Moscow’s public debate on NATO enlargement has taken an unexpected turn in recent days, as sharpened criticism aimed at the alliance by Kremlin spokesmen has been met with counter charges that the anti-NATO "hysteria" currently engulfing Russia is motivated more by political than by national interests. Manifestations of dissatisfaction with the Kremlin’s hard-line opposition to NATO enlargement were evident at a meeting of reformist and center-right parties and movements convened in Moscow on February 11. The group, which included Russia’s Democratic Choice, Democratic Russia, the Peasant party, and others, failed to adopt a statement on NATO enlargement as had been expected. But participants charged that Russian-NATO relations are being used for propaganda purposes with the object of evoking Cold War passions. And although some at the meeting embraced the Kremlin’s call for a NATO pledge not to station troops or to deploy nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe, that demand was made in a spirit of cooperation and a belief that NATO and Russia could reach an agreement on enlargement that would reflect a "reasonable compromise." In that same spirit, former Russian prime minister Yegor Gaidar asserted that NATO "poses no military threat to Russia," but advised that NATO would be wise to offer membership to Moscow. (Itar-Tass, RTR, February 11)
Similar but stronger sentiments were expressed by Duma deputies Sergei Kovalev and Konstantin Borovoi, who, along with Arkady Murashev, chairman of the Center for Liberal Conservative Policy, argued at a news conference on February 11 that NATO enlargement is actually in Russia’s best interests. "The nearer NATO is to our borders, the calmer life will be for us and our families," Murashev was quoted as saying. Kovalev, one of Russia’s foremost human rights activists, lamented the dominance in Russia’s public life of bellicose, nationalist rhetoric, and charged that those in power are trying to wrest the banner of patriotism away from the Communists. He bemoaned the fact that many Russian reformers feel compelled to speak in the same tones, and said he is confident that NATO poses no threat to Russia. (NTV, February 11; Kommersant-daily, February 12)
Opposition to the Kremlin’s official policy of intransigence on NATO enlargement has been virtually unheard of in Russia over the past few months, and the recent statements by these reform-minded political figures will probably have little impact on the country’s policies. They may nevertheless reflect a growing belief among some in the country’s political elite that Moscow’s official bellicosity on NATO enlargement and related issues may, as Kovalev suggested, be a product primarily of domestic political considerations. A Russian political commentator took that view on February 11 when she wrote that "it is obvious that Russia’s protest against NATO expansion is simply a way to solve some topical domestic problems… [including] Yeltsin’s incapacity, the timing of the next presidential election, and Yeltsin’s successor." (Nezavisimaya gazeta, February 11)
… As Kremlin Sharpens its Invective.