Amid the protestations out of Moscow, Clinton administration officials yesterday tried both to reassure the Russian leadership and to downplay the impact of the NATO air strikes on Russian-U.S. relations. With the former goal in mind, U.S. President Bill Clinton yesterday reportedly conducted a thirty-five-minute telephone conversation with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. According to the White House press secretary, Clinton tried, among other things, to impress on Yeltsin the U.S. view that diplomacy had been given every chance to succeed in Yugoslavia, but that Milosevic had rebuffed all peacemaking efforts. Clinton also reportedly expressed the hope that developments in the Balkans would not harm broader Russian-U.S. relations (AP, March 24).
A U.S. State Department spokesman, meanwhile, said that Washington expects Russian-U.S. cooperation to continue despite the NATO air strikes. James Rubin told reporters that the Russian president, together with Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, all “see the value” of keeping Russia-U.S. relations “on track and not letting someone like Milosevic derail everything that’s at stake.” Rubin did allow that there are forces in Russia which would like to see a rupture in relations between the two countries and which will try to exploit tensions over the air strikes in Kosovo. He suggested, however, that Russia and the United States have enough common interests to survive their differences over Yugoslavia (Reuters, March 24). Implicit in the U.S. belief that Russia will not risk a complete rupture with the United States over Kosovo is the fact Moscow remains in desperate need of Western financial assistance to overcome its current domestic economic crisis. Primakov was en route to Washington for talks on precisely that subject when developments in the Balkans made him decide to return to the Russian capital.
RUSSIAN PRESS REACTS TO BOMBING OF SERBIA, KOSOVO.