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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tough Talk Can Only Help Russia

Compromise may be at hand, but President Boris Yeltsin and his foreign policy point man, Yevgeny Primakov, are playing a smart game in emphasizing the differences that lie ahead at the Helsinki summit.


Yeltsin and his foreign minister have expressed in the strongest terms their opposition to NATO's plans for eastward expansion. They say they will settle for nothing less than ironclad, legally binding promises on a score of concerns.


On Russia's shopping list of demands is a commitment from NATO not to deploy either conventional or nuclear weapons in the newly absorbed states. Yeltsin and Primakov also want a pledge that NATO will never move into any former Soviet republics, especially the Baltics. NATO decisions that affect its interests should also be subject to some sort of Russian veto.


The list extends from security issues to economics. Yeltsin wants a seat at the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, guaranteed entry to the World Trade Organization and help attracting foreign investment. These demands may seem high, but all the signs are that, behind the scenes, agreement has been reached and the level of confrontation at the summit will be relatively mild.


As a military alliance, NATO cannot guarantee not to accept new members, nor will it commit categorically not to deploy troops or nuclear weapons in its member states. But a form of words, in which NATO states it has no intention of doing either in the immediate future, will likely be agreed on. NATO will also never give Russia a veto, but it can offer it an exalted consultative role in its decision-making processes.


On the economic front, the NATO governments may promise a great deal to mollify Russia, although the experience of the past five years has shown that the West's pledges of financial aid are often not delivered.


So long as this negotiating process continues -- and it will continue until at least July when NATO is expected to invite in new members -- Russia has every interest to talk tough. Domestically, Yeltsin is proving that he is not a patsy for Western powers, thereby stealing the thunder of his nationalist foes.


More importantly, from a negotiating point of view, Yeltsin can only stand to wring more concessions from the West and NATO by playing up Russia's anger at NATO expansion. The rhetoric will force NATO to develop a better package of security guarantees and might even have some economic benefits.


The West understands the game Yeltsin is playing, and so long as the appearance of confrontation does not prevent practical horse-trading behind the scenes, Russia only stands to gain.