AS Russia and the West seek to forge a new relationship, moves to improve cooperation these days seem to do more to highlight differences between the former cold war enemies than smooth them over.
Such is the case during Russian President Boris Yeltsin's three-day visit to Germany that ends today. Following meetings with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Mr. Yeltsin appeared to defuse a row over the withdrawal of Russian troops from eastern Germany.
But at the same time, the dour Russian president raised unspecified preconditions to Moscow's membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, which is designed to promote stability in the former Communist bloc.
Yeltsin also insisted Russia deserved full membership in major international institutions, pushing in particular for expansion of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized nations to include Russia.
``Russia is a mighty country and a great power, and that is why it has a moral right to participate on international and global issues that are considered by G-7 leaders,'' Yeltsin said at a Wednesday news conference.
Most Western nations, especially the United States, have been reluctant to agree to Russia's desire for special status within the Partnership for Peace. As for G-7 membership, most members are wary of including Russia, which is now facing an uphill struggle to reform its economy.
Nevertheless, Yeltsin predicted that Russia would become a full member of the G-7 by 1995. Chancellor Kohl supported the idea of a G-8, but did not give a firm timetable for expansion.
Compared with the Partnership and G-7 questions, the matter of Russia's troop withdrawal from Germany was resolved fairly easily. At the heart of the problem was the type of farewell that Russian troops are to receive when they quit Germany in late August. About 18,000 Russian soldiers remain in eastern Germany.
The Russians stress the need for a dignified farewell and had called for a joint parade with US, British, and French troops. Washington, London, and Paris will soon complete the withdrawal of their troop contingents from Berlin, and German officials have scheduled two parades - on June 18 and Sept. 8 - to mark the event.
The German government steadfastly opposes Russian inclusion in such a military parade, citing the differing roles of Russian and Western troops in post-World War II Germany.
Initially, Kohl had proposed a small Russian farewell ceremony to take place in the eastern German city of Weimar on Aug. 31. The two sides reached a compromise Wednesday, with the separate ceremony shifting from Weimar to Berlin on the last day of August.
As for Partnership for Peace, Yeltsin's comments underscored Moscow's testy attitude toward the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Russia had been scheduled to sign up in April for the program - which includes most former Warsaw Pact members and seven former Soviet republics. But sign-up talks broke down over Russian insistence on being granted the status as first among equals in the program.
Many nations participating in the program say the Partnership can achieve its aim only if Russia also signs on. Yeltsin said Moscow would now join the program after concluding a special protocol with NATO that takes into account ``the special position of Russia, which after all, has an Army of 3 million.''
So far Russia has not specified its preconditions for joining the Partnership. NATO officials may get a better idea of Russia's desires when Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev visits the Atlantic alliance's headquarters in Brussels on May 24.
Of late, Russia has sought to downplay NATO's importance in the future security of Europe while promoting the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 52-member organization of which Russia is a member, as the continent's most important peacekeeping instrument. Moscow also has sought revisions in the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe to allow for the redeployment of additional Russian troops on its southern and northern flanks.