Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov on March 29 repeated Moscow’s contention that NATO enlargement could be the West’s "biggest mistake since the end of the Cold War." But, following talks with German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel and other officials in Bonn, Primakov also allowed that the political agreement now being negotiated by Moscow and NATO could "neutralize possible negative consequences for us [Russia] that would result from NATO expansion." Primakov’s formulation — that Moscow continues adamantly to oppose enlargement but is willing to negotiate an agreement with the West that would minimize its consequences — reflects the dual but nevertheless more accommodating strategy adopted by Boris Yeltsin during and since the U.S.-Russian summit in Helsinki.
Primakov also restated Moscow’s hope that Russia and NATO are able to conclude the agreement before the Western alliance’s July summit in Madrid, but he warned that Moscow would not sign an unsatisfactory agreement and said that a number of serious differences still separate the two sides. Primakov pointed specifically to Moscow’s insistence on assurances that NATO nuclear weapons not be deployed in new member-states, saying that the two sides are now negotiating "how to formalize such a provision." Issues related to the possible extension of NATO’s military "infrastructure" to Eastern Europe also top Moscow’s list of concerns, Primakov said.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, moved yesterday to dampen speculation that Boris Yeltsin will attend NATO’s July summit in Madrid, but admitted that the Russian president may be planning a May visit to Paris for a separate NATO-Russian meeting at which the two parties will sign the political agreement. The Kremlin was responding to a March 30 Itar-Tass report said to have been based on the comments of a well-informed government source.
The French had irritated Washington and several NATO allies when Paris offered in early February to host a "five power" summit — bringing together France, Britain, Germany, the U.S., and Russia — to discuss European security issues. (See Monitor, February 7) Russian experts suggested yesterday that the proposed May meeting may be aimed at helping the French "save face." On the subject of NATO’s July summit, Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said the question of Yeltsin attending "has not arisen and is hardly likely to arise." (Interfax, Itar-Tass, March 31) Russian diplomats had stated emphatically during a press briefing on March 26 that Kremlin leaders will not attend the Madrid meeting. (Interfax, March 26)
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