Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 12

On the diplomatic front, meanwhile, two weeks of high-level talks between and among Russian, European and American leaders served more than anything else over the past fortnight to highlight anew deep differences over key arms control issues. The various talks, which included long-anticipated summit meetings between Russian and European Union leaders and between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Bill Clinton, marked the real entry onto the world stage of the recently inaugurated Russian president. The early returns from these meetings suggest that the Kremlin will continue its opposition to U.S. efforts to amend the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and, further, that it intends to step up activities aimed at exploiting differences on this same issue between Washington and its European allies. Western leaders, for their part, sought during the latest meetings with Putin to continue their general push for improved relations between Russia and the West. In this regard, the talks between Russian and both European and U.S. leaders were notable for the lack of attention paid by the West to the war in Chechnya and to broader concerns over human rights issues that have been raised by the recent actions of Russia’s new president.

The Russian-EU summit meeting, held in Moscow on May 29, gave European leaders a chance to size up Putin and to test whether his declared commitment to closer relations with Europe will be backed up with the sorts of concrete policy choices that European leaders have urged on Moscow. In the run-up to the summit, EU leaders emphasized that they intended to highlight three key areas in their talks with Moscow: (1) the prospects for Russian economic reform; (2) the management of relations between Russia and Europe in light of the EU’s expected future expansion onto the territory of the former Soviet Union; and (3) Russian responsiveness to European concerns over Moscow’s bloody war in the Caucasus.

Despite the long build-up to the summit meeting and lots of friendly rhetoric at its conclusion, reports of the event provided little reason to think that significant progress had been made in any of these issue areas. European leaders appeared to emphasize economic and trade issues over those pertaining to human rights, but complaints that Moscow still had to do more to attract foreign investment suggested that EU leaders were not entirely satisfied by what they had heard from Putin and recently named Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov regarding the new Russian government’s economic program. On the issue of Chechnya EU leaders did appear to win several verbal concessions from Putin. They included Russian pledges both to punish Russian military personnel found guilty of committing atrocities in Chechnya and to increase access for international media and human rights groups in the Caucasus. But doubt was cast on the sincerity of those pledges by Putin’s continued hard line regarding the prolongation of military operations in Chechnya and by the fact that the Kremlin has done little to fulfill the terms of similar commitments offered previously to the West.

While arms control issues were apparently not emphasized during the Russian-EU talks, they did receive top billing during both the Russian-U.S. summit that followed on June 3-4, and in a subsequent meeting between Putin and Italian leaders on June 5-6. Indeed, U.S. efforts to amend the ABM treaty and to proceed with the deployment of a limited national missile defense system also figured prominently in talks between Clinton and European leaders that preceded the U.S. president’s arrival in Moscow, and in consultations between Russian and U.S. officials that took place on the eve of the Clinton-Putin summit.

In the weeks leading up to the Moscow summit meeting it became increasingly clear that, during Clinton’s presidency at least, there would be no “grand bargain” struck between Russia and the United States. That is, U.S. officials appeared to acknowledge that Moscow had proved unwilling to approve the U.S.-sought changes to the ABM treaty in exchange for a commitment from Washington to agree to the deeper cuts in strategic nuclear arsenals sought by Russia. And despite some eleventh-hour hints from the U.S. that a breakthrough on such issues might be in the offing during the Clinton-Putin talks, the results of the summit meeting bore out these lowered expectations. As expected, Russia and the United States did conclude two noteworthy agreements: one on the destruction of weapons-grade plutonium and another on the establishment of a joint Russian-U.S. missile attack early warning center in Moscow. But there was no discernible movement on the key ABM issue, and no sense of significant movement forward on related strategic arms control issues.

Putin and Clinton did, however, approve a joint statement containing what appeared to be a Russian admission that the so-called “rogue states”–countries such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq–do indeed represent a potential missile threat to the West and Russia, as the United States has long contended. But whether that statement marked a shift in Russia’s view toward the missile defense issue remained unclear. During a visit to Italy on June 5, moreover, Putin offered a vague proposal calling for Russia, Europe, NATO and the United States to cooperate in the development of a European missile defense system. But that proposal raised more questions than it answered, and was seen by some as primarily an effort by Moscow to set Europe against the United States on the issue of arms control. With a Putin visit to Germany looming, and increasing evidence of European dissatisfaction over Washington’s arms control posture, the issue of missile defense and the ABM treaty seemed certain to remain an important wild card in relations between and among Russia, the EU and the United States.

“The Fortnight in Review” is prepared by senior analysts Jonas Bernstein (Russia), Stephen Foye (Security and Foreign Policy), and Vladimir Socor (Non-Russian republics). Editor, Stephen Foye. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at pubs@jamestown.org, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4526 43rd Street NW, Washington, DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of “The Fortnight in Review” is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation