Moscow demonstrates resolve with regard to the ABM treaty, while Washington demands observance of the UN sanctions against Iraq

The recent visit of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Moscow demonstrated that Washington is interested in three main issues related to international security and the interests of Russia. Firstly, Albright demanded that the activities of federal forces in Chechnya be moderated. Secondly, she tried to persuade Moscow to sign amendments to the ABM treaty. Thirdly, she announced the necessity of activating relations between Russia and NATO.

The visit of Albright to Moscow was immediately followed by the appearances of important officials of European organizations, such as Chris Patten, a member of the European Commission, and Javier Solana, the former NATO General Secretary, and representative of the European Union for foreign policy and security. These visits were hardly incidental; the top-ranking diplomats are interested in similar problems.

At first glance, the diplomats arrived in Moscow to take part in meetings of the group assisting multilateral negotiations on Middle Eastern problems. It is known that the US and Russia are co-sponsors of the process of the Middle Eastern peaceful regulation. However, it is evident that they were interested in Acting President Vladimir Putin.

It was not accidental that the meeting of Albright with Putin on February 2 in the Kremlin lasted for almost three hours instead of the planned one hour. Albright reported to American journalists that he seemed to her to be “an informed person and an interesting interlocutor.” She added, “this is a patriot of Russia who cares about how his country is perceived by the West.” Such remarks by Albright, in the midst of Russia’s obstinate attitude on nearly all issues, indicated that the American diplomat feels that the new Kremlin leader can pursue an independent policy in relations with the US. It is possible that the word “patriot,” in the lexicon of Albright, means an understanding that the new Russian leadership will actively try to strengthen the authority of the country, its statehood, and so on. So far Putin is not saying anything about this openly, but his intention to strengthen the Armed Forces, the military-industrial complex and increase military spending and defense orders, show that the power factor in the Moscow’s policy will play the decisive role.

Due to this, the verbalized positions and opinions associated with the Russian-American dialog are important. The Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Albright signed two Russian-American documents in Moscow dealing with space cooperation and nuclear security. Withdrawal of the US from the ABM treaty is still open for discussion.

In January 1999, US Secretary of Defense William Cohen announced the intention of the Pentagon to spend $6.6 billion within the next six years on organization of the ground infrastructure of the national ABM defense. A decision about the national ABM defense system will be made in June 2000.

The US has too little time left to persuade Russia to amend the ABM treaty. It is also interesting that, speaking about the ABM and START problems at the beginning of her visit, Albright stressed that she “retains an optimistic view” of this problem. “In the past we had always found a solution, and we will find it in this case too,” said Albright. According to her, negotiations with Moscow about this issue cannot be accomplished “within a single day, and the stakes are high.”

In turn, at his press conference on the results of negotiations with Albright Foreign Minister Ivanov said that during “a very frank dialog,” Russia frequently stressed to the American partners that the US proposals regarding upgrading of the ABM treaty would undermine the purpose of the treaty and that, in Ivanov’s view, would be “a very serious mistake.” According to him, Moscow is convinced that “we together can find the other responses to the threats which might arise on the part of third countries.” According to Ivanov, it is necessary to search for “other solutions, which would enable us to establish reliable control over the missile technologies proliferation.” Putin himself released a firmer statement about Russia’s intentions in the ABM sphere, “Russia will firmly adhere to its line aimed at preserving of the ABM treaty in the unchanged form.” Putin and Albright have also failed to overcome serious differences of opinion, in particular with regard to Chechnya, during three hours of their conversation. With regard to the situation in the North Caucasus, the parties retained their previous points of view. Putin said that the authorities are combating not the Chechen people, but the terrorists, who took Chechnya as a hostage. He also expressed readiness to consider granting greater autonomy to Chechnya within the Russian Federation. In turn, Albright confirmed the unchanged character of the American position, in accordance with which the resolving of the conflict in Chechnya “should be exclusively political.” “We do not see any military way to solve the problem,” added Albright. The only success, which Washington achieved, was to convince Moscow of the need to activate the dialog between Russia and NATO. On January 31, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, the director of the main department for international military cooperation, announced that “Moscow is ready to restore relations with the alliance.” Along with this, according to Ivashov, two conditions of military cooperation with NATO are set up. “Firstly, this is productive cooperation in resolving the situation in Kosovo, mainly regarding observance of resolution of the UN Security Council 1244. Secondly, this is a seriousness of intentions of the North Atlantic treaty to build relations with Moscow.”

It seems that NATO will attempt to establish serious relations with Russia. Within two weeks, George Robertson, the General Secretary of NATO, will arrive in Moscow for negotiations with Russian political and military leaders. The sources of Interfax in Brussels say that Robertson is arriving “to overcome the worsening of bilateral relations as soon as possible.”

He himself announced this delivering a lecture in London on January 2. “We need more than an unwilling recognition of NATO actions by Russia. We need a real cooperation in the whole spectrum of issues representing mutual interest, from resolving of regional crises to prevention of mass destruction weapons proliferation,” said Robertson.

However, he added that “partnership with Russia should not be mistaken for a love affair. It would be naive to assume that differences would not arise. However, it would also be crazy to let accidental disputes disrupt our broader agenda of security issues,” noted Robertson. He expressed his firm conviction to return relations between NATO and Russia to the former path. “We need a new start, and I am convinced that many people in Russia think like this. We cannot continue ignoring each other.”

Against the background of all these events, detention of the Russian tanker “Volgoneft-147” by the US Navy ship in the Persian Gulf on the suspicion of oil smuggling from Iraq, looks very strange. According to Russian information, the tanker was transporting fuel oil from Iran to Fujeiro port of the United Arab Emirates.

This is the first incident of a Russian ship detention, and officials of the Russian Foreign Ministry noted that in any case, the situation is “unprecedented.” It is difficult to say how is this incident is connected with the results of the visit of Albright to Moscow. However, there is no doubt that Washington is demonstrating its firm position with regard to Russia. Moreover so that judging by the documents of the tanker detained in the Persian Gulf transportation of Iraqi oil was out of the question, reported Russia Transport Minister Sergei Frank to journalists.

Thus, Russia and the US are entering a new phase in their relations. On the one hand, they are willing to cooperate and restrict the armament race, and on the other hand they demonstrate resolution and unwillingness to yield. Such a cooling off of relations will hardly strengthen the international security and peace.