Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 190

In the immediate aftermath of NATO’s air war against Yugoslavia, there were signs that Moscow intended to mend its relations with the West. That at least seemed to be the Kremlin’s aim during a meeting of the Russian and U.S. presidents in Cologne in June, and again during a brief visit by then Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin to Washington in late July. Although discussions held during those meetings appeared to be a matter more of form than substance, they appeared at least to be pointing the two sides in a positive direction.

But whatever small momentum was garnered during that period appears more recently to have dissipated. This has been evident in a number of areas, including continued tensions between Russia and the West over Kosovo, between Moscow and both Washington and London over Iraq, and between Russia and the United States over the recent banking scandal as well as a host of arms control issues. Russia’s war in the Caucasus and the increasing jingoism in Moscow are only the latest irritants.

That Russia remains uninterested in any quick reconciliation with NATO, and that Russian-U.S. differences on key arms control issues are unlikely to be surmounted any time soon, was suggested in a recent interview by Russia’s foreign minister and in comments by Russian diplomats. In the interview, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov continued to describe NATO as an unwelcome relic of the Cold War and an organization which Moscow deals with only because it has little choice. He also continued to blame NATO for having ruptured relations with Russia when it launched the air strikes on Yugoslavia. He said that NATO-Russian relations might finally move forward at a meeting next month of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, but implied that increased cooperation would take place only on Russia’s terms.

Russian Foreign Ministry officials were more adamant on arms control issues. They suggested that Russian diplomats will push hard for lawmakers to ratify the START II treaty before the December parliamentary elections. That is a move eagerly sought by Washington, but the manner in which the Foreign Ministry will apparently try to sell the treaty may not be. According to the officials, the Foreign Ministry will argue that START II ratification would greatly strengthen Russia’s international standing as a proponent of nuclear disarmament. That, in turn, they said, will boost Moscow’s efforts to present U.S. ballistic missile defense plans–and Washington’s challenges to the ABM treaty–as a threat to international peace and to global disarmament. Russian ratification of START II, the diplomats were quoted as saying, “could seriously undermine the position of those in the USA who favor a reexamination of the ABM treaty with the goal of starting deployment of a national ballistic missile defense system.”

The diplomats also underlined their belief that Russia has by no means been defeated yet in the negotiations with Washington over the ABM treaty. They suggested that Moscow would continue to push for a UN General Assembly resolution which would condemn any US withdrawal from the ABM treaty as a threat to strategic stability. In that same vein, Ivanov intimated that Moscow hopes also to make the United States pay diplomatically for what will be presented as Washington’s destruction of the START I and START II accords–and of strategic arms control in general (Nezavisimaya gazeta, Russian agencies, October 12). Recent political commentary out of European capitals–with regard to Washington’s repudiation both of the ABM accord and of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty–suggest that Moscow could score some significant diplomatic gains on these issues.