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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Talks Give West First Glimpse of Primakov

Yevgeny Primakov began his first trip to the West as Russian foreign minister on Friday, arriving in Helsinki for talks with U.S.Secretary of State Warren Christopher exactly one month after he was appointed to replace Andrei Kozyrev.

Primakov, 66, was due to have a private dinner with Christopher before the start of formal talks Saturday, Reuters reported. The discussions were expected to focus on arms control, the implementation of the Dayton peace accords on Bosnia, preparations for an eight-nation summit on nuclear safety in Moscow in April and Russia's concerns about NATO's planned expansion into Eastern Europe.

U.S. officials said they did not expect any breakthroughs, noting that the main aim of the talks was to find ways to establish a cooperative relationship. Reuters quoted State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns as saying that Christopher's "primary objective is to sit down with a guy he's never worked with and have a series of discussions about how we can work together ... in a very important year."

The officials said Christopher would also be looking for further reassurances that Russia would keep to its reform program, following the recent dismissals of prominent liberal figures, including Kozyrev and Anatoly Chubais, who was fired last month from his post as first deputy prime minister for the economy.

Christopher had initially offered a wait-and-see response to the appointment of Primakov, who moved to the Foreign Ministry from his former job as chief of the Foreign Intelligence Service.

Russian officials also spoke of the need for the two men to establish a working relationship.

"The foreign minister's meetings with Christopher will aim at making his acquaintance," Interfax quoted a Primakov aide as saying.

The official added that Primakov intended to raise the issues of equal partnership and NATO expansion, which Russia opposes. He is due to return to Moscow on Saturday night.

Since taking over as foreign minister Jan. 9, Primakov has indicated that he will take a more assertive line in relations with the West than Kozyrev, who faced severe criticism at home for what was seen as a pro-Western stance.

Kozyrev was blamed by critics for Russia's declining influence on world affairs and accused of allowing the West to dictate policy in the former Yugoslavia and of failing to resist plans to admit former Soviet-bloc East European countries to NATO.

In the last few weeks, Primakov has visited Tajikistan, Belarus and Ukraine, underlining a new foreign policy emphasis on relations with the former Soviet republics, in keeping with the aspirations of Communists and nationalists who made sweeping gains in December's elections to the State Duma.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, the Clinton administration's most influential Russia specialist, has acknowledged "troubling trends" in Russia.

Writing in the New York Times this week, Talbott noted that Russia was stepping up calls for economic and political integration among the ex-Soviet republics. He said this was acceptable only if such integration were "totally voluntary."

Christopher underscored this and other U.S. goals by pointedly meeting Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Helsinki the night before his first encounter with Primakov.

Over the coming weeks, the Russian State Duma is to consider the ratification of the START II treaty, signed in January 1993, under which Russian and U.S. long-range nuclear arsenals are to be reduced by about 50 percent. Christopher was expected to raise the issue at the Helsinki talks and urge Primakov to press for ratification.

President Bill Clinton is due to visit Moscow on April 19 to 20, along with the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, for talks on safeguarding nuclear stockpiles and installations. He is also expected to hold separate talks with Yeltsin on bilateral issues.