As Yeltsin Travels, Critics Demand Foreign Policy Review
MOSCOW — RUSSIA'S open foreign policy will be put to the test during a two-day Central European tour by President Boris Yeltsin.
Mr. Yeltsin was scheduled to travel to Warsaw today for talks with Polish officials, including President Lech Walesa. He then plans to visit Slovakia and the Czech Republic before returning to Moscow.
Polish, Slovak, and Czech officials hope Yeltsin's visit will stabilize relations among the former Socialist Bloc nations, giving a boost to sagging trade ties. But with Russia's domestic political turmoil apparently spilling over into the foreign policy realm, Yeltsin may be unable to deliver the stability that the Central European nations desire.
Of late, Yeltsin's political opponents have been increasing pressure on his administration to reassess Russia's post-Soviet foreign policy, which has emphasized close cooperation with the West. The nationalist-dominated opposition characterizes that policy as betraying Russia's best interests and has advocated tougher stances on many international issues.
Recent statements and actions by government officials have sent mixed signals regarding Russia's future foreign policy, a possible indication that Yeltsin's ability to maintain the present course may be weakening in the face of growing opposition.
Over the weekend, for example, Moscow suspended the withdrawal of Russian troops stationed in the Baltic republic of Lithuania. A Russian Foreign Ministry statement condemned "continual threats in Lithuania against Russian servicemen," and promised a quick response if the perceived harassment continued. Russia sets its own terms
The troop withdrawal, agreed upon after Lithuania gained independence in 1991, was to have been completed Aug. 31. Of the 30,000-strong Russian force to be withdrawn, about 2,500 are still in Lithuania.
The Russian statement said all troops would eventually leave Lithuania, "but under terms that suit the Russian Federation." It also dismissed Lithuanian compensation claims for 50 years of occupation by Soviet forces.
Officials in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius denounced the Russian decision and denied Russian troops had been threatened.
The troop withdrawal decision followed several controversial foreign policy statements by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.
Speaking during a tour of the Russian Far East last week, Mr. Chernomyrdin said Western policy toward Russia was aimed at crippling Moscow's ability to compete for world markets.
"They want Russia to disintegrate and can hardly wait for this," Chernomyrdin, who is scheduled to make a three-day visit to the United States starting Aug. 29, was quoted as saying by the Itar-Tass news agency.
The prime minister also caused a stir by saying Russia will not return four islands to Japan that Soviet forces occupied during the final days of World War II.
The territorial dispute over the islands in the Kurile Archipelago is the central issue in Russian-Japanese relations. Japan, which has refused to sign a formal World War II peace treaty with Russia until the Kuriles are returned, called the premier's statement "extremely regrettable." Japan trip to go ahead
Some political analysts said Chernomyrdin's statement endangered Yeltsin's planned visit to Japan later this year. At a news conference last week, however, Yeltsin distanced himself from Chernomyrdin's stance and said the Japan trip would take place as scheduled.
But at the same news conference, Yeltsin seemed to complicate his visit to Slovakia and the Czech Republic by refusing to apologize for the 1968 Soviet invasion of the former Czechoslovakia.
"We [Russia], like Slovakia, became victims of the totalitarian system, and Russia suffered no less than Slovakia," Yeltsin claimed.
"We can't apologize because this was not our action," he said.