Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin to Query Future of NATO

President Boris Yeltsin plans to press the 52 other heads of state gathering for a summit meeting in Budapest next week to accept that military alliances such as NATO have no "real future," Itar-Tass reported Friday.

Yeltsin's proposal, to be made at a meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, will come at a time when European security is in its greatest state of flux in decades, especially regarding the future of NATO.

Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev stunned NATO foreign ministers Thursday, when he rejected a plan for Russian cooperation with the alliance under its Partnership for Peace program and questioned NATO's long-term intentions.

NATO fired back Friday, accusing Kozyrev of posturing and saying that he had been aware of the plan in advance. But the Russian foreign minister stood firm later on during a closed meeting in Brussels, The Associated Press reported Friday.

European security and Russia's place in it are likely to take center stage at the CSCE summit meeting Monday and Tuesday in Budapest, where Yeltsin is scheduled to speak on the opening day. Russia has proposed that the conference adopt a resolution giving the CSCE the dominant role in European security and declaring that "alignments have no real future," Itar-Tass reported.

That resolution -- which is aimed directly at undermining NATO -- is unlikely to pass. But it makes clear that the question of how to fill the post-Cold War security vacuum in Europe has been thrown into play.

"It's a defining moment, and that's the irony of it," said Daniel Goure at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "In a sense we stand at a point where it is very possible that NATO will fall and the United States will be out of Europe."

If NATO were to fall, Moscow is ready. For Russia, the CSCE offers the way forward, providing it with the kind of influential seat at the table that is unavailable either in NATO or the European Union.

Russia's twin drive to wither NATO and bolster CSCE makes sense, said Dmitry Trenin, a senior research fellow at Russia's Institute of Europe and an associate of the Carnegie Center in Moscow.

"Russia is not in NATO, it's not in the European Union and it doesn't have the Warsaw Pact anymore," Trenin said. "I think the objective the Russian leadership has in mind is to prevent Russia's exclusion from Europe."

For the first time the Americans, too, have begun to say that they would like to see the CSCE strengthened, even as they push for NATO's eastward expansion.

Few, however, put much store in this apparent U.S. change of heart, or in the chances of success for Russia's plan to substitute the CSCE for NATO as the dominant security organization in Europe.

"The Russians said NATO should be subordinated to CSCE, but we don't see a hierarchy of institutions in Europe," said a Western CSCE delegate who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We see NATO's purpose and goals as being completely different from CSCE."

Clinton's decision to travel to Budapest for the summit at all has less to do with the CSCE than with the United States' position in Europe. Clinton, Goure said, would "like to do something that raises the issue of U.S. interest in Europe," he said, adding that trips abroad always boost the president's approval rating.

Trenin predicted problems for Russia's policy: "The members of CSCE don't want to become a mini-UN. For them, security is principally provided by NATO."

For its part, Washington's recent echoing of Russian calls for a stronger CSCE have been dismissed as an effort to appease Moscow.

But as Kozyrev and now Yeltsin too are showing, the Russians will not be easily appeased. They see NATO moving into Eastern Europe, and will not take a token gesture toward CSCE in return.

"This is a gesture toward Russia to smooth out any potential conflict about the expansion of NATO," Trenin said. "These are all gestures. There is nothing really serious here."