Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 174

President Boris Yeltsin used a meeting yesterday with faculty at a university in the Russian city of Orel to make several noteworthy foreign policy statements. They dealt in particular with European security issues and bilateral relations with Japan. On the first count, Yeltsin said that when he attends a Council of Europe meeting in October he intends to call for a reduced U.S. presence on the continent. "Europeans must themselves take care of their security," he was quoted as saying. Yeltsin charged that Washington currently plays too great a role in European affairs, and complained particularly of the influence that the U.S. exercises through NATO. He again emphasized Moscow’s opposition to the Alliance’s enlargement, and, dusting off one of the Foreign Ministry’s standard formulations, said that Russia favors "a multipolar world free of the dictate of any one country" — i.e., one in which the U.S. is not seen as the world’s only superpower.

On the subject of relations with Japan, Yeltsin said that the long deadlock over the Kuril Islands territorial dispute has at last been broken and that bilateral ties have of late improved considerably. Yeltsin was referring, presumably, to a recent softening in Japan’s position on the islands, and to the optimism that each side is evidencing in the run-up to an informal meeting between Yeltsin and Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, scheduled for November 1-2. Yeltsin told the faculty that Russian society remains unprepared for any handover of the islands to Japan and that resolution of the territorial issue should be left to future generations. He called in the meantime for the two countries to improve broader bilateral links as a means of building trust, and urged the educators to start teaching their students Japanese along with European languages. Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported yesterday that the agenda for the Yeltsin-Hashimoto meeting calls for economic and trade issues to be discussed first, with the talks turning subsequently to the territorial dispute. (Itar-Tass, Russian Public Television, Kyodo, September 18)

The man who seeks to succeed Yeltsin has himself been addressing similar issues in recent days. Former Russian Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed, on a visit to Japan, echoed Yeltsin’s assertion that public opinion in Russia permits no immediate resolution of the territorial dispute. But Lebed did suggest that Russian authorities could be doing more to alter popular perceptions on that score. He also said that a plebiscite might ultimately be held in Russia to determine the disposition of the islands, but cautioned that if a handover to Japan is approved, Tokyo would then have to guarantee their demilitarization. This arrangement might be formalized by a tripartite agreement between Russia, Japan, and the U.S., Lebed said. The retired general also somewhat unexpectedly described Japanese-U.S. defense cooperation as a "substantial instrument for maintaining stability in the region." But he accused China — seen by the Kremlin as one of Russia’s key allies in Asia — of "expansion into the territories of Siberia and the Far East" and of buying up Russian "sites of economic importance." (Kyodo, September 17; Russian agencies, September 18)

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