Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 47

Boris Yeltsin broke little new ground on foreign or security policy issues during his State of the Union message yesterday to parliament. The Russian president reiterated Moscow’s opposition to NATO enlargement, describing it as a "direct threat" to Russia’s security and an effort to push "Russia out of Europe" and to leave it "strategically isolated." Yeltsin also made reference to Russia’s rejection of an international system based on "one center of strength," a thinly-veiled swipe at the U.S. and a restatement of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s familiar allegation that Washington seeks to be the dominant power in a "uni-polar" world. In a longer, 65-page text of the speech handed out to Russian deputies, Yeltsin also called for "mutual security guarantees between Russia and the West, including in the nuclear field," for the creation of a legally binding NATO-Russian consultative mechanism, and for changes in the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. (Russian TV, Itar-Tass, March 6)

Yeltsin’s relatively hard-line tone and list of demands on NATO were balanced somewhat by a statement expressing hope that the upcoming Yeltsin-Clinton summit, scheduled for March 20-21 in Helsinki, might help Russia and the West surmount the current impasse. Yeltsin’s remarks reflected the dual track taken of late by Moscow in negotiations over enlargement: intransigent and sometimes bellicose statements on the issue in public, combined with an apparently more pragmatic effort behind the scenes to bargain for concessions from the West in return for Russia’s acquiescence.

Yeltsin also included a section on defense policy in his speech. He argued that only through swiftly enacted military reform, including manpower reductions, could Russia improve the currently dismal social conditions in the armed forces while rearming the troops and preserving the core of the country’s defense industrial sector. He suggested that Russia would push forward with its plans to professionalize the army, although he mentioned no timetable in that regard. Finally, Yeltsin stated in the longer, text version of his address that Russia would continue to employ political, diplomatic, and economic means "to prevent wars and armed conflicts." Although it is questionable whether that statement accurately describes Russian policy vis-a-vis the other former Soviet republics, when considered together with the Kremlin’s military reform plans it does suggest that Moscow is not seriously considering military counter-measures to NATO enlargement, as some in Moscow have warned.

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