Clinton to Wrestle an Angry Bear in Turkey

  • Share
  • Read Later
You'd have to go back at least 18 years to find a moment of comparable Washington-Moscow tension. President Boris Yeltsin arrived in Istanbul Wednesday spoiling for a fight when he meets President Clinton at Thursday's summit meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Amid rising Western alarm over Moscow’s military campaign in Chechnya, Clinton plans to warn Yeltsin that Russia's policy of flattening the breakaway region in order to strike at terrorists is a "dead end," and that external mediation is required. But Yeltsin no longer regards Clinton a policy adviser in good standing, and he’s made abundantly clear that Moscow regards Chechnya as an entirely domestic matter. "For Moscow, Western criticism has made Chechnya more than simply a war against terrorism," says TIME Moscow correspondent Andrew Meier. "It's taken on the subtext of an anti-NATO campaign, and the more the West complains the more Russia’s generals will dig in their heels."

But the Russians plan to fire first in Istanbul. "Moscow will go on the attack over U.S. efforts to renegotiate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty," says Meier. "They'll put their own issues on the table even before the West raises Chechnya." As if to underline the new bellicose mood in Moscow, a Russian nuclear submarine Wednesday test-fired two ballistic missiles — the third Russian missile test in a month. "We can expect a lot of bluster from Yeltsin," says Meier. "And even a dramatic gesture wouldn’t be surprising." That could be sparked by the presence of representatives of the besieged Chechen government. Unconfirmed reports suggest the OSCE may have invited members of President Aslan Mashkadov's government to discuss the Chechnya crisis. "If that proves true, it would be a major slap in the face to Moscow," says Meier. And one that couldn't go unanswered: Yeltsin may want to wear his best table-banging Bruno Maglis…