Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 103

Russian president Boris Yeltsin joined NATO secretary general Javier Solana and the leaders of NATO’s 16 member states in Paris earlier today for the signing of the long-negotiated NATO-Russia Founding Act. Yeltsin called the agreement a "victory for reason," and in impromptu remarks after the signing pledged to remove the warheads of all Russian weapons pointed at the West. (AP, Reuter, May 27)

Yeltsin had traveled to the French capital a day earlier, where he joined the NATO leaders, including U.S. president Bill Clinton, for today’s ceremony. Yeltsin’s arrival was prefaced by several days of warnings from Russian leaders aimed at underlining Moscow’s continued displeasure over NATO’s planned expansion and, particularly, the Kremlin’s adamant opposition to any future effort by NATO to admit former Soviet states. That message was conveyed on May 24 by Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov, who told reporters that Moscow is "categorically against NATO taking in the republics of the former Soviet Union," and by Boris Yeltsin two days later, who warned that such an action by NATO would "fully undermine" relations between Russia and NATO.

Yeltsin and Primakov also defended the NATO-Russia agreement, however, as a measure that would minimize for Moscow the dangers of NATO expansion, and their warning comments were clearly aimed as much at domestic critics of the agreement as at foreign audiences. In addition, Primakov ruled out any use of force by Moscow to prevent NATO from accepting member states from among the former Soviet republics. "We will not react now like we did in relations with Czechoslovakia in 1968. It is completely clear there will be no repetition of that," he said.

In what appeared to reflect yet another reversal of Moscow’s plans, Primakov also said on May 24 that Yeltsin is unlikely to attend NATO’s July summit in Madrid. That had been Moscow’s earlier position, but on May 7 a Russian deputy foreign minister had suggested that Yeltsin was in fact considering an invitation from Spanish King Juan Carlos to attend the event. In his own remarks to the press on May 26 Yeltsin refused to say whether or not he would attend the summit, and suggested that his decision would depend on the progress of future consultations with the Western alliance. (U.S. and Russian agency reports, May 24, 26) Kremlin leaders have made clear in recent days that they will contest the West’s interpretation of the agreement signed today, a policy likely to raise tensions periodically between Moscow and NATO.

Yeltsin Meets with His New Military Leaders.