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Eastern Europe: Analysis From Washington--Security For Russia's Neighbors

Washington, 2 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - Disagreements between Washington and Moscow about the sovereign rights of East European countries not included in NATO in the first round have become major obstacles on the path to a proposed NATO-Russia Charter.

Following conversations in Moscow with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on Thursday that the two sides remained far apart on these issues.

And she suggested that these problems would have to be addressed at the negotiations in Vienna concerning revisions in the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty.

Albright's remarks are likely to both reassure and frighten the many of the Eastern European countries that are unlikely to be included in NATO in the near future and that fear they will remain in an insecure gray zone between NATO and a resurgent Russia.

On the one hand, these countries are certain to be pleased by this indication that the West is now addressing their concerns so directly and that it has no intention of caving into to Russian demands.

And they are likely to be especially pleased by Albright's public insistence that she had told the Russians that there are "lines that NATO cannot cross" on security questions even as the Western alliance seeks to craft an accord with Russia.

On the other hand, these countries from the Baltics in the north to Ukraine to the Caucasus in the south are equally likely to troubled by this report, and for three serious reasons.

First, they are certain to be concerned by Albright's suggestion that their concerns should be addressed at Vienna. Many of them are unhappy with the CFE modifications the United States and Russia have agreed to; indeed, Azerbaijan has threatened to vote against them.

Consequently, they may not see the CFE route Albright proposes as the best guarantee for their future security, and some of them may feel that once again they are being given a kind of consolation prize.

Second, they are especially likely to be concerned by the CFE route given media reports that Yeltsin told Albright that Russia wanted even more concessions on CFE than it had yet received as part of the price of agreeing to NATO expansion.

Given the Western commitment to the expansion of the alliance and the desire not to isolate Russia in the process, many of these countries are likely to fear that Washington may not stand firm against this latest Russian demand for still more CFE modifications.

And third, and most important, they are very likely to see this current round of disagreements between Moscow and the West over their fate as evidence of several things they have often pointed to.

Given what they see as the West's efforts to accommodate Moscow on the question of NATO enlargement, they are likely to see this latest disagreement as highlighting how hard Moscow is pressing for Western acknowledgment of a Russian sphere of influence over them.

And they are likely to see this discussion between Albright and Primakov as being one more example of what they view as their fate: a discussion about them without them, one in which their interests may somehow be traded away in the name of larger issues.

Both these hopes and even more these fears of the countries lying between an expanded NATO and the Russian Federation are likely to define how these countries view not only their own fate but also their ties with each side.

And as a result, they will be looking for even more reassurances in the future than in the past that their hopes for the penumbra of security that NATO expansion may bring are not misplaced and their fears of insecurity are vastly overstated.