Those Cold War-style tensions were in evidence during a three-day visit to Moscow by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott which ended on December 23. The visit suggested that neither the election of a new Russian parliament nor the dawning of a new millennium was having any immediate positive impact on Russia’s troubled relations with the West. There had been some speculation on the eve of Talbott’s visit that the strong election showing by Russian centrists might have something of a salutary effect on Moscow’s relations with the United States. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s call just prior to Talbott’s arrival for the Russian parliament to ratify the START II strategic arms reduction treaty was seen by some as evidence of just that tendency. But Talbott’s three-day visit produced no discernible progress on any of the key issues now separating Moscow from Washington. The visit resulted, moreover, in yet another eruption of Russian criticism over both U.S. efforts to amend the ABM treaty and Washington’s call for Moscow to moderate its military policies in Chechnya.
Talbott had arrived in the Russian capital with three major goals apparently in mind: to renew Russian-U.S. arms control negotiations and thereby Washington’s efforts to win Russian agreement to changes in the 1972 ABM treaty, to convey to the Russian government the Clinton administration’s continuing concerns over Russia’s bloody war in the Caucasus, and to assess the political climate in Moscow in the wake of the December 19 parliamentary elections. It is not clear what conclusions Talbott could have drawn on the last point (given Yeltsin’s December 31 political bombshell), but his efforts in the first two cases apparently went for naught. The U.S. deputy secretary of state admitted himself at the close of his consultations that “substantial differences, indeed disagreements” continue to divide the two countries. Russian sources summed up the talks in much the same way. A Foreign Ministry statement reiterated that the Russian side had displayed no new interest in agreeing to U.S. proposals relative to the ABM accord. A host of Russian officials made it clear that some sharp criticism of Russia’s Chechnya campaign by Talbott was unwelcome, as were Western efforts more generally to pressure Moscow into easing back on its military assault in the region.
It was not merely that these key disagreements persist between Russia and the United States, however, but rather the continued bellicosity in Moscow’s tone which suggested that the ringing in of the new millennium is not likely to herald any immediate improvement in Russian-U.S. relations. The Russian Defense Ministry’s notorious Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, for example, went out of his way to disparage the arms control talks taking place in the Russian capital. He intimated that they were a meaningless exercise and told reporters that, in fact, “there are no negotiations between Russia and the USA on withdrawing from or amending the ABM treaty.” Ivashov reiterated Moscow’s contention that the treaty is the “cornerstone of the entire system of limiting strategic arms.” He also appeared to qualify the government’s and the Defense Ministry’s heretofore loudly proclaimed support for ratification by the Russian parliament of the START II treaty. “The Russian Defense Ministry regards ratification of the START II treaty as useful,” Ivashov said, “but with the indisputable reservation that it will come into force if all other understandings, including the ABM treaty, are observed and preserved” (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, December 22-23; International Herald Tribune, December 24).
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