Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 121

Russian president Boris Yeltsin appeared to make it official yesterday that he will not attend NATO’s July 8-9 summit in Madrid. Speaking to reporters prior to his departure for the U.S., Yeltsin said that a group of advisors had considered the issue and decided in the end that there was a need for "a little pause after the signing of the [Russia-NATO] Founding Act." Yeltsin, who added that the decision "should not result in negative consequences in Russia’s relations with other states," also said that "the Russians would not feel comfortable" at the Madrid meeting. (Reuter, RIA, June 19)

Yeltsin’s decision comes after several months of flip-flopping. In late April, Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky appeared to say definitively that Yeltsin would not attend the NATO summit and that Russia’s top leadership had, in fact, never seriously considered participating in the event. But less than two weeks later, on May 7, a high-ranking Russian diplomat said that Yeltsin was considering an invitation from Spanish King Juan Carlos to travel to Madrid. 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.

Yeltsin’s ambivalence about attending the summit reflects the Kremlin’s displeasure over plans to enlarge the alliance — an expansion that will be launched in Madrid — and its wariness of being subjected to more criticism by domestic opponents of the government’s relatively accommodating policy toward NATO. At the same time, Moscow agreed to sign the Russia-NATO Founding Act at least in part because it did not want to isolate itself from a major European security development, and for that same reason likely feels some regret at absenting itself from the event in Madrid.

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