Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 227

Overshadowed by the attention given to Boris Yeltsin’s recent trip to Stockholm, NATO defense chiefs yesterday completed three days of talks with their Russian counterparts at alliance headquarters in Brussels. The December 2-3 talks constituted the first meeting of the Russia-NATO Permanent Joint Council (PJC) at the Defense Ministers level; yesterday’s meeting was the first time that the PJC had met at the level of Chiefs of Staffs. The PJC is the result of an agreement — the Russia-NATO Founding Act — signed by NATO leaders and Boris Yeltsin at a ceremony in Paris this past May. The PJC was conceived as a mechanism for giving Russia a voice — but not a veto — in NATO deliberations, and was created with a view toward easing Moscow’s discomfort with NATO’s enlargement plans.

It remains to be seen whether the Council is capable of filling that role. According to several reports, Russian General Staff chief Gen. Anatoly Kvashnin was rebuffed yesterday when he tried to turn discussion at the meeting to the subject of NATO’s plans for new military infrastructure in Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, the three countries invited to join the alliance this past summer. Gen. Klaus Naumann, who chairs NATO’s Military Committee, reportedly insisted that the PJC’s mandate does not include discussion by NATO and Russia of matters involving other sovereign states. Yesterday’s agenda had called for the Council members to discuss peacekeeping, plans for a NATO liaison mission in Moscow, and improving trust and confidence. Those talks reportedly proceeded smoothly. (AP, Itar-Tass, December 4)

The December 2-3 meeting of NATO defense ministers was to some extent dominated by Boris Yeltsin’s announcement in Stockholm of two Russian defense initiatives, one involving cuts in the country’s nuclear arsenal and the other in its conventional forces. (See Monitor, December 3-4) Russian defense minister Marshal Igor Sergeev used the Brussels talks to elaborate on the Russian military reform plans that underlay Yeltsin’s announcement on conventional force reductions. He also reassured the NATO ministers about the security of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. During the talks Sergeev also made clear Russia’s intention to continue its participation in the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia should the alliance decide to continue the operation following the expiration of its mandate in June.

Discussion of the Bosnia peacekeeping operation was part of a broader agenda during the December 2-3 meeting that also included coordination of NATO-Russia disaster relief plans, enhancement of security at nuclear arsenals, and other measures aimed at confidence building. The ministers agreed, among other things, to continue work on plans for a series of joint military exercises, organized under the alliance’s Partnership for Peace Program, that are to take place over the next two years. In addition, Sergeev and U.S. defense secretary William Cohen signed a separate, bilateral agreement that will increase military exchanges between the two countries in 1998. The accord calls for Cohen and Sergeev to exchange visits to Moscow and Washington in 1998, and also strengthens ties between the U.S. National Defense University in Washington and Russia’s General Staff Academy. (Reuter, The Washington Post, Russian agencies, December 3) In another bilateral accord, Sergeev and British secretary of state for defense George Robertson agreed on a far-reaching program of cooperation between the navies of the two countries. The program builds upon understandings reached during Robertson’s visit to Moscow last month. (RIA, December 3)

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