Russia’s military and political leaderships have in recent days continued their habit of speaking in several voices on NATO enlargement. Following talks with his Slovak counterpart in the Russian capital on November 23, Russian defense minister Igor Rodionov declared that Moscow had not "softened" its position on the issue and that he personally remained opposed to enlargement. (Itar-Tass, November 23) But that view appeared to contradict, in spirit at least, remarks made by Rodionov less than a week earlier following talks with British defense minister Michael Portillo. Rodionov strongly suggested then that he had been persuaded by Portillo that NATO no longer constitutes a military threat to Russia. (Reuter, November 19)
Rodionov’s remarks following the November 19 Portillo meeting had been described by Izvestiya as yet another breach in Moscow’s diplomatic effort to oppose NATO enlargement and as a confirmation that Russia’s political elite is no longer unified on the issue. The newspaper observed further that the nation’s Foreign and Defense Ministries appeared to have exchanged roles on the issue, with Russia’s diplomats emerging as hawks and working with determination to dispel the perception that Moscow has in any way resigned itself to NATO’s plans. (Izvestiya, November 21) Indeed, Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov reportedly made precisely this point during his own meeting with Portillo on November 20. According to a foreign ministry spokesman, Primakov emphasized that there had been no "erosion" in Russia’s opposition to enlargement. He was reported also to have admonished Portillo that "those who initiate this [enlargement] process will take upon themselves responsibility for the appearance of new lines of division in Europe [and] for an inevitable worsening of the international climate." (Interfax, November 21)
Former Russian Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed had taken an unexpectedly accommodating stance toward NATO and its enlargement plans during and after his visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels in early October. (See Monitor, October 8-10) Following Lebed’s ouster on October 17, his successor, Ivan Rybkin, emerged as the most outspoken proponent of a more flexible policy toward NATO, calling for Russia to seek membership in the Western alliance. Rybkin’s original articulation of that proposal provoked a sharp rebuke from Primakov, but the new Security Council secretary has persisted in his views. (See Monitor, November 4, 13) Rodionov did not prove so hardy. His criticism of NATO on November 23 appears to have been a response to signs of displeasure from the Foreign Ministry that followed his friendly meeting with Portillo.
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