Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 3

The Kremlin yesterday made a quick return to its hard line on NATO enlargement, despite reports a day earlier that German chancellor Helmut Kohl and Russian president Boris Yeltsin had made some progress on the troublesome issue during talks near Moscow. According to Yeltsin press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Moscow is prepared to discuss relations with NATO. But Yastrzhembsky said that Yeltsin had indicated "clearly, precisely, and in a sufficiently tough fashion Russia’s position and its concern over the consequences of NATO’s possible expansion to the East." (Interfax, January 5)

Yastrzhembsky’s remarks, which were consistent with the uniformly hard line Russian leaders have taken on the issue of enlargement since late last autumn, contrasted with Kohl’s own assessment of his January 4 meeting with Yeltsin at the Russian president’s country residence at Zavidovo, north of Moscow. In comments to reporters following those talks Kohl had confidently predicted that Russia and the West would manage this year to find "a rational solution which will make NATO enlargement possible and will at the same time respect the security interests of all partners concerned." The German chancellor, who is Yeltsin’s staunchest ally in the West, admitted that differences remained on enlargement, but suggested the two had discussed some potentially productive ideas that Kohl would raise with other NATO leaders. Russian sources appeared initially to concur with Kohl’s positive assessment of the talks. A Kremlin press announcement described the meeting as "exceptionally cordial" and noted, among other things, that Yeltsin would pay a short working visit to Germany in April. (Interfax, January 4; The New York Times, January 5)

The meeting at Zavidovo was Yeltsin’s first with a Western leader since his heart surgery in November and, underscoring the close relationship between the two men, was Kohl’s ninth visit to Moscow to see Yeltsin. The talks follow two December events–the OSCE Summit in Lisbon and a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels–at which Russia clashed with the West over reaffirmations of plans for NATO enlargement and other issues. It also comes as the West moves toward a NATO summit in July at which an initiation process for new members is expected to be launched, a move sure to deepen tensions with Moscow. Against this background, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has taken the lead in reasserting Moscow’s opposition to NATO enlargement, and the Kremlin has conducted high-profile talks with Iran and, especially, with China, at least in part as an effort to demonstrate that Moscow will not face an enlarged NATO without allies.

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