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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Major, Moscow Visit a Timely Getaway

One man is sure to enjoy his short winter break in Moscow next week, despite the freezing winds and minus-20-degree temperatures.


John Major has become the fall guy of European politics, beset by a series of misfortunes and scandals, which range from the mundane to the spectacular.


The list of John Major's troubles this winter was capped last Monday by the bizarre and embarrassing death of one of his members of parliament, Stephen Milligan, who was found dead in his apartment clad only in women's stockings and with a plastic bag over his head.


The British prime minister's visit to Russia beginning next Monday will be a chance for him to enjoy the kinder light of international diplomacy, as well as to give President Boris Yeltsin a rest from a troublesome Duma and his new and not so congenial government.


Major, accompanied by Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, arrives in Moscow on Monday night. He will hold talks in the Kremlin on Tuesday and visit Nizhny Novgorod, known as the "privatization capital" of Russia on Wednesday, before flying back to London. Hurd will fly to Riga for talks with the foreign ministers of the three Baltic States.


The trip was planned several months ago, but -- unfortunately for both parties -- the recent dispute between Russia and the West over the decision to intervene in Bosnia may overshadow the occasion.


A few months ago the positions of Britain and Russia were not far apart on the Bosnian crisis, with both countries urging caution and warning against military action.


Since then Russia has toughened its stance against intervention, while Britain has joined the NATO initiative, giving the Bosnian Serbs around Sarajevo a 10-day ultimatum to give up their weapons.


But a presidential spokesman, Anatoly Krasikov, said the two leaders would have no difficulties agreeing on Bosnia.


"We are together in the same camp, our positions do not contradict each other," he said by telephone Friday.


Peter Riddle, political editor of The Times in London, also believed the two sides could find common ground.


"We will try to reassure the Russians we are not the Americans, we are not wholly behind the Moslems, we are in favor of a negotiated settlement," he said, referring to the British position.


The two leaders are said to enjoy a good relationship, dating from the time Major was the first Western leader to telephone Yeltsin in the besieged White House during the attempted coup of August 1991.


Major generally makes a good impression on foreign trips, Riddle said, because he is "totally well briefed. He is not charismatic but he is extremely painstaking and thorough."


This will be a welcome contrast for his managers to the embattled leader accused of being weak and petulant who is embroiled in a sea of political troubles at home. The death of Milligan, who was seen as one of the rising stars of the Conservative Party, compounds a series of scandals and revelations which have led the opposition Labour Party to accuse the government of "sleaze."


Less embarrassing, but potentially much more damaging is the case of a Malaysian dam, which was Britain's largest aid project. A parliamentary commission has been set up to investigate allegations that the dam was tied to a billion-pound-sterling arms deal.


Major now faces a by-election in Milligan's constituency, which might cut his already slim majority in the House of Commons to 15; in May bad results in local and European elections could deal a new blow to the government's prestige.


Leaving such entanglements behind them, the task facing the organizers of Major's Moscow visit will be to give it more substance than just a series of friendly handshakes.


On the economic front Major, who is struggling with a large budget deficit, will not be able to promise much. Britain is one of the smaller Western investors in Russia, with the overwhelming majority of the economic aid tab being picked up by Germany and the United States.