Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 172

In retrospect, the thrust of the June military exercise and the anti-NATO chest-thumping by Russian military leaders which accompanied it looks a little misguided. This point was made soon afterward by President Boris Yeltsin, who told a gathering of the top brass on July 2 that regional conflicts–and not a large-scale attack by foreign powers–constitute the main threat to Russia’s security. Yeltsin appeared to have one eye on Russia’s troubled North Caucasus region when he made the statement (see the Monitor, July 7). Events since then have borne out the Kremlin’s concerns. The High Command’s focus on NATO and its conduct of a major military exercise–the largest in years for the cash-strapped Russian army–directed at repulsing an attack from the West seems hardly to have been the optimum preparation for what has since become a major military conflict for the Russian armed forces in Dagestan and Chechnya.

But the flight of the Russian bombers on September 17 should probably be seen in the context of the broader defiance which continues to characterize Moscow’s–and especially the Russian military command’s–posture toward the West. The two sides continue to clash over NATO’s conduct of the international peacekeeping mission in Kosovo and, of late, particularly over what Moscow charges is NATO’s unwillingness to fully disarm and disband the Kosovo Liberation Army. Simultaneously, Russia and the United States continue to butt heads over the ABM treaty and related arms control issues. That the two sides have made little or no progress in resolving their differences in that area was apparently made clear during the latest round of negotiations, held in Washington last week. A Russian diplomat suggested to journalists on September 18 that the talks had been brief and that Russia had maintained its refusal to consider any of the revisions sought by the United States in the ABM treaty (Itar-Tass, September 18).

Continued Russian prickliness was also evident in an announcement by the Foreign Ministry on September 15 indicating that Moscow is in no hurry to reopen a NATO liaison office in the Russian capital. A Foreign Ministry official said that the reopening is currently not on the agenda. The statement comes despite a week-long visit to Moscow by German Colonel Manfred Diehl which ended on September 15. Diehl, who is in charge of NATO cooperation efforts with Russia, apparently had little luck in convincing his Russian counterparts to reopen the office or to boost Russia-NATO ties in the wake of the Kosovo conflict (Itar-Tass, September 17). Moscow broke off relations with NATO following the start of the NATO air campaign in Yugoslavia in March. Since then Russian military leaders have insisted that cooperation between the two sides will be limited to the Kosovo peacekeeping mission.