Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 80

Although not represented physically, Russia remained very much a presence during the three days of discussions and ceremonies which constituted this past weekend’s historic NATO summit meeting in Washington. The hopes of alliance leaders to maintain friendly relations with Moscow both generally and, more specifically, in resolving the current Kosovo crisis were evident in the final summit communique. The document contained a passage reaffirming NATO’s commitment to the NATO-Russia Founding Act–the 1997 partnership agreement which formalized cooperation between Moscow and the alliance. The communique also pointed to what it said were common goals of NATO and Russia regarding the crisis in the Balkans, and expressed the alliance’s determination to build on those areas of agreement in seeking a resolution of the crisis. The appeal for continued NATO-Russian cooperation was apparently also conveyed during a telephone conversation yesterday between U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

But neither the rhetoric out of Washington nor the NATO communique could hide continuing deep divisions between Moscow and the alliance. Indeed, the summit itself only underscored them. The final communique, for example, referred to the approval of an updated NATO Strategic Concept. Moscow has harshly criticized elements of that concept, particularly those which would broaden NATO’s military mission to include out-of-territory operations. The communique also reaffirmed NATO’s commitment to further enlargement. Moscow has had difficulty reconciling itself even to the membership of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic–the first wave of new member states–and has argued vehemently against any further expansion. In particular, it has opposed NATO membership for former Soviet states, and has warned that movement in this direction would cause Moscow to rethink its relationship with the alliance.

If that were not enough, this weekend’s events in Washington appeared also to bring the West closer to imposing some sort of oil embargo on Belgrade. Russia is Yugoslavia’s main oil supplier, and Moscow made it clear that it would neither support such measures nor comply with possible efforts by NATO to enforce them. Addressing the issue, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was quoted on April 24 as saying that “there are only nineteen member countries in NATO, and NATO’s decisions to extend only to those countries which are a part of the alliance.” He added that “according to international law, sanctions or embargoes can be imposed only by the UN Security Council” (International agencies, April 23-25; Washington Post, April 25). Russia is a permanent member of the council and would undoubtedly veto any resolution calling for an oil embargo against Belgrade.