The United States

Russia Table of Contents

Relations with the United States have been a central concern of Soviet and Russian foreign policy since World War II. The United States gained unique stature in the Soviet Union when it emerged from World War II as the ultimate guarantor of European security against attack from the east and the top military power in the NATO alliance. A crucial factor of Soviet-United States relations was the mutual nuclear threat that arose in the 1950s as the Soviet Union developed first a nuclear capability and then a nuclear strategy. The nuclear threat and the underlying potential of "mutually assured destruction" created a chilling presence for the rest of the world. A high point in Soviet-United States relations was the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) that resulted from the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) of 1972. This agreement was an early achievement of the détente, or easing of tensions, that prevailed between the superpowers through most of the 1970s until the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The early 1980s were a time of tense relations and confrontations. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan brought trade and cultural embargoes from the United States and highly visible gestures such as the United States boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. In Europe the superpowers publicly traded threats and took actions such as the deployment of advanced nuclear weapons while they exchanged compromise positions at the negotiating table. Several events of 1983--the downing of a South Korean civilian airliner by the Soviet air force, the United States invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada to evict a Marxist regime, and the exit of the Soviet delegation from arms control talks--kept bilateral tensions high.

By the mid-1980s, the Soviet Union had resumed talks on intermediate-range nuclear forces and strategic arms reduction. During that period, Soviet leadership underwent a major shift from Leonid I. Brezhnev, who died in November 1982, to Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who became general secretary in March 1985. The accession of Gorbachev ultimately ended a period of strident Soviet propaganda against United States president Ronald W. Reagan, whom Russia blamed for prolonging Cold War tensions because of his staunchly anticommunist positions.

In 1985 Reagan and Gorbachev began a series of annual summit meetings that yielded cultural exchange agreements, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty--see Glossary) in 1987, and less tangible benefits. The sight of the "cold warrior" Reagan consorting with his Russian opposite number combined with the instant popularity that Gorbachev gained in the United States to again warm relations. In the mid- and late 1980s, the Soviet Union also stepped up media access and contacts. Soviet spokesmen began appearing regularly on United States television, and United States journalists received unprecedented access to everyday life in the Soviet Union.

In the early 1990s, relations with the United States lost none of their significance for Russia. Russia viewed summitry with the United States as the mark of its continued status as a great power and nuclear superpower. Presidents Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush declared a United States-Soviet strategic partnership at the summit of July 1991, decisively marking the end of the Cold War. President Bush declared that United States-Soviet cooperation during the Persian Gulf crisis of 1990-91 had laid the groundwork for a partnership in resolving bilateral and world problems. For Russia, the closer relations of the early 1990s included a broad range of activities, including tourism and educational exchanges, the study of United States institutions and processes to adapt them for a new "Union of Sovereign States" (one proposed title for a new, nonideological Soviet Union), and the beginning of United States aid to Russia.

During this period, the Soviet Union and subsequently Russia supported the United States on several international issues. In the UN Security Council, the Soviet Union and Russia supported sanctions and operations against Iraq before, during, and after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990; called on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) to abide by safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); supported sending UN observers to conflict-ridden Georgia and Tajikistan; and supported UN economic sanctions against Serbia. The Soviet Union cosponsored Middle East peace talks that opened in October 1991.

In its cooperation with the United States on strategic arms control, Russia declared that it was the successor to the Soviet Union in assuming the obligations of START, which had been signed in July 1991. The Supreme Soviet ratified this treaty in November 1992. Presidents Bush and Yeltsin signed the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II) in January 1993. The United States ratified that treaty in January 1996, but the much more problematic ratification by the new, nationalist-dominated State Duma was left until after the midyear presidential election. In September 1993, Russia acceded to the Missile Technology Control Regime, reaffirming an earlier decision not to transfer sensitive missile technology to India.

However, Soviet and Russian parliaments often opposed policies that they deemed helpful to the United States. The Supreme Soviet, which was less supportive than the Gorbachev government had been of international actions against Iraq, condemned United States air strikes in 1993. The Supreme Soviet approved START I in November 1992 with some conditions and after some delay, but then successive parliaments conducted hearings and debates on START II, without ratifying the treaty, from 1993 through mid-1996 (see Nuclear Arms Issues, ch. 9).

Beginning in 1993, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued statements critical of United States actions and policies. Some United States observers interpreted them as part of a more assertive Russian foreign policy that insisted on protecting nebulous Russian vital interests. Other observers saw such statements primarily as rhetoric designed to mollify hard-line critics of Russian foreign policy in the parliament and elsewhere. Events corroborating the former interpretation included Russia's opposition to NATO membership for Central European and Baltic states, Russian military moves in Georgia that raised questions of its intentions in the near abroad, and Russia's insistence on selling nuclear reactor technology to Iran, as well as doubts about Russia's adherence to chemical and biological weapons bans, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE Treaty), and other arms control pacts. Another blow to United States-Russian relations came in 1994 with the United States arrest of Aldrich Ames, a longtime Soviet and Russian spy.

These events led some in the United States to question Russia's commitment to bilateral cooperation and the soundness of continued United States aid for Russia. Nevertheless, many elements of bilateral cooperation, including most United States aid programs, continued in 1995. From its high point in September 1993, when the United States Congress approved US$2.5 billion in aid to Russia and the NIS, the amount had declined to less than US$600 million for 1996. Only about one-third of the 1996 NIS appropriation was earmarked for Russia. In 1995 Congress placed several conditions on providing aid to Russia, such as requiring that Russia reduce assistance to Cuba. The United States also censured Russian behavior such as nuclear energy agreements with Iran (see Latin America; The Middle East, this ch.).

The Yeltsin-Bush Summits

Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, President Bush met with Boris Yeltsin in 1990, when Yeltsin was chairman of the Russian Supreme Soviet, and again in July 1991, immediately after Yeltsin's election as president of Russia. After the demise of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin met with Bush at a full-scale summit meeting in Washington in June 1992. The two leaders then agreed on many of the START II terms, and a joint session of the United States Congress enthusiastically received Yeltsin. According to some observers, that summit and Yeltsin's speech to Congress were the high points of Russia's conciliatory, pro-Western foreign policy orientation. At Bush's final summit with Yeltsin in January 1993, the leaders signed the landmark START II agreement.

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.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress