Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 53

With the countdown on to this week’s Russian-U.S. summit meeting in Helsinki, Russian president Boris Yeltsin used two separate media events over the weekend to do some tough talking on the subject of Russian-NATO relations. In remarks to Russian media chiefs on March 14, Yeltsin depicted the upcoming talks with U.S. president Bill Clinton as likely to be among the "most difficult in the whole history of Russian-American relations." Yeltsin suggested that on two issues in particular Russia would make no concessions in Helsinki. The first involves Moscow’s opposition to the movement of NATO military hardware into Eastern Europe, which Yeltsin said would result in the "creation of a cordon sanitaire" around Russia. Yeltsin also stated that Moscow remains "categorically" opposed to the extension of NATO’s influence to the Baltic countries or to other Soviet successor states, and he described the Russian leadership as "alarmed" by NATO secretary general Javier Solana’s recent visits to a number of these countries. (Interfax, March 14)

Yeltsin adopted a similar tone in an interview published yesterday by Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s leading newspaper. There, Yeltsin elaborated on the issue of armament levels, arguing, among other things, that the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty should be amended to guarantee that NATO states "refrain from deploying their weapons on the territory" of Eastern European countries joining the alliance. Yeltsin also reiterated Moscow’s demand that any political agreement negotiated by NATO and Russia be legally binding and, first and foremost, that it clearly set out this principle that NATO’s "military infrastructure" not be extended eastwards. (Itar-Tass, March 15) In the same interview, Yeltsin also warned Finland itself against joining NATO. Finland is a non-aligned country, as is Sweden, and only a day earlier the foreign ministers of each of those countries had reiterated their governments’ intention to maintain that status. Yeltsin’s remark was criticized by representatives of Finland’s government and parliament. (AP, March 16)

Yeltsin probably had several goals in mind when making his weekend remarks. In domestic political terms, he appeared to be looking to reinforce the notion that he is back in control of the Kremlin and, as reports circulate that Moscow is increasingly willing to deal with NATO, to protect himself from attacks by nationalist critics. Yeltsin also seems determined to maintain Moscow’s public posture of fierce opposition to NATO enlargement as negotiations with the Western alliance reach a critical juncture. More substantively, Yeltsin’s comments appear to reflect a new set of "non-negotiable" points on which Moscow will insist in its talks with the West now that the Kremlin has been forced to accept the inevitability of an initial round of expansion being launched this summer.

NATO made a move to assuage some of these Russian concerns when the alliance released a formal statement on March 14 saying that it does not intend any "additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces" on the territory of new member states. NATO sources said that the pledge would not hinder the alliance from helping new member states make their command-and-control procedures, together with their communications equipment and weapons, compatible with those of current NATO nations. Nor, they said, would it stop new members from inviting troops from NATO countries to participate in training maneuvers. (The New York Times, AP, March 15)

New Russian Government to be Announced.