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Russia: U.S. Greets Election Result With Caution

The United States gave cautious welcome to the just completed presidential election in Russia, in which Vladimir Putin secured a much-anticipated victory. But as RFE/RL's senior correspondent Lisa McAdams reports, questions still abound about the future course of the U.S.-Russian relationship.

Washington, 28 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- State Department Spokesman James Foley says Russia's presidential election on Sunday marks an important milestone in the consolidation of democracy in Russia.

Foley cited the large turnout of nearly 70 percent, and the lack of any reports of serious violations in the voting process, as proof that the ballot box has become the undisputed way for Russians to select their leaders.

At the same time, Foley told reporters Monday the U.S. is concerned about imbalanced media coverage and pressure on the independent media during the election campaign. Those concerns were initially stressed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which observed the electoral process.

RFE/RL asked Foley if the United States was at all worried by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov's statement Monday that Russia would now exert changes in its foreign policy to "more vigorously" defend Russia's national interests. Here is how Foley responded:

"We'll need to be in touch with the Russian Foreign Ministry at various levels to see if his (Ivanov's) statement indicates any change in basic policies. We don't anticipate that. That Russia will, as I said, be an advocate for Russian interest is not necessarily new or surprising. What is important is that, as nations -- including the United States -- pursue their national interests, that they find ways to achieve common ground on behalf of shared objectives. And we believe we have an enormous amount of work we can do with Russia in various fields."

Foley said security, arms control, and economic relations could and should be at the top of a U.S.-Russia foreign policy agenda. He also said the United States hoped President-elect Vladimir Putin would now follow through on his statements of the past few months about the need for economic reform, in order to protect the rule of law and to respect the basic rights of citizens.

Human rights are another key concern of the U.S. as regards its relationship with Russia, especially in connection with Russia's military campaign in Chechnya. The U.S. has long called for a political rather than military solution to the conflict. But, here again, Foley said the United States would have to take a "wait and see" approach on Russia's future policy in Chechnya:

"We believe there has to be a political solution. In order for there to be a political solution, there has to be a political process of dialogue, of reaching out to credible Chechen interlocutors. And we hope that the new Russian government will find its own way towards achieving a political solution in Chechnya. Until that happens, we have a serious and profound disagreement."

Foley noted that U.S. President Bill Clinton raised his concerns about the conflict in Chechnya with Putin during a phone call congratulating Putin on his win.

Foley later reiterated the U.S. desire for Russia to take advantage of the international community's willingness to work on the humanitarian aspects of the Chechen crisis, which Foley characterized as a "humanitarian blackeye" and a "dead-end" for Russia.

Foley was then asked to comment on the prospects for a resolution to long-standing U.S.-Russian negotiations on arms control.

The U.S. Administration wants the 1972 Anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty changed so that it can develop a limited system to intercept missiles from "rogue" nations such as communist North Korea or Iraq. But Russia refuses to accept changes to the treaty, saying it is a cornerstone of world security.

"We believe, nevertheless, that again it is possible to find common ground with Russia on this matter because we believe Russia also faces the threat of the development of long-range missile capabilities in regions closer to Russia than to the United States and that this is an area that we ought to be able to work on together. That's not to predict an early positive outcome or a positive outcome of these talks at any point. We have to see. But we have seen a willingness on President-elect Putin's part to discuss the issue."

During his February meeting in Moscow with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Putin said his goal was to preserve the principles of the ABM treaty. But it was not clear whether that formulation reflected a new, if cautious, sense of pragmatism that could open the door to a negotiated settlement.

As one analyst told an American newspaper (The Washington Post) recently, "Maybe the West thinks it knows what Putin will do on the ABM treaty, but it is wishful thinking."

That would appear to be the case on a number of other issues of strategic U.S. concern with Russia. Meanwhile, Russia too must now wait, to see whether it will be dealing with a Republican or Democratic U.S. administration after the November presidential election.