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Russia Calls For Western Cooperation, But Problems Remain

  • Jan de Weydenthal

Prague, Jan. 29 (RFE/RL) - Russia has recently signaled its willingness to maintain friendly and cooperative relations with the West, but has also asserted its determination to pursue policies that are likely to complicate these relations.

Meeting last week with French Foreign Minister Herv� de Charette, the new head of Russian diplomacy Yevgeny Primakov assured him there would be no change in Moscow's policy of cooperation with the West.

Primakov reiterated these assurances three days ago in talks with the visiting German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel. Primakov was reported by Russian media to have told Kinkel that relations between Moscow and Bonn will remain close as they promote stability in Europe. Kinkel said that Russia's President Boris Yeltsin also expressed to him similar sentiments.

Two days ago, Yeltsin told U.S. President Bill Clinton in a long telephone conversation that he wanted to keep relations between Washington and Moscow firmly on track. He was reported to have assured Clinton of his "loyal friendship," and voiced confidence that the two countries would closely cooperate.

Yeltsin was talking to Clinton shortly after the U.S. Senate ratified the "START II" treaty. Formally known as the Second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, it would reduce American and Russian long-range nuclear arsenals to fewer than 3,500 warheads each. Russia's federal asembly has yet to ratify the treaty, but Yeltsin promised to press for speedy approval.

Clinton and Yeltsin are to meet in Moscow in April for talks on bi-lateral relations and other issues. Prior to that summit, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher is to meet Primakov in Helsinki. Those meetings are scheduled for Feb. 10 and Feb. 11. Christopher would then visit Moscow in March to prepare the summit agenda.

Recently, the U.S. has proposed the establishment of a "strategic partnership" with Russia to secure friendly and cooperative relations. Last week, France offered to Moscow a "privileged partnership," while Germany said it was "ready to do everything further to develop friendship and partnership" with Moscow.

Russia's primary goal has always been to secure international, and particularly western, recognition of its status as a world power.

But its objectives and methods do not always correspond with western goals and values. Moscow has long focused its main efforts at the restitution of Russia's dominant position over the area once contained within the Soviet Union, with the exception of the Baltic states. The West has accepted those efforts, but has become increasingly concerned with Moscow's use of violence in implementing them, particularly in local conflicts such as in Chechnya.

The West has been even more concerned over Russia's apparent designs to exert political influence over the neighboring countries of Central Europe. This has been demonstrated in Moscow's three-year-long open and determined opposition to western plans for including some Central European countries in NATO.

Opposition to eastward NATO expansion was again reiterated by Yeltsin and Primakov in their conversations with both the French and German Foreign ministers, as well as during Yeltsin's telephone conversation with Clinton.

Some American officials, including Christopher himself, have expressed concern recently over the continuity of these hard-line policies. The apparent strengthening of these trends, combined with destabilizing tensions in the country, repeated anti-American themes in domestic and foreign Russian actions, and the emergence of the Communist Party as a major political force raised doubts about the success of Western - particularly American - cooperation with Moscow in the future. The assurances by Yeltsin and Primakov may be designed to assuage these concerns.