Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 92

President Boris Yeltsin yesterday used a visit to the Russian Foreign Ministry to deliver what was billed as an important foreign policy speech. The Russian leader broke little new ground in his 45-minute address, but did reiterate several key principles that have guided Russia’s diplomacy in recent months. Included was the assertion that Russia remains a world power capable of influencing events around the globe. As proof, Yeltsin referenced the major role played by Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov in brokering a settlement between Iraq and the UN. Yeltsin also restated Moscow’s view of a multipolar international order. By that, Russian diplomats mean a world governed by groups of powers–including Moscow–rather than by a single dominating power, namely, Washington.

Yeltsin nevertheless spoke in generally positive terms of Russian relations with the United States, saying that they had passed beyond the “initial period of illusions and heightened expectations”–by this he meant the immediate post-Soviet period–and had settled into a relationship based more firmly on mutual respect. Yeltsin’s remarks come on the eve of a gathering of the Group of Seven leaders in London, during which the Russian president is slated to meet separately with his U.S. counterpart. Washington, on May 11, spoke in similarly friendly tones of ties with Moscow. U.S. National Security Advisor Sandy Berger described Yeltsin’s cabinet shakeup as a bold step and one that had produced “probably the most reformist government in seven years of Russian democracy.” The meeting between the Russian and U.S. presidents will be their first since last year’s G-7 summit in Denver. (Russian agencies; AP, May 12)

Yeltsin also offered a strong endorsement for ratification of the START II treaty during his remarks yesterday. He told Russia’s diplomats that “we must make our stand in the State Duma” (which has thus far failed to vote on the treaty) because ratification of START II would be followed by the signing of a START III agreement. That agreement, Yeltsin argued, “will be a breakthrough, a complete balance with the United States, both as concerns the level and the quantity [of strategic offensive weapons].” Yeltsin touched also on another issue very important to Washington, one also likely to be raised in London. Underscoring the importance of Russian efforts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and means of their delivery, he called nonproliferation “one of the priority questions of Russia’s national security.” (Itar-Tass, May 12) The United States has repeatedly called for Moscow to stop the proliferation of its missile technology to Iran.

In addition to his remarks on the substance of Russian foreign policy, Yeltsin’s visit to the Foreign Ministry yesterday was intended to serve as both a vote of confidence in Russia’s top diplomats in particular and an indication of the Kremlin’s concern for the welfare of the ministry’s personnel in general. On the latter score, Yeltsin suggested he would act to improve working conditions for Russia’s diplomats. On the former, he conferred state awards on Primakov and several other top Foreign Ministry officials. (Itar-Tass, May 12)