the road to NATO’s enlargement remains a long and arduous one.

Arms Control at the Summit.