At least one group of officials, however, had already pricked up their ears. NATO ministers, meeting with Russian delegates Wednesday in Brussels, are concerned about the state of up to 16,000 tactical warheads still in Moscow’s silos, and want the Russian parliament to stop dragging its feet on ratifying the START II missile reduction treaty. Given that the traditional bugbear of NATO expansion is also on the table, Yeltsin's words look like less of a stumble — and more a subtle bargaining ploy.
Back in the chilly days of the Cold War, news of a Soviet leader promising to slash one third of his nuclear arsenal would have made banner headlines worldwide. But when Boris Yeltsin made that pledge in Sweden on Tuesday, it barely rated a mention. Which could have something to do with the fact that his spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, told reporters that his boss had been "tired" when he spoke — and no, this was not a promise, merely a suggestion.