Lisbon, 2 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told the European security summit today that expanding NATO eastwards was incompatible with Russia's vision of a peaceful and united Europe.
"Can a peaceful Europe really be achieved by the expansion of a military alliance?" he told the heads of state and government, including U.S. Vice President Al Gore and leaders from several Central European countries who are seeking membership in NATO.
Chernomyrdin said Russia "firmly opposes moving the North Atlantic alliance to the borders of our territory." He said it would create new lines of division and worsen the geo-political situation throughout the world. He acknowledged that Russia had no veto right over NATO's expansion but warned that, equally, no one could veto Russia's right "to defend our national interests." He stopped short of specifying any measures Russia might take.
He stressed several times that Russia was committed to peace and security in Europe. He told the summit Russia had assigned 20,000 troops to peacekeeping operations, and mentioned specifically Bosnia, Abkhazia, the Trans-Dnestr region of Moldova and Tajikistan.
Polish and Hungarian diplomats told correspondents immediately after the speech that it was no more than they had expected and was not a cause for worry. A U.S. spokesman said it contained nothing new. The U.S. diplomat said Chernomyrdin had been less dramatic than President Boris Yeltsin's speech on the same subject at the Budapest summit in 1994 but said basically the same things.
Overall diplomats said there were no surprises in the speech. Chernomyrdin renewed well-known Russian positions on European security and arms control. As expected, he reaffirmed Russia's desire to see the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) become an umbrella organization for all security-related institutions in Europe, including NATO and the CIS. Russia first suggested this role for OSCE in 1994 and has revived it in many forums since then.
The Russian prime minister said Moscow did not envisage OSCE having a command structure controlling these other organizations. It should be a "co-ordinator" -- a place which organized what he called "a division of labor" among the security organizations and a center for an exchange of opinions. He said 0SCE could be turned into an institution capable of acting promptly to defuse crises in Europe. It could become a center of preventive diplomacy.
Most Western countries are skeptical of the proposals. Diplomats told correspondents today that if it succeeded Russia would be able to exercise some influence over NATO's activities and decision-making processes. U.S. diplomats said Washington would not agree to such a role for the OSCE.
Chernomyrdin said OSCE should also be more active in protecting the rights of Europe's minorities, and referred specifically to Russian-speakers in the Baltic states.
Turning to military security, the Russian prime minister said that although the global threat had receded, other threats still remained. Chernomyrdin reviewed a number of proposals which have been under consideration in the preparatory meetings leading up to the Lisbon summit. Western diplomats said some of them appeared to be aimed specifically at NATO.
Chernomyrdin mentioned restraints on the buildup of military forces in foreign countries, more transparency about the deployment of troops and more information about trans-border movements. He also proposed better guarantees for the non-use of force in settling disputes.
The Russian prime minister also renewed Russia demands for a new agreement to replace the 1990 Paris treaty limiting the size and location of conventional weapons in Europe. Even as he was speaking diplomats were meeting in a backroom of the conference center to discuss Russia's proposals.
As expected, he suggested that the number of conventional forces in Europe should be frozen at the level of November 1995. Western countries have previously criticized this saying they would be disadvantaged because they have reduced their conventional forces -- including tanks, artillery, combat helicopters and warplanes -- below the levels allowed in the 1990 treaty. If Russia's proposal was accepted they would not be permitted to bring them up to the allowed levels.
Western diplomats say Russia has not disarmed to the same extent NATO countries have. However in his speech Chernomyrdin said Russia had engaged in a greater arms reduction program than all the other treaty signatories put together.
Chernomyrdin also called for a new security charter for Europe, pulling together the experiences gained from various agreements over the past few years. He said it would enable a common attack on such matters as drug trafficking and crime.
Chernomyrdin expressed some approval for the European Union's detailed proposal for co-operative security and said its "thrust" was supported by Russia. He did not explain how far Russia agreed with the Brussels and where it disagreed.