Prague, 5 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - Russia's forceful restatement of its opposition to NATO's plans for eastward expansion at the recent European security conference in Lisbon has prompted critical comments in the Moscow press.
This criticism has essentially focused on two elements. One is an assertion that the hard-line opposition to NATO plans may bring only limited benefits of short duration, while the solution to the problem could only be found in a compromise.
The other is an observation that Moscow's drive to reject the NATO plans has found little or no support, even among its allies within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). These seemed to have been interested in their own problems, rather than the NATO expansion issue. Only Belarus showed itself supportive of Russia's stand, but this may have proved illusory in itself, considering Belarus' dubious standing in the international community.
Writing yesterday in the Moscow newspaper "Segodnya," military and security commentator Pavel Felgengauer says that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's address in Lisbon suggested a perceptible toughening of Moscow's policy.
"At present," he says, "the official line of Moscow is that Russia not only declares its full opposition to NATO expansion, but also refuses to bargain on guarantees and compensations that could be given by the West in exchange for Moscow's possible consent."
This tough policy could conceivably bring some Western concessions, particularly through an agreement to revise arms limitation treaties, such as the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE). But these negotiations could go on for a long time, without any significant impact on the NATO issue.
Furthermore, while Moscow's bargaining tactics for these negotiations may enjoy current support of some Western countries, their support appear basically opportunistic and temporary.
In the end, Felgengauer says: "Only compromise with Washington can prevent a long 'cold peace' in Europe." This was an apparent reference to President Boris Yeltsin's warning made two years ago at another OSCE summit that NATO's eastward expansion would usher an era of "cold peace" between the West and Russia.
Also yesterday, the Moscow daily "Kommersant" laments through a story by Georgiy Bovt that CIS leaders all but abandoned Russia in its quest to prevent NATO expansion.
Bovt says that neither Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma, nor Kazakstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev, nor Taijkistan's Imomali Rakhmonov bothered to support Moscow on the issue. They all were preoccupied with their own concerns.
Kuchma was said to have been "philosophical," focusing on the development of all European institutions. And he used the occasion to pique the pride of nationalist groups in Russia by obliquely emphasizing the principle of "inviolability of borders." The Russian nationalists periodically make claims to Ukraine's Crimea.
Nazarbayev was said to push the idea of Euro-asian economic cooperation, while Rakhmonov appeared only interested in talking about the war in Afghanistan.
Bovt goes on to observe that the two other CIS members, Armenia and Azerbaijan, were consumed by their own quarrels, rather than Moscow's policy concerns. And he notes regretfully that "only two CIS countries were mentioned together in the summit lobby, as though separated from all others by an invisible barrier: Russia and Belarus."
This "invisible barrier," he says, was the NATO expansion issue.