Talks between Russian and Western leaders on Moscow’s future relations with NATO continued in several different forums yesterday. The most high-profile exchange took place in Belgium, where Russian security chief Aleksandr Lebed was given a tour of NATO’s SHAPE headquarters at Mons, near Brussels, and met with a number of Western leaders. That group included NATO’s supreme commander in Europe, U.S. Gen. George Joulwan, the Secretary-General of the Western European Union, Jose Cutileiro, and Belgian defense minister Jean-Paul Poncelet. In remarks to reporters that must have been pleasing to his various hosts — and that represented a reversal of Lebed’s recent criticisms of NATO — the retired general described the West as "civilized" and said that Moscow would be able to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement with it on NATO enlargement. The real threat to Russia’s security comes from the South, Lebed added. The Russian Security Council secretary also suggested that Moscow had mistakenly failed to take advantage of opportunities presented by NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, and said that he would work to broaden Russia’s participation in that program. Russia joined the PfP last year but has done little since then to activate joint actions envisioned in the program. (Itar-Tass, Reuter, October 8)
But Lebed’s latest about-face on NATO was not reflected in Moscow. Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov said yesterday after talks with his French counterpart that although NATO "can and must play an important role in European Security," it should not be the linchpin of a future European security system or fulfill all its key functions. Primakov restated Moscow’s opposition to any political agreement between Russia and NATO that is merely "declaratory" — i.e., that does not give Moscow a direct voice in alliance decisions affecting European security. He also referred again to Moscow’s bitterness over what it alleges is the failure of Western leaders to honor earlier promises not to extend NATO eastward in the wake of Germany’s reunification. Finally, Primakov intimated that Moscow and Paris had found some common ground on the need to strengthen the role of the OSCE, which has long been a Russian goal. (Itar-Tass, Interfax, October 8)
Also in Moscow yesterday, an unnamed Defense Ministry source said that the Russian side is busily preparing for an upcoming visit by U.S. defense secretary William Perry. The agenda for talks between Perry and his Russian counterpart, Army Gen. Igor Rodionov, would include Bosnia and the ABM Treaty, the source said, and also European and Russian-U.S. security issues. The source indicated that NATO enlargement would likely be the most difficult issue that the two men would tackle, and that Rodionov would stick to the position that a political or "charter" agreement between Russia and the alliance should be signed before enlargement proceeds. (Interfax, October 8) NATO has rejected that position and insisted that three goals — NATO internal reform, the conclusion of an agreement with Russia, and enlargement — would all be pursued concurrently.
Russian Voters Favor Pragmatists.