Install

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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Military Meeting of Minds

The meetings between Vice President Al Gore and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin have always been very cordial, and the last one was exceptionally so. President Boris Yeltsin won his place in the Kremlin by a comfortable margin in a free election, and democracy has triumphed over the dark forces of the former evil empire. At least, this is what U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry seemed to suggest when he recently told me: "I am glad to be in Moscow at this historic moment, and this is not a cliche."


The military-to-military part of this week's meeting was also extremely cordial. I interviewed Perry and Russia's acting Defense Minister General Mikhail Kolesnikov separately after they held talks. Both defense chiefs said they had a very friendly and informal lunch and afterwards went into discussion, achieving quite substantial progress in several fields of mutual interest, "though there were no radical breakthroughs."


It was agreed that the cooperation in Bosnia was proceeding satisfactorily. Last week Perry visited the Russian brigade in Bosnia and awarded its commander, General Alexander Lenstov, with the medal of the Legion of Merit "for outstanding military performance and very effective cooperation with the U.S. troops." Apparently, Perry is ready to give out many more ribbons if this can keep the Russian military in a happy and cooperative mood.


Perry proposed that the present temporary Russian military-liaison mission attached to the supreme NATO headquarters in Belgium become permanent. The Russian mission is at present headed by General Leonty Shevtsov and helps to coordinate the activities of the Russian brigade in Bosnia.


The Russians have already agreed to continue the mission, but the West is also demanding that a NATO liaison team be attached to the Russian general staff in Moscow "to facilitate ongoing cooperation." It was feared that the Russian military would express grave reservations over the idea or sabotage it altogether. To Perry's delight, however, the Russians suddenly agreed.


Perry told me this was his greatest achievement this week in Moscow. But he was still cautious: "I do not want to put words in the Russians' mouths, however they seem positive on this." Kolesnikov was more forthcoming: "We did agree in principal without any problem. Now the details -- the composition and the mandate of the liaison teams -- should be worked out."


There was even more understanding established on the START II nuclear disarmament agreement that has already been ratified by the U.S. Senate and is bogged down in the Russian State Duma. The Russian military chiefs did their best to impress upon the Americans the notion that the General Staff and the Russian Defense Ministry are doing everything possible to push START II through the reluctant, Communist-led Duma.


Perry said that "START II is mutually beneficial, and that he believes that it will soon be ratified." Kolesnikov echoed him telling me that he has a gut feeling that START II will finally be ratified, "but it will be a hard struggle."


Renewed fighting in Chechnya has not spoiled the talks. It is clear that the Clinton administration is at present not planning to "link" successful cooperation in nuclear disarmament or in Bosnia and overall cordial relations to such contentious issues as the war in Chechnya or the Russian reactors for Iran. Gore did make some disapproving noises but apparently also expressed some "understanding" of the Russian position.


It is mostly the news media that are now making a fuss over Chechnya. The main question is, "Why is the war accelerating when the notorious 'party of war' has been successfully flushed out of the Kremlin?" After five years of Yeltsin in power, it is still not fully understood that the Kremlin parties of "war" and "peace" coexist under the aegis of one man -- President Yeltsin. He is the one and only strategic decision-maker.


It has long been decided that Moscow will never grant Chechnya independence. Since the rebels did not agree to abandon their bid for independence during negotiation, they are now being chewed up in a war of attrition that they cannot possibly win.


Perry obviously knows Kremlin politics better than many others. He told me: "I do not know Mr. Lebed personally, but I have complete confidence that the foreign and security policies of Russia will be determined by President Yeltsin and that all the members of his administration will carry out these policies."





Pavel Felgenhauer is defense and national security affairs editor of Sevodnya.