Russian History


The State of the Federation Speeches

In February 1994, Yeltsin outlined Russia's foreign policy in his first state of the federation address to the Russian parliament, as the 1993 constitution required. Yeltsin's address to the more nationalistic legislative body that had just been elected called for a more assertive Russian foreign policy. However, Yeltsin showed the still inchoate and even contradictory character of Russian foreign policy by making several references to conciliatory, Western-oriented policies.

Yeltsin noted that as a great country, Russia had its own foreign policy priorities to pursue, including prevention of cold or hot global war by preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. By mentioning the possibility of global war, he supported the view of the Russian military and other conservative and hard-line groups that the United States and the West remain a threat. Yeltsin voiced support for the Partnership for Peace (PfP--see Glossary) program of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO--see Glossary) and opposition to the expansion of NATO to include Central European states without including Russia (see Western Europe, this ch.). On international economic matters, Yeltsin called for quick removal of obstacles to trade with the West and for making the CIS into an economic union with a common market as well as a common security system and guarantees on human rights. As a warning to those calling for reconstituting the empire, he stated that such integration should not damage Russia by depleting the nation's material and financial resources.

Yeltsin's February 1995 state of the federation address did not repeat the contradictory and sometimes harsh tone of the 1994 speech. Yeltsin broadly depicted a cooperative and conciliatory Russian foreign policy, but he offered few details on policy toward specific countries or regions. Yeltsin outlined Russia's cooperation with the Group of Seven (G-7; see Glossary) of top world economic powers, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE--see Glossary), the UN, and NATO; the need for Russia to adhere to arms control agreements; and reductions in Russian armed forces. Despite his broadly conciliatory attitude toward the West and his general support of world cooperation, Yeltsin still objected to NATO enlargement as a threat to European security.

Some political analysts in the West suggested that the 1995 speech was an attempt to reassure the world of Russia's peaceful foreign policy in the wake of its widely censured attempt to suppress separatism in the Republic of Chechnya in December 1994 (see Movements Toward Sovereignty, ch. 4). Later in 1995, arguing that the West was wrong to fear Moscow's intentions toward Central Europe, Yeltsin announced that in 1995 Russian foreign policy would be nonconfrontational and would follow the principle of "real partnership in all directions" with the United States, Europe, China, India, Japan, and Latin America. The priorities of this stance would be enhanced interaction with the CIS states and partnership with the United States on the basis of a "balance of interests."

The February 1996 state of the federation speech occurred just after the convocation of the Federal Assembly (parliament) following the December legislative elections and a few months before the June 1996 presidential election. The legislative elections brought substantial gains for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (Kommunisticheskaya partiya Rossiyskoy Federatsii--KPRF) and losses for reformists, which indicated deep discontent with the Yeltsin administration. Under these conditions, Yeltsin gave foreign policy only brief mention in his February speech. He noted that there had been problems in defining Russia's foreign policy priorities and in matching policy to execution. He vaguely promised a more realistic and pragmatic policy that would support Russia's national interests. Yeltsin singled out NATO enlargement, efforts against Russian interests in the CIS, conflict in the former Yugoslavia, and controversies over the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE Treaty--see Glossary) and the Anti-Ballistic MissileTreaty (ABM Treaty--see Glossary) as persisting problems of Russia's foreign policy.

Despite these problems, Yeltsin emphasized that his foreign policy had scored several major achievements, including moves toward further integration of the CIS. Repeating statements from the 1995 speech, he noted that Russia's strategic arms control and security agreements ensured that the country faced no real military or nuclear threat. He argued that such security gains made Russia's signing of the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II--see Glossary) advisable. He praised United States and Russian cooperation in extending the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT--see Glossary), and he noted the international prestige that Russia had gained through participation in meetings of the G-7, membership in the Council of Europe (see Glossary), and new ties with China and the states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Persian Gulf.