Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 190

Unpredictable as ever, President Boris Yeltsin told the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on October 10 that Russia would sign the convention banning antipersonnel landmines. His dramatic announcement came just hours after the International Committee to Ban Landmines and its American coordinator had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The convention was drafted at an international conference in Oslo last month and is due to be opened for signature in Ottawa, Canada, in December.

Yeltsin’s declaration caught many by surprise. Russia in the past has opposed a total ban on landmines — which Russian forces used extensively in the wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya — and Moscow was only an observer and not a participating member of the Oslo conference. The president’s press service, moreover, was quick to issue a "What the President meant to say" statement, clarifying that Yeltsin was merely reaffirming Russia’s positive attitude in principle to a ban "when the necessary conditions are laid for this. Any concrete time of Russia’s joining this important international document was not in question in Strasbourg." In other words, Russia will not be signing the convention in December.

Yeltsin could well have seen the Nobel Peace Prize announcement as a good opportunity to gain some publicity at the expense of U.S. President Bill Clinton, who has said the U.S. would not sign the convention. But the military considerations that make the U.S. reluctant to do away with antipersonnel landmines completely are also valid for Russia. Gen. Lev Rokhlin, the maverick chairman of the Duma’s Defense Committee, indicated that he felt Russia needed these weapons much more than the U.S. He said he had not made up his mind on the issue, but noted that "Russian general-purpose troops are not combat-ready." Rokhlin said the issue required profound analysis and discussion, which is hardly what it got from Yeltsin in Strasbourg. (Russian media, October 10-11)

…Repeats Call for "Greater Europe."