The Week Just Past: Summits, Successful & Otherwise
Three events dominated the week just ended: a contentious summit in Moscow, a supportive one in Kiev, and continued fighting in Chechnya. The Moscow summit said the U.S. side concede on virtually all points, Moscow commentators claimed, even as the American side argued that it had achieved some progress in virtually all areas. Yeltsin refused to block the sale of nuclear reactors to Iran, even though Clinton welcomed Moscow’s decision to drop the sale of a centrifuge–a sale that apparently was never planned other than as a diplomatic bargaining chip, Russian papers said–and to have the deal examined by Vice President Gore and Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin. President Clinton announced that the U.S. would support the Russian position on the Conventional Forces in Europe modifications. The U.S. backed down on ABM restrictions, the Russian side said. Yeltsin held his ground on NATO, and Clinton yielded an important propaganda line to Moscow when he said that NATO expansion could not take place if it would adversely affect any country in the Partnership for Peace program which Russia has now said it will join. And on Chechnya, the Russian press suggested that Clinton had been unwilling to challenge Yeltsin on this point despite the Russian president’s obvious misrepresentation of the situation in that republic. As a result, the two leaders appeared before journalists like "two gloomy owls," although by all accounts, Yeltsin had less to be gloomy about than his American guest. And the impact of this meeting will only grow, infuriating some allies because of CFE and NATO and reducing still further Western constraints on Russian behaviour in Chechnya and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.
The new coolness in Moscow was matched by a new warmth in Kiev. Presidents Clinton and Kuchma could not say enough nice things about each other on this first state visit by an American leader. (Clinton’s earlier stop in Kiev in January `1994 was only a working visit.) President Clinton clearly was enjoying himself after the tension in Moscow and promised more aid to help Ukraine make its transition to a market economy. But the Moscow meeting hung over even the sessions in Kiev: President Kuchma felt emboldened enough by the chill in Russian-American relations to suggest that NATO should be expanded, something he has been loathe to say in the past. And a poll of Ukrainians published just before the Clinton visit showed that most Ukrainians still feel the U.S. cares too much about Moscow and too little about them, even though they view Clinton himself as a far more attractive leader than Yeltsin.
And behind both of these events was the continuing war in China. Yeltsin’s cease-fire did not end the fighting; it did not end even Russian attacks. Moreover, his claims that the Russian interior ministry troops had the situation well in hand were immediately belied by events in Serzhen-Yurt and elsewhere. The publication in the American press of information on Russian atrocities in Chechnya infuriated many in the West and has prompted some to call for sanctions against Moscow. the week ended in Chechnya with the fighting continuing throughout the eastern half of Chechnya, with the Chechens pledging to fight on and the Russians promising to crush them, but without any real word on the fate of Fred Cuny, the American relief expert who has been missing there since April 9. One Chechen official told Radio Liberty on May 12 that his men had found a body they believe to be Cuny’s but there has been no confirmation of this report.
Overshadowed by these events were five other developments that are likely to have an impact in the future.:
–Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin’s electoral bloc met for its founding congress amid growing indications that Yeltsin is worried about his prime minister’s new and independent power base.
–Officers from the Russian secret services are trying to take control of the Russian Federation’s largest computer network through the purchase of stock, a step that raises serious questions about the security of communications in Russia.
–Yeltsin disbanded the Russian delegations that had been conducting talks with the three Baltic states. His decision both reflects the cooling of relations between the two and will only increase tensions in the region.
–Armenia and Azerbaijan released POWs this week in advance of a new round of talks on the war in Karabakh.
–Moscow replaced the Russian general in commander of border troops in Tajikistan as fighting flared there and as Russian criticism of Moscow’s policies in Central Asia increased.