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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Russia and West, the Honeymoon Is Over

LONDON -- After a two-year honeymoon with Russia, Western governments are having to adapt to a return to more Soviet-style policies by the Moscow leadership, Western diplomats and analysts say.


But the West continues to have a huge stake in stability in Russia and has little choice but to go on seeking cooperation with its troubled eastern neighbor, according to the analysts.


"They're awkward partners but we risk a great deal if we don't bring them into our counsels," a Western diplomat said. "It would be self-defeating to say 'You've disappointed our hopes and we're going to wash our hands of you.'"


There were echoes of the Cold War this week when the arrest of a CIA officer on charges of spying for Russia led to angry U.S. accusations of Kremlin skulduggery and counter-blasts from Moscow about American "spy mania."


But, in a sign of changed times, both sides have moved to scale down the row.


The spy furor came only days after Russia took a more assertive stance in the Bosnian crisis by sending troops to the besieged capital Sarajevo to ensure a Serb artillery withdrawal and head off the threat of NATO air strikes.


Many analysts believe Moscow's action -- under pressure from hardline parties sympathetic to the Serbs -- has made it difficult for NATO to threaten strikes again elsewhere in Bosnia.


The move in Bosnia is part of a recent tougher Russian policy in its traditional sphere of interests, including a stepped-up peacekeeping role in some ex-Soviet republics and strong opposition to Eastern Europe joining NATO.


Economic policy has also seen a row-back by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, which has said it will temper "shock therapy" reforms advocated by the West and keep up state support to ailing industries to minimize public hardship.


The developments have led some Western analysts to bleak conclusions. In one newspaper article, Peter Reddaway of George Washington University in Washington painted a black picture of growing instability and economic decline in Russia.


"Western governments, blinded by illusory hopes, have woken up very late to the disturbing forces at work in Russia," he wrote. "They have no time to lose in planning for the worse storms that are, I fear, already looming."


A key charge levelled by critics against Western governments is that they have uncritically backed Yeltsin despite his shaky position and policies.


However, President Bill Clinton and other Western leaders see their goals in Russia as essentially unchanged -- to support democracy, no matter what forces this might bring to prominence, encourage economic reform and help Moscow scale down its nuclear forces.


But many Western diplomats now believe Yeltsin is past his peak, politically as well as physically, and that power is devolving at least partly to the increasingly influential Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and his government.


Diplomats believe Moscow's desire to boost its role in former Soviet republics can be accommodated, provided the terms of any Russian peacekeeping presence there are negotiated with the rest of Europe.


But they see greater problems ahead on the economic front, where the West faces a serious dilemma over whether to carry through promised aid programs when Russian economic policies are not following the rules of the International Monetary Fund, diplomats said.


"Political expediency suggests that we shouldn't cold-shoulder the Russians," a diplomat said. "But to bend the rules would be to undermine the IMF ideological approach. I don't see where the middle ground lies."