Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 10

Although Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov endured (and rebuffed) more criticism from Washington about Moscow’s war in Chechnya, the Russian diplomat’s April 24-28 trip to the United States appeared to be dominated instead by discussion of key strategic arms control issues. The talks produced no evidence of any narrowing of differences in this area, however. Indeed, while Ivanov did at times adopt a more conciliatory pose, he was clearly most focused on pressing Russian claims that the United States has become an obstacle to further international arms control efforts. He likewise insisted that Moscow would continue to oppose U.S. efforts to rewrite the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in order to move forward with the deployment of a limited national missile defense system.

Ivanov’s attacks on U.S. arms policy, which he voiced not only in Washington but also at the review conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in New York on April 25, were bolstered by the Russian parliament’s recent approval of both the START II and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaties. Those actions by Russian lawmakers–in combination with the election of the younger and more energetic Putin–appear to have reinvigorated Russian diplomacy and strengthened Moscow’s claim to be at the forefront of international efforts to limit strategic armaments. Moscow hopes to use this enhanced status both to exploit worldwide dissatisfaction with a host of U.S. foreign and security policies, and simultaneously to deflect attention from Russia’s own bloody war in the Caucasus.

The most noteworthy outcome of Ivanov’s visit may have been that the two countries managed to begin finalizing an agenda for President Bill Clinton’s scheduled June 4-5 visit to Moscow. But there seemed little hope that any sort of significant arms control breakthrough would occur on that occasion or, in the unlikely event that it did, that a Russian-U.S. accord would win support in the U.S. Congress.