Expectations low as Albright heads for Russia talks; Administration's hope is to keep dialogue alive


WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Madeleine Albright embarks today on a trip to a weakened but obstinate Russia, with little expectation on either side that much improvement will be made in a relationship complicated by disagreement on everything from Russia's economic collapse to U.S. air strikes against Iraq.

In contrast to the euphoria in the heady days when Russia was envisioned as a full member of the "Group of Eight" industrialized democracies, the hope as Albright heads to Moscow is to keep a dialogue alive, an administration official said.

Ahead of her arrival, Russian officials were openly referring to the "sour" nature of the relationship with the United States.

Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov has stridently criticized the air strikes against Iraq, and First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov was in Washington the week before last complaining about an economically flattened Russia being forced to live under the thumb of a U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund.

To this mix of problems, the administration suddenly added a new one: the unveiling last week of its plan to deploy a new missile defense system that would require renegotiation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a move that the Russians have historically opposed.

Angered by the air strikes against Iraq in December, the lower house of the Russian parliament in December abruptly canceled the vote on the ratification of Start 2, the treaty that would reduce both nations' stockpiles of nuclear weapons. The Clinton administration's missile defense system proposal would almost certainly further complicate passage of Start 2 in the parliament, Russian arms control experts said.

The hardening of the stalemate over the strategic arms treaty, which has languished in the Russian parliament since 1993, was further confirmation that the notion of a "strategic partnership" -- once key to the Clinton administration's approach to Russia -- has all but evaporated.

In a reversal of the relatively upbeat expectations of Albright's previous visits to Moscow, the administration acknowledged the diminished influence the United States now holds over Russia.

Russia's disarray, added a senior administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, made it "more than ordinarily difficult to reach decisions on even the most important policy questions."

Pub Date: 1/24/99

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