Russian History


The Yeltsin-Clinton Summits

The administration of William J. Clinton, which took office in January 1993, advocated more concerted United States efforts to aid Russian and NIS transitions to democracy and market economies. The justification of that policy was that these transitions served United States security and human rights interests and would provide markets for United States products. The April 1993 Vancouver summit, the first formal meeting between Yeltsin and Clinton, furthered United States-Russian cooperation on many bilateral issues. The resulting Vancouver Declaration pledged the two sides to uphold "a dynamic and effective United States-Russian partnership." The joint communiqué noted Yeltsin's pledge to continue reform efforts such as privatization.

The major summit initiative was finalization of a United States aid package of US$1.6 billion. On bilateral and international security issues, the two sides called for strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and urging North Korea not to carry out its threat to withdraw from the NPT. The sides also agreed to work for implementation of the START treaties.

An important by-product of the Vancouver meeting was the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, which initially was a vehicle for Vice President Albert Gore and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to work out the details of bilateral agreements on space, energy, and technology. Between 1993 and early 1996, the two men met six times, each time with an expanded agenda. By 1996 the commission was a forum for establishing joint endeavors on topics ranging from the sale of Siberian timber to delivery of diphtheria vaccine to rural Russia. The United States also used the relationship to send messages to Yeltsin on urgent diplomatic topics such as Bosnia and Chechnya. In 1996 a similar commission brought Chernomyrdin into regular consultation with French foreign minister Alain Juppé.

Whereas the Vancouver summit had highlighted economic aid to Russia, the Moscow summit of January 1994 emphasized issues of arms control and nonproliferation. The summit included a hastily arranged meeting of the leaders of the United States, Russia, and Ukraine that produced Ukraine's commitment to give up all nuclear weapons on its territory and sign the NPT. The meeting's Trilateral Nuclear Statement also committed Russia and the United States to provide Soviet-era "nuclear powers" Belarus, Kazakstan, and Ukraine with security guarantees in exchange for giving up the uranium in the nuclear weapons located on their territory. Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin also pledged that, beginning in May 1994, strategic ballistic missiles no longer would be aimed at any country. This agreement marked the superpowers' first cessation of the nuclear operations that had been based on Cold War presumptions of mutual enmity.

A potential stumbling block to the success of the 1994 summit was Russia's objection to proposals for early admission of some Central European states into NATO (see Western Europe, this ch.; The NATO Issue, ch. 9). Nevertheless, the summit communiqué affirmed that the new European security order must include all nations as equal partners. The role of Russia in its near abroad was also an important point of discussion at the summit. Yeltsin sought to reassure the West that Russia's border policy was aimed only at stability, not neo-imperialist goals. Yeltsin repeated his call for peacekeeping assistance from the UN, CSCE, and other international organizations and complained about the international community's restrained response to Russian appeals for mediation in the conflict regions of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan.

United States aid played a less prominent role in the Clinton-Yeltsin summit in Washington in September 1994. Instead, both sides emphasized the growth of future bilateral trade and investment. International policy differences were more visible in the Washington meeting than they had been previously, but both sides stressed the nonconfrontational nature of the "working partnership" in resolving differences. The two presidents signed a framework agreement termed the Partnership for Economic Progress (PFEP), which outlined principles and objectives for the development of trade and economic cooperation and for United States business investment in Russia. They also planned a Commercial Partnership Program to help guide Russia toward better bilateral commercial relations. United States business leaders warned Yeltsin, however, that private investment in Russia could not increase appreciably under the still capricious and complex Russian laws, taxes, import duties, and governmental red tape.

A major initiative at the summit was agreement that once Moscow and Washington had ratified START II, the two sides would quickly remove warheads from missiles whose launchers would be eliminated under START II. Other initiatives covered the storage and security of nuclear materials and continued moratoriums on nuclear weapons tests.

The conflict in Bosnia remained an issue of contention. Yeltsin refused to support a UN Security Council resolution lifting the arms embargo against Bosnia's Muslim-led government. The United States also voiced concern about Russian peacekeeping activities in former Soviet republics, although Russia insisted that its actions respected the sovereignty of the new states. Russian recalcitrance on arms sales to Iran, classified by the West as a terrorist state, also was a source of conflict. While agreeing that no new arms contracts would be signed with Iran, Yeltsin insisted that existing commitments would be upheld.

Three issues dominated the Clinton-Yeltsin summit meeting held in Moscow in May 1995--NATO enlargement, Russia's sale of nuclear reactors to Iran, and the Chechnya conflict. In spite of their differences on key issues, Clinton and Yeltsin pledged to continue a cooperative relationship.

The two leaders referred the matter of nuclear sales to Iran to the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, which subsequently crafted an agreement on two Russian concessions on the transfer issue. On the subject of European security, the two sides underscored the importance of ongoing integration and of joint participation in international bodies, including Russia's membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP). Discussions of NATO enlargement remained inconclusive.

At the May 1995 summit, President Clinton expressed his expectation that Russia would meet all conditions of the CFE Treaty, which was due to come into full force in November 1995. Meeting this deadline would require withdrawing several hundred tanks and other weapons from the North Caucasus region of Russia, including many in Chechnya. At the review conference in May 1996, Clinton offered to support modifications to the CFE Treaty to meet Russia's "legitimate security interests." Clinton reiterated United States concerns about human rights abuses in Chechnya and called for a permanent cease-fire. Yeltsin responded by calling Russia's Chechnya campaign a battle against terrorism rather than a conventional military action.

The summit meeting of October 1995, held in Hyde Park, New York, continued the previous emphasis on the most contentious issues of bilateral relations. These included Russian nuclear sales to Cuba and Iran, objections to expansion of NATO in Central Europe and to United States plans to build a ballistic missile defense system, and Russia's noncompliance with the CFE Treaty. The dominant question of this summit, which yielded no agreements, was the form of Russia's participation in NATO-commanded international peacekeeping forces to be sent into Bosnia. Clinton and Yeltsin referred most of the contentious issues to lower levels for detailed discussion and emerged from the summit emphasizing the continued strength of Russian-United States cooperation.

The Moscow summit of April 1996 took place during presidential campaigns in both countries. It also followed directly the G-7 meeting on nuclear safety and security in Moscow. As in Hyde Park, the two leaders emphasized the positive aspects of their partnership and announced progress in negotiations over the CFE and ABM treaties, but without citing any details. Yeltsin briefed Clinton on his progress toward ratification of the START II agreement, and Clinton criticized Russia's fears of NATO enlargement as completely unfounded. For Yeltsin, the meeting was an opportunity to demonstrate to the electorate that the leader of the United States respected him, but he also felt constrained to demonstrate that he was independent of coercion by Clinton.