Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 86

As of yesterday, there had still been no official comment from senior Russian officials in Moscow on the U.S. Senate’s April 29 vote approving a first round of NATO enlargement. That silence may have been a product simply of Russia’s extended holiday weekend. However, speaking in Warsaw yesterday following talks with U.S. officials, Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek attributed the absence of comment to Moscow’s acquiescence to the vote. “Whoever remains silent nods assent, and therefore with great satisfaction I think that the U.S. Senate decision has been accepted by Russia with understanding,” Geremek told reporters. (Reuter, May 4)

That conclusion would probably be met with agreement by Clinton administration officials. They have argued that efforts by Washington, and by the West in general, to reassure Kremlin leaders about NATO’s intentions has had a salutary effect on Moscow. They have also reportedly indicated that a relationship of understanding between the presidents of the two countries has contributed to this process. (The Washington Post, May 4)

That thesis is likely to be tested in the weeks and months to come. Russia and the United States have continued to clash on a host of issues, including UN policy toward Iraq, settlement of the Kosovo dispute, Russian nuclear and missile cooperation with Iran and Moscow’s plans to deliver anti-aircraft missiles to Cyprus. Administration officials have argued that differences on those issues reflect Russia’s pursuit of its own national interests, and are not a product of resentment over NATO enlargement.

However true that may be, Russian lawmakers have tied the NATO enlargement issue more directly to ratification of the START II strategic arms reduction treaty. Although there have been indications in recent weeks that Russia’s Duma may finally be moving toward ratification, that progress may be endangered by the recent, bitter battle between the Kremlin and Russian lawmakers over Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko’s confirmation. A failure by Russia’s parliament to move on START II could, in turn, further delay a summit meeting between the Russian and American presidents. Washington has conditioned the scheduling of the summit on START II ratification.