February 7, 1997
As Russia's second-in-command, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, meets with Vice President Al Gore to prepare for a summit in Helsinki, Finland, in March between President Clinton and President Yeltsin, many hope the high level talks will reduce tensions between the two countries over NATO expansion. After a background report on Chernomyrdin's visit and a discussion with Vice President Gore's national security advisor, Leon Fuerth, two Russian experts discuss how America's former Cold War advisary views plans to include Eastern Europe into NATO.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, how this looks to two Russian observers. Gennady Gerasimov was Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's spokesman. He's currently a visiting professor at Mulhenberg College in Pennsylvania. Andrew Kortunov is director of the Moscow Public Science Foundation. He joins us from Boston, where he is attending a conference. Thank you, both of you.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
February 7, 1997:
After a background report on Prime Minister Chernomyrdin visit to Washington, Vice President Gore's national security advisor, Leon Fuerth, discusses plans for an upcoming U.S.-Russian summit in March.
December 11, 1996:
Richard Holbrooke and Paul Nitze School of the Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University debate the pros and cons of NATO expansion.
November 15, 1996:
In a Newsmaker interview, Defense Secretary William Perry talks about the future role of NATO.
July 8, 1996:
Poland's President Kwasniewski comes to the NewsHour and explains why he is pushing for Polish NATO membership.
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Andrei Kortunov, starting with you, what is the level of unhappiness, do you think about NATO expansion in Russia?
ANDREI KORTUNOV, Moscow Public Science Foundation: (Boston) I guess that we should distinguish between two levels. If it takes general public, I guess that most of Russians are not concerned about the NATO expansion at all because they have too many issues to address. But if you take the level of political allies for people in Moscow who have influence on the decision making process, it's a matter of symbolism, and no politician right now in Russia can say that he or she doesn't care about the enlargement of NATO.
MARGARET WARNER: And Gennady Gerasimov, who is most deeply concerned? Who's leading the charge of opposition?
GENNADY GERASIMOV, Former Gorbachev Spokesman: (Philadelphia) Well, Communists, nationalists, they are glad that NATO is expanding because they have additional for their propaganda that Russia is humiliated; that the rest didn't change; that it wants to create a kind of cordone sanitaire, isolate Russia, and so on.
MARGARET WARNER: And do you agree with Andrei Kortunov that the public at large isn't terribly concerned?
GENNADY GERASIMOV: Not really today, but maybe they will listen to Communists and nationalists, and then it will be a public concern. And NATO for us was, as was mentioned, always kind of a danger, and you promised--for instance, President Bush in his letter to Gorbachev in July 1990--to transform NATO, not to expand, to transform, and he talked also about collective security. People talk about NATO and forget about the letters. They stand for what? In my view, they stand for navies, aviation, tanks, obsolete.
MARGARET WARNER: You're saying that's what you think NATO stands for?
GENNADY GERASIMOV: Yes. And navies, aviation, tanks, absolutely because NATO lost its mission, was a fact is there no more, can you imagine a boxer coming to ring and his rival is not showing up and his boxer coming to ring, and his arrival is not showing up, and this boxer has no reason to pump iron again, right?
MARGARET WARNER: Andrei Kortunov, do you think an expanded NATO is any kind of security threat to Russia?
ANDREI KORTUNOV: Well, not now. I think that we can be perfectly secure about the kind of intentions of NATO, but if one takes a purely realist position on NATO, if it asserts capabilities or other intentions, then of course one has to come to the conclusion that NATO becomes "the" dominant power in Europe. But for Russian politicians, at least as far as they can see, it's not just a particular military danger. It is the fear of being isolated, marginalized in a role in Europe, and it goes deep into Russian history. There is a perception in Russia that we are not taking as Europeans, and we are literally pushed out of Europe. We are getting isolated on the continent.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with Mr. Gerasimov that is the Communists and internationalists who actually welcome this controversy?
ANDREI KORTUNOV: Well, some of them would really like it to happen because it will allow them to argue that Russia should nail down its own sphere of interest in Europe; that if the West is ready to divide Europe, and if the West is ready to consolidate its own sphere of influence on the continent, we should at least consolidate our gains, and probably we should use all methods that we have in order to build a defense alliance on the territory of the former Soviet Union.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that kind of an argument could fly politically in Russia today?
ANDREI KORTUNOV: I'm not sure that it can fly right now. I don't think that the Russian public is ready to pay for such an alliance. Even with Belarus there are problems. And it will require a lot more sources to get Ukraine into any kind of a political union with Russia; however, I think that for liberals it is always an important question, so there is a liberal opposition, and I repeat, it's the fear of being marginalized in Europe.
MARGARET WARNER: Gennady Gerasimov, do you think that NATO expansion or even this controversy is a threat to the Yeltsin government or a threat to the forces for political and economic reform?
GENNADY GERASIMOV: NATO expansion in my view is a domestic and psychological problem, as it was already mentioned, and in this instance it is a threat because it can create a kind of a public discussion that the government is not really delivering the security of the country. And it's going to play in the hands of those who are really interested in returning the clocks back.
MARGARET WARNER: And what do you think it would take in the way of some sort of an agreement between NATO and Russia or agreements to make the expansion feel less threatening both sort of politically and also socially, as you all have described it?
GENNADY GERASIMOV: It was mentioned already. You must have a kind of an agreement or a treaty which put our fears to rest, so to say.
MARGARET WARNER: What would it have to say? What would such an agreementů
GENNADY GERASIMOV: It's not easy. It's for the diplomats. I can use President Yeltsin's phrase which was he said on a different occasion is just to mate a hedge hog and a grass snake, it's difficult; it's not impossible.
MARGARET WARNER: Andrei Kortunov, what do you think it would take to make NATO expansion politically salable for the Yeltsin government at home?
ANDREI KORTUNOV: Well, first of all, I think it should be clear that the enlargement of NATO is an open-ended process, and that Russia can find ultimately a place within the NATO framework if it tries really hard and if it meets the criteria which is very high. Second, I think that what is important is to demonstrate that even if Russia is already a partner to NATO, it has a say in matters which are directly related to its security. It doesn't mean that Russia should have a veto power, but at least we need to have a consultation mechanism and a mechanism at a relatively high level. So Yeltsin should be in a position to come back to his electorate and say look here, guys, we are not members to NATO but only because Russia has a bigger game to play. We are really important to NATO, and they wouldn't ignore our interests.
MARGARET WARNER: Gennady Gerasimov, do you think that's something that Boris Yeltsin would find himself able to do--to make that kind of an argument?
GENNADY GERASIMOV: Well, personally I hope that this controversy would fade away. We don't feel any military danger from NATO today. And I'm sure you don't feel any military danger from Russia today. And I guess they will find some kind of accommodation. For Yeltsin, as I see it, the problem is to de-fuse it as a domestic issue.
MARGARET WARNER: Andrei Kortunov, give us your sense of Boris Yeltsin's health in particular and how it's affecting his ability to govern.
ANDREI KORTUNOV: Well, I think that some of the problems that Yeltsin has turned out to be more difficult than we expected. His problems are not limited to the health problem that he had, and probably he has deeper troubles with his health. At least, right now, we can say that he cannot run the country on the day-to-day basis, and the problem that all of us have to confront is that without Yeltsin, no one really takes responsibility, no one has guts to make unpopular and somewhat risky decisions. And the country needs these decisions. We have to move forward on military reform, we have to do something about economic reforms; we have to do something on foreign policy; and in the absence of Mr. Yeltsin, these issues seem to be put on shelf. And I think that we do face a stagnation period, at least for the time being.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, Gennady Gerasimov, do you agree? You heard Leon Fuerth say he didn't think there was stagnation.
GENNADY GERASIMOV: Well, we heard these kind of things before. According to his personal physician, Brezhnev was a vegetable for the seven last years of his reign, but at that time the country was on auto pilot. We had party bureaucracy; we had governmental bureaucracy; they were running the country. This time is different. Yeltsin is not functioning. The decisions are put on the shelf, and we do not have an established bureaucracy in place. We have turmoil in the government. Chernomyrdin is actually just caretaker. He has no vision where to go. All the decisions are taken by the president, but the president doesn't take any decisions, so it's a bad situation.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you both very much.