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Western Press Review: U.S.-Russian Relations And The Helsinki Summit

  • Joel Blocker



Prague, 17 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - With the two-day summit meeting between Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin now scheduled to open Thursday, Western analysts are focusing on the changing nature of U.S.-Russian relations.

NEW YORK TIMES/INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: A central reality is Moscow's diminished stature

In a news analysis published today, Steven Erlanger calls this week's Helsinki summit "another pivotal moment in American-Russian relations." Erlanger writes: "Clinton, hobbled by knee surgery last week (will meet with) a newly reanimated Russian president...Moscow's opposition to NATO enlargement is the contentious issue at hand...The central reality underlying the meeting is Russia's diminished stature. Although Russia still counts -- it is, after all, a nuclear power capable of destroying the United States -- it is much weakened and therefore doesn't count as much."

Erlanger continues: "To negotiate successfully with Mr. Yeltsin, as well as to hedge against the future, Mr. Clinton needs to find ways to allow Mr. Yeltsin to convince the Russians that they do matter -- that Washington and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are willing to give Moscow a prominence and deference that it may no longer deserve."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The "new" alliance points its soldiers to the south and southeast

Also in today's edition, commentator Brian Beedham (an editor of the British weekly "Economist") gives his view of the "contentious" NATO enlargement issue. Beedham says: "It seems pretty clear that NATO will begin its expansion this summer without doing any lasting damage to its relations with Russia. This will baffle the assorted ex-diplomats, academics and other gloomsters of the Old Brigade, who have been arguing against NATO enlargement because their minds are stuck in the Cold War and they can see NATO as nothing but an enemy of Russia. (Old men forget? If only they would.) Yet reconcile itself to a bigger NATO Russia almost certainly will, for one bleak reason and a second, happier one."

"The bleak reason," the commentator explains, "to put it bluntly, is that Russia has no choice. If it is to rebuild its shattered economy, it has to stay on good terms with the West (whose blessing it needs) for the continuation of help from the international providers of money. And it cannot afford the rearmament that a serious new quarrel with the West would mean..." The "happier" reason, Beedham says, is "the increasingly obvious fact that a bigger NATO is not aimed at Russia, but at quite different dangers of the post-Cold War world. Russia." he continues, "is being given the means of seeing this for itself (with an) offer of a permanent observer at NATO headquarters (who) will soon grasp that the new Atlantic Alliance is not pointing its nuclear weapons and rapid deployment soldiers to the east, but rather to the south and the southeast of Europe."

WASHINGTON POST: Russia cannot afford an ambitious foreign policy

In a long commentary published in yesterday's edition, Sherman Garnett (a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), says that "the real story of the summit should not be Yeltsin's maladies -- or President Clinton's torn tendon -- but whether the two leaders are taking steps to correct Russia's continuing maladjustment to essential post-Cold War realities. Russia's belligerent and self-isolating resistance to NATO enlargement is by far the most obvious example of that maladjustment."

Garnett writes: "There is no quick fix to the imbalance between Russia's inflated ambitions and its diminishing capabilities....Russia will not be able to afford an ambitious foreign policy for some time to come...Russia's foreign-policy community cannot match its exalted aims with existing means....(It) sees the West, led by the United States, as thwarting Russian policy at every turn...It is this belief in the West's strategic malevolence that fuels the most self-destructive aspects of Russia's opposition to NATO enlargement...This consensus is an intellectual bog that mires serious Russian attempts to fashion a sustainable post-Cold War foreign policy."

Garnett goes on to say: "While Russia claims a status it cannot support, the rest of Eurasia is changing....Russia's real security challenges are in the south and potentially in the east, not in Europe. The new geopolitical environment facing Russia virtually guarantees that Moscow will have to make choices at odds with its ambitions. Accepting NATO enlargement is only one of them. It will have to accept a far less integrated former Soviet Union than it now demands, and if it wants to expand its relation with China, it will have to do so as a junior partner, not as an equal. (Also,) over the next decade, Russia will need to recognize that its place in Europe will be determined more by its relations with Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania than with Germany, France or the United Kingdom."

WASHINGTON POST: Many complicated and interlocking issues are on the summit table

In an analysis published yesterday, Thomas Lippman discusses Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov's current pre-summit trip to Washington. He says that Primakov's "three days of top-level meetings with U.S. officials (represent) a last-minute effort to resolve thorny arms-control and security issues that have cast a cloud of uncertainty over (the) scheduled summit." Lippman cites (anonymous) U.S. officials as saying that "seldom in recent years have so many complicated and interlocking issues been on the table at one time," and adds: "It is by no means certain that all or any of them will be resolved by July, when, over Russian objections, a NATO summit in Madrid is to offer Alliance membership to former Warsaw Pact states in Central Europe."

Lippman continues: "The Russians want binding language barring NATO from positioning nuclear weapons or large military bases in such former Warsaw Pact countries as Poland and Hungary. The U.S. is resisting that demand...As a result, 'it is really wrong to suggest that we are on the brink of a deal' for a NATO-Russia charter, a senior (anonymous U.S.) official said. 'I know exactly where we are on every single outstanding issue, and we've got a long way to go.'"

WASHINGTON POST: Central European countries fear their security interests could be jeopardized

Lippman's colleague, William Drozdiak, writes from Berlin today about Central European fears that "their own security interests could be jeopardized by the quest for compromise between Washington and Moscow." Drozdiak quotes Poland's Deputy Defense Minister Andrzej Karkoszka's view that 'the smell of Yalta is always with us,' (a reference, Drozdiak explains) to the meeting after World War II when the anti-Nazi powers divided Europe into rival spheres of influence that lasted half a century." He concludes: "The Central European candidates (Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic) say they endorse NATO's attempt to build a more cooperative relation with the Russians, but they are still worried that the ultimate price will be a reduced security status that would constitute a kind of second-class membership in the Alliance."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Clinton should start bringing in the Baltic states

In his commentary today, New York Times columnist William Safire notes that Clinton could be more physically -- and, because of growing domestic problems, politically -- impaired at Helsinki than Yeltsin. He says: "Strange things can happen. Who would have imagined, three months ago, a Russian-American summit with a frisky Russian president and the U.S. leader on crutches, literally and politically?"

Safire concludes: "Clinton, who has not been week-kneed on NATO enlargement, should stop apologizing for protecting Poland and start bringing in the Baltic states. He should stop making concessions on NATO troop positioning and change the subject to how America would respond to a Yeltsin coalition (government) with (the Yabloko party's) democratic reformers. Sure," Safire acknowledges, this possibility is what he calls "as long shot." But, he asks, "in this world of topsy-turvey political fortunes, what's a summit for?"
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