Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 36

U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright begins two days of talks with Russian leaders today in Moscow. Albright, who just completed a tour of five European cities that concluded with a brief visit to London yesterday, has arrived in Moscow with the Western alliance seemingly united on a series of fresh proposals aimed at easing Moscow’s opposition to NATO enlargement. As spelled out by Albright and other NATO and U.S. officials over the past few days, the new package will include proposals for a Russia-NATO brigade; a 17-member Russia-NATO consultative council (16 NATO members plus Russia) as part of a broader political or "charter" agreement; a meeting this spring of NATO members, prospective members, and Russia; and modifications of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty entailing significant force reductions, particularly in the Central European states likely to win the earliest invitations for NATO membership.

According to U.S. and NATO officials, the proposed political agreement, or charter, embodies the ideals of friendship and cooperation between Russia and the alliance, and would not be legally binding. The NATO-Russia Joint Council would provide a forum for discussion and consultation on issues of European security and peacekeeping, including the use of NATO forces outside the alliance’s territory and possible Russian cooperation in such operations. But NATO would reserve the right to act independently. As NATO secretary general Javier Solana observed in Brussels on February 18, "We can try for consensus. But if consensus is not achieved, NATO is free to act alone, as Russia is free to act alone." (The New York Times, Reuter, AP, Interfax, February 19)

Reaction in Moscow to news of the proposals was mixed. A Russian deputy foreign minister and a spokesman for the General Staff expressed interest, but said that NATO had not communicated the new ideas directly and that they were aware of the proposals only through press reports. Gen. Lev Rokhlin, chairman of the Duma’s Defense Committee and a member of the pro-government "Russia is Our Home" faction, dismissed the new package out of hand as an effort to dodge the main question of "Russia’s equitable membership in NATO." Aleksei Arbatov, also on the defense committee, described the proposals similarly as a "tactical gimmick" that required considerable clarification. Following a meeting in Moscow with visiting German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel yesterday, Russian defense minister Igor Rodionov said that Kinkel had offered "no new arguments in favor of NATO’s expansion" and that NATO’s enlargement could trigger a new arms race in Europe and pressure Russia politically and militarily. It was unclear whether Kinkel had communicated to Rodionov the new package of proposals. (Itar-Tass, Interfax, February 19)

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