Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 198

Aside from its obvious implications for Russia’s domestic political scene, President Boris Yeltsin’s last minute cancellation yesterday of a scheduled visit to Austria has also complicated efforts by Russian diplomats on a host of foreign policy issues. Yeltsin had been scheduled to meet in Vienna with EU officials, including Austrian President Viktor Klima and European Commission President Jacques Santer. Klima currently holds the rotating EU chairman. He and Yeltsin were to have discussed security issues and Russia’s economic crisis. Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov will travel to Vienna today in Yeltsin’s stead. Kremlin sources said yesterday that Primakov had prepared for the Vienna trip in parallel with Yeltsin after the Russian president had cut short a trip to Central Asia earlier this month. Yeltsin has since canceled a visit to Malaysia scheduled for next month (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, October 26).

In an interview given by Yeltsin to the Austrian newspaper “Neue Kronen-Zeitung” (and carried by Itar-Tass), the Russian president renewed Moscow’s criticism of NATO’s enlargement plans. He described enlargement as a “serious mistake,” the negative consequences of which were already being felt in Europe. Yeltsin also warned Austria that its entry into the Western alliance–a move being contemplated in Vienna–would complicate relations between Russia and Austria. “Russia will not interfere” in such a decision, Yeltsin said, “but we will not keep silent about our preferences either. We believe that neutrality, as a state’s political course and status, has far from outlived itself.”

Yeltsin also used the interview with “Neue Kronen-Zeitung” to reiterate Moscow’s commitment to nuclear nonproliferation. Yeltsin scoffed at reports suggesting that Russia’s nuclear power plants were a safety risk or that Moscow was no longer able to manage its nuclear arsenal. He said that Russia is improving its own export control system and is also working with international organizations in order to ensure optimum performance in this area (Itar-Tass, October 24).