Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 14

The first round of formal negotiations between NATO and Russia on a much discussed political agreement — aimed at easing Moscow’s opposition to NATO’s planned enlargement — came to a quiet close in Moscow yesterday. Neither NATO secretary-general Javier Solana nor Russian foreign minister Yevgeni Primakov, the two principles in yesterday’s talks, briefed the press afterward, and nearly identical statements released by Russia’s Foreign Ministry and NATO headquarters said only that differences remained and that the negotiations would continue. The talks themselves were closed to the press and were held at an undisclosed state guest house on the outskirts of Moscow.

But Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky signaled after the talks that Moscow had taken its expected hard line. "Russia’s position [on NATO enlargement] is well known and remains unchanged," he told reporters. Yastrzhembsky also said that Moscow expects subsequent negotiations with NATO to focus on substantive issues and that Moscow no longer believes in "sweet promises" from the West that are not backed up by specific obligations. Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin highlighted Moscow’s apparently tough stance in the negotiations when his press secretary told reporters that Chernomyrdin had no time to meet with Solana and that the two had "nothing to discuss. (Itar-Tass, Interfax, January 20)

Yastrzhemsky’s reference to "sweet promises" presumably referred especially to one of several issues likely to be of crucial importance to the ultimate success of the Russia-NATO talks: the extent to which Russia will be integrated into NATO’s decision-making mechanisms. Russian commentators have long complained that NATO’s enlargement plans violate informal promises extended to Moscow after it acquiesced to German unification. They now claim to be suspicious of any sort of NATO-Russian "charter" agreement that would be declaratory rather than a formal agreement legally defining relations between the two. And Russian leaders specifically want those formal relations to confer upon Moscow a concrete role in NATO decision-making — a role that will likely exceed what the alliance is prepared to grant.

Russia’s General Staff, finally, chimed in yesterday with a call for the Kremlin to maintain its intransigence on the issue of NATO’s expansion. The generals warned that Moscow’s participation both in the NATO Partnership for Peace program and in peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia could be jeopardized if enlargement proceeds. They emphasized that they were expressing only their personal opinions. (Interfax, January 20)

… As Moscow Again Flashes its China Card.