Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 61

The Kremlin moved yesterday to defuse domestic criticism — voiced primarily by the Communist and nationalist opposition — of the concessions made by President Boris Yeltsin during last week’s Russian-U.S. summit in Helsinki. In remarks to reporters, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky attempted to portray Yeltsin — and U.S. president Bill Clinton as well — as moderate statesmen trying to walk a treacherous path between extremists in both countries who remain prisoners to the "stereotypes of the Cold War." (Reuter, Interfax, March 25)

In an address to the nation, Yeltsin himself took a similar tact. The Russian president described the talks with Clinton as "the most difficult ones" in his memory and said that he had tried to explain Russia’s enduring opposition to NATO enlargement. But rather than allow the impasse over this issue to lead anew to an "irreconcilable animosity" between East and West and to the "isolation" of Russia, Yeltsin said, the two presidents had chosen instead to "minimize the implications of enlargement." Yeltsin argued that his flexibility had won Russia the following benefits: agreement that neither NATO nuclear weapons nor NATO combat forces would advance to the east; a "firm and binding" NATO-Russian political agreement that "will include commitments to take joint decisions and joint action in security issues;" and agreements on ballistic missile defense and strategic arms. Yeltsin also claimed that the summit would boost Russia’s economic prospects by potentially boosting U.S. investment in Russia while advancing Moscow’s efforts to join international economic agencies. (Itar-Tass, March 26)

Yeltsin’s new-found statesmanship on the enlargement issue was dimmed somewhat yesterday by a Russian Foreign Ministry press briefing in which unidentified "high-ranking officials" explained that the NATO-Russian political agreement was not, in fact, of great importance to Moscow. The officials appeared to underline, moreover, that the Russian leadership would not attend NATO’s July summit in Madrid, and that the Kremlin would also insist the signing of any political agreement, should that occur, take place at a separate meeting. (Interfax, March 26) Yeltsin’s critics have pointed to his decision not to insist that a NATO-Russia agreement be legally binding as the Russian president’s greatest "concession" in Helsinki. That move appeared to jump-start the stalled talks with Clinton, however, and led Yeltsin to predict that Russia and NATO would sign a political agreement prior to the alliance’s July summit in Madrid.

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