Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 19

The diplomatic drama over Iraq has in recent days taken place amid — and been a major topic of discussion at — a series of meetings between Russian and European leaders. The occasion for many of these contacts was the inaugural meeting, for foreign ministers, of the Russia-EU Cooperation Council held in Brussels on January 26-27. The council — intended to promote high-level exchanges on a wide array of political, economic, and trade issues — is the product of the Russian-EU Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation that entered into force last December.

The Brussels meeting produced few concrete results on a series of nettlesome Russian-EU trade disagreements, though the participants did adopt a joint program for 1998. Primakov, who expressed cautious support for the EU’s planned expansion, suggested that discussions with his European counterparts on European security, the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia had been fruitful. His schedule included talks with German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel, Italian foreign minister Lamberto Dini, and British foreign secretary Robin Cook. Primakov then traveled on to Paris, where he met with French president Jacques Chirac and Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine. (Russian agencies, January 26-27)

In addition to sponsoring Primakov’s travels, Russian president Boris Yeltsin hosted a visit by the prime minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, on January 27. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev also began a three-day visit to Germany on January 28.

Discussions during these many high-level meetings have touched on a wide variety of both bilateral and international issues. Russian leaders have tended, however, to highlight what they depict as the underlying theme in this flurry of diplomatic activity–a growing harmony of interests between Russia and Europe. This interpretation dovetails with Moscow’s broader effort to emphasize common interests shared by Europe and Russia while raising questions about the influential role played by the United States on the European continent. Yeltsin first acted on this strategy last September, when he publicly called for a reduced U.S. presence in Europe and urged Europeans to manage their own security. Yeltsin elaborated on these themes less than a month later. In the runup to the October 9-10 meeting of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, he told journalists that "we don’t need any ‘uncle’ from outside; we in Europe are ourselves capable of uniting in a serious manner." (See Monitor, September 19, October 6, 1997)

Since that time, Moscow has continued its efforts to exploit tensions in the Western alliance. Differences between the United States and its European allies on a host of issues — including policy toward Iran, U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba and NATO reform and enlargement — have provided Russian diplomats ample opportunity. The current crisis in Iraq is another instance. For economic and political reasons, Russia and France both harbor sympathies toward Baghdad. Meanwhile, many others in Europe remain unenthusiastic about the prospect of U.S. military strikes on Iraq. Should the authorities in Baghdad remain defiant and Washington force the issue, it seems likely that cracks in the alliance will continue to deepen.

Grozny Accuses pro-Moscow Chechen of Red Cross Murders.