The leaders of the world's seven major industrial democracies pledged today to broaden their partnership with Russia with initiatives designed to help Moscow pay its debts, manage its nuclear arsenal and play a more effective role in the global economy.
A day after NATO agreed to an unprecedented level of military cooperation with Russia in the Kosovo peacekeeping force, the United States and its major allies sought to brush aside differences with Moscow over the bombing of Yugoslavia and to seek new ways to build a stronger relationship.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, host of this year's Group of Seven summit, told Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin that the West would urge the International Monetary Fund to release $4.5 billion in aid and help Russia restructure $69 billion in debt from the Soviet era. The six Western industrial powers and Japan also plan to expand funding to assist Russia in dismantling obsolete nuclear warheads, safely disposing of plutonium stocks and finding long-term employment for scientists who might otherwise be tempted to sell their nuclear expertise to foreign tyrants.
The concerted effort to repair relations with Russia demonstrates the conviction of the United States and its allies that greater attention must be paid to securing Moscow's cooperation on security and economic issues. Such efforts weren't possible, officials said, until the Kosovo war ended and Moscow and the West agreed on Russia's role in the NATO-led peacekeeping force. That agreement was reached Friday after three days of negotiations in Helsinki by the foreign and defense ministers of the United States and Russia. Western leaders hailed it as a positive harbinger for relations with Moscow.
The Yugoslav war had "kind of frozen things," said U.S. national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger. "There has been a kind of elephant in the room. . ., which is hard to ignore." With the elephant gone, he said, "I think it's possible to now deal with a series of issues that are extraordinarily important."
While Russia remains dependent on Western help in covering its debts and shoring up its currency, Moscow's leaders have expressed mounting alarm over the impact of NATO bombing in Yugoslavia and its growing sense of insecurity in the face of the alliance's military prowess.
President Boris Yeltsin, who is to join the seven other leaders for a final day of discussions Sunday, warned in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel that Western powers were behaving with reckless arrogance and seemed determined "to drag us back to the stone age."
Yeltsin complained that the NATO airstrikes were "an extremely dangerous precedent for solving conflicts" and that the emerging European security model with NATO as chief protector was imperiling Russia by ignoring its interests.
In response to those fears, President Clinton and the leaders of other NATO powers attending the summit -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Canada -- agreed that they needed to launch an intensive campaign to reassure Russia that they wanted to work closely with it and defuse animosities that arose during the 78-day air war.
"This summit gives us the chance to put our differences behind us and map out a set of common interests for the future," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said.
Schroeder, whose country holds about 60 percent of Russia's debt, said every effort would be made to reverse Moscow's economic decline. But so far, Schroeder and the other leaders have made only vague commitments about plowing large sums into a Russian economy that has resisted free market reforms.
Stepashin, who unexpectedly returned to Moscow tonight to brief Yeltsin on his talks, expressed satisfaction with the promises of help. But he also voiced some wariness about whether the other leaders were prepared to put cash on the line. "We want to see these nice words translated into the kind of aid we really need," Stepashin said.
He also complained about the refusal of Western nations to commit any money to Serbia from a planned Balkan reconstruction fund. Clinton and other leaders discussed plans for the reconstruction of Kosovo over dinner Friday night and agreed not to provide any assistance, other than food, medicine and basic humanitarian aid, to Yugoslavia as long as President Slobodan Milosevic remains in power.
But Stepashin said the West was taking a short-sighted attitude in fomenting widespread resentment among Serbs that will make it difficult for them to participate in restoring peaceful relations in the region. "You must not penalize 10 million Serbs for the conduct of one man," Stepashin said.
Guenther Burghardt, a political director at the European Commission, said the European Union was preparing a package of $480 million a year over three years in "humanitarian assistance" covering the immediate needs of refugees returning to Kosovo.
However, that money would pay for rebuilding roads and other items that may be seen as economic and not strictly humanitarian aid, Burghardt said.
Besides offers of debt relief, the United States is asking other industrial powers to contribute more funds to help Russia control its nuclear arsenal.