October 23, 1995 | Executive Memorandum on Russia
Messages Clinton Should Deliver At The U.S.-Russian Summit
President Bill Clinton is planning a positive, "feel-good"
summit with Russian President Boris Yeltsin on October 23, 1995, in
New York City. This event takes place as an intense parliamentary
campaign is underway in Russia which ultimately may cast a shadow
over Boris Yeltsin's political future and imperil U.S.-Russian
relations. Popular support for Russian nationalist leader General
Alexander Lebed and the recent Communist victory in the Volgograd
local elections indicate that the tide of Russian political opinion
may be turning against Boris Yeltsin.
U.S.-Russian relations are too important to waste on a
"feel-good" summit. The President needs to be preparing the ground
for what could be a challenging period in U.S.-Russian relations.
He needs to get down to business, not only dealing with such issues
as Bosnia and NATO expansion, but positioning the U.S. for a time
when Boris Yeltsin may no longer be president of Russia.
America's Russian Challenge
Russia's recent outcry over the NATO bombings in Bosnia exposed
a former superpower in search of an identity and led by an
increasingly combative political establishment. Russia's foreign
policy is becoming more anti-Western, as evidenced by the
opposition to NATO enlargement, the planned sales of nuclear
reactors to Iran, and threats to breach the 1990 Conventional
Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev has
been weakened by intrigues and is about to be dismissed by
President Yeltsin. Suspicion of the West is growing in Moscow.
Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, presidential foreign policy advisor
Dmitrii Ryurikov, General Evgenii Primakov, head of the foreign
intelligence service, and General Alexander Korzhakov, ubiquitous
Chief of the Kremlin guard, all tend to be anti-Western and against
reform. They also are in positions of major influence over
Yeltsin's foreign and security policies.
Yeltsin's Political Weakness
Yeltsin's internal position is precarious. His public approval
ratings hover between 9 and 15 percent, and his chances of winning
a presidential bid do not look bright. The polls consistently show
that several Russian politicians, such as Lebed and Grigory
Yavlinsky, leader of the YABLOCo party, would be able to defeat him
in an election. Two "centrist" parties were launched in May: Prime
Minister Victor Chernomyrdin's Our Home Russia and Duma Chairman
Ivan Rybkin's Accord. The first is polling around 10 percent, and
the second has yet to get off the ground. According to high-level
Russian sources, some in Yeltsin's circle are considering canceling
the presidential elections altogether. Thus, Yeltsin and his team
could be swept away by a cadre of anti-Western nationalists if the
presidential elections slated for the summer of 1996 actually take
place. Alternatively, Yeltsin could be rendered more prone to a
coup if he fails to hold the elections and undermines his remaining
President Clinton needs to take stock of the new winds blowing
in Russia. He must prepare U.S. policy for the likelihood that
Russia may be on the verge of a major political crisis. At the New
York summit, the President should:
- Support democracy and free-market principles rather than
particular Russian leaders
Clinton's unwavering support of Yeltsin, particularly in the
wake of the October 1993 attack on the Russian Supreme Soviet and
the Chechnya operation, have already cost the U.S. a great deal of
goodwill among both Russian nationalists and reformers. The chances
are good that Clinton or the next American President will have to
deal with a new set of players in Moscow. The U.S. cannot afford to
appear partisan. Clinton should be firm in expressing American
support for democracy, elections, free markets, and individual
rights in Russia. He should play down his support for the personal
political fortunes of Boris Yeltsin.
- Proceed with caution in bringing Russian peacekeepers to
While the U.S. should support a sustainable, long-term peace
settlement in Bosnia, it is too early to negotiate the specific
details of Russia's military involvement in a peacekeeping
operation. Nevertheless, President Clinton should declare that, in
principle, the Russian armed forces will be welcome to support
peace in Yugoslavia, but only if American troops are committed to
the peacekeeping mission.1 Clinton should be careful not to
jeopardize NATO's operational control over the entire peacekeeping
mission. Russian troops could play a positive role in such
important tasks as mine-sweeping, logistics, and communications. In
these areas, the Russian military could cooperate with its NATO
counterparts. However, Clinton should not agree to integrating
Russian troops into the NATO command and control structure. This
leaves open the possibility of a Russian "occupation sector" inside
Bosnian Serb territory. The presence of Russian troops on the
ground could prevent further NATO air strikes in the event the
peace treaty collapses.
- Reaffirm that NATO enlargement is not directed against
Many in Moscow are expressing deep concern about NATO
expansion. The summit is a good opportunity for President Clinton
to make clear to Boris Yeltsin and the Russian people that the
North Atlantic alliance harbors no hostile intentions toward them.
While NATO enlargement will occur, Russian participation in the
Partnership for Peace and Moscow's dialogue with Brussels should be
expanded simultaneously. NATO enlargement will expand the zone of
peace and stability in Europe. Such a zone is in the interests not
only of Europe, but of Russia, Belarus, and other countries of the
former Soviet Union as well.
- Oppose a unilateral breach of the Conventional Forces in
The Russian military is threatening a unilateral breach of the
CFE treaty. Specifically, Moscow insists on reviewing upwards the
limits it imposes on the number of tanks and cannon permitted on
the ground. President Clinton should oppose such an asymmetrical
approach. These issues can be renegotiated within the framework of
the treaty. If Russia remains determined to deploy more
treaty-limited equipment on its southern flank, then the U.S.
should seek a quid pro quo -- relief from the 1972 ABM
Treaty, which is impeding the U.S. ballistic missile defense
- Offer incentives to cancel the sale of nuclear reactors to
The radical regime in Tehran has launched a bid to acquire
nuclear weapons and has ordered two nuclear reactors from Russia.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not support this sale,
which could endanger both Russian and Western security. The deal is
being promoted by the powerful atomic industry ministry (Minatom)
and its chief, Viktor Mikhailov. Iran, with its formidable oil and
gas resources, does not need nuclear power. If Tehran wants an
additional source of electricity, Russia could sell electrical
power from its own ample resources. In addition, to compensate
Russia for the lost reactor sales, the U.S. could increase its
Russian uranium import quota or cooperate in building safer nuclear
reactors on Russian soil.
This is not the time for a "feel-good" summit with the Russians.
Although the President's time with Boris Yeltsin is limited, he has
enough time to deliver some important messages, not only to
Yeltsin, but to all of Russia and the world. The U.S. is still
committed to democracy in Russia, but that cause no longer has a
single human face. At the New York summit, President Clinton should
be looking ahead, preparing the ground for what may well be a rocky
road in future U.S.-Russian relations.
- See John Hillen, "The Risks of Clinton's Bosnia Peace Plan,"
Heritage Foundation Backgrounder Update No. 262, October 10,
1995, and John Hillen, "Conditions for Sending U.S. Troops to
Bosnia," Heritage Foundation F.Y.I. No. 66, October 11, 1995.