Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 19

Russia’s deputy foreign minister for Eastern and Central European affairs intimated yesterday that accession by countries of that region to membership in NATO could harm their broader relations with Moscow. According to Aleksandr Avdeev, the issue of NATO enlargement is raising tensions not only in Russia’s diplomatic dialogue with the Western initiators of enlargement, but also in Moscow’s relations "with all other countries in Europe." Avdeev suggested, moreover, that Moscow’s displeasure is not limited only to NATO enlargement, but extends to the possible entry of Eastern and Central European countries into the European Union as well. The Russian diplomat said that a harmonizing of trade relations is underway between Western and Eastern Europe, and that this process is already beginning to complicate Russia’s own trade relations with Europe as a whole. Avdeev did not rule out the possibility that this trend could worsen over the coming year, and he warned that elements of "discrimination" aimed at Russia could compel Moscow to rethink its economic relations with Europe. (Interfax, January 27)

Formerly Russian ambassador to Bulgaria, Avdeev was installed in his current post in November of last year. His appointment came amid a flurry of personnel changes in the Foreign Ministry that are believed to have reflected Foreign Minister Yevgeni Primakov’s efforts to place his own people in key posts. Given that issues of integration between Eastern and Western Europe were clearly on the horizon at that time, it is likely that Avdeev was appointed precisely to oversee Russian policy toward Eastern Europe during what Moscow foresaw would be a difficult period. His remarks yesterday may thus signal a new aggressiveness vis-a-vis Eastern Europe in Russia’s approach to the NATO enlargement issue, and possibly an attempt to link it to EU accession. Previously Moscow had intimated that it would prefer to see Eastern European countries integrate economically — rather than militarily — with Western Europe. Moscow may also be angling to win trade concessions from the West in the hard bargaining now taking place on NATO enlargement.

Moscow Warns Prague that Enlargement Could Carry Repercussions.