A fourth round of talks in Moscow yesterday between NATO secretary general Javier Solana and Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov apparently did little to resolve differences remaining between the two sides in their efforts to draft a NATO-Russian political agreement. As has been the case after previous meetings, neither side had much to say publicly about the talks. A brief Russian Foreign Ministry statement observed only that while "positions on some issues became closer… difficult questions remain which must be resolved to pave the way for a mutually acceptable document" setting out relations between Russia and the alliance. It added that consultations will continue. (Reuter, Interfax, April 15)
Yesterday’s apparent impasse splashes some cold water on hopes that the signing of the agreement might be imminent. Those hopes have been raised by a series of public statements from Russian leaders — beginning with Boris Yeltsin during the Helsinki Summit last month — suggesting that Russia has conceded round one of the NATO enlargement battle and would like to conclude a political agreement with the alliance prior to NATO’s July summit in Madrid. Indeed, during his visit to France on April 8-9 Primakov signaled the Kremlin’s interest in signing the agreement during a ceremony in Paris on May 27. (See Monitor, April 10)
But Western diplomats were reportedly left disappointed by the tough demands laid down by Primakov during closed door negotiations in Paris. They suggested that the Russian foreign minister had effectively asked NATO to rule out any future military reinforcement of new member states, a formulation that the diplomats described as a step back from the Kremlin’s stance at the Helsinki meeting. (Reuter, April 15) Evidence of a hardening of Moscow’s position has also been evident elsewhere in recent days. During talks just held in Washington, Russian deputy foreign minister Georgy Mamedov said that the "main problem" involved in reconciling Russia to NATO enlargement remains to be solved: "NATO has not yet changed enough to make us feel safe if the military structures of the Alliance move closer to our borders." Following a meeting between Primakov and Russian president Boris Yeltsin that preceded the talks with Solana, Yeltsin press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky also complained that some NATO states are "not showing enough desire to seek a compromise." (Itar-Tass, Interfax, April 15) Moscow’s less accommodating tone seems designed to extract more concessions from the alliance.
Yeltsin Replaces Another Leading Government Official.