Perry urges Moscow not to drop U.S.-Russian military exercise set for July

April 27, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary William J. Perry moved yesterday to try to sustain a U.S.-Russian military exercise scheduled for July after Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin hinted that he might bow to nationalist pressure and cancel it.

The joint exercise, which would be the first between U.S. and Russian troops in the former Soviet Union, is intended to symbolize the sort of peacekeeping partnership between the two former foes that could be used in Bosnia.

Kremlin spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov said Mr. Yeltsin ordered his defense secretary, Pavel Grachev, to hold "further consultations with the American side, taking into account . . . criticism by the Russian public."

Mr. Yeltsin, according to his spokesman, was acting in a spirit of "constructive dialogue" with other political parties. The Russian leader, hamstrung by critics on his left and right, is trying to engineer at least a temporary political truce in Moscow and is reluctant to appear too accommodating to the West.

Misgivings about the exercises have come from nationalists in the Russian Parliament, who regard the prospect of U.S. troops' playing war games on Russian soil as akin to an invasion, and from some Russian military officers, who are leery of working too closely with a former and still potential enemy.

With U.S., Russian and European officials meeting in London yesterday in the latest diplomatic push for peace in Bosnia, the threat to the Clinton administration's effort to prepare for U.S.-Russian peacekeeping surprised the Pentagon.

Mr. Perry, in a phone call to Moscow, urged Mr. Grachev to support holding the exercises as scheduled. There was no word on Mr. Grachev's reaction.

The chosen venue is a firing range on the steppes near the town of Orenburg in central Russia. Pentagon officials said the Clinton administration would consider moving the joint exercise to the United States or to some neutral ground, if that overcame the Russian objections.

The company-strength exercise is scheduled to involved a combined 500 soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Division, based in Wuerzburg, Germany, and Russia's 27th Motorized Rifle Division.

Pentagon spokeswoman Kathleen de Laski said the exercise is geared for peacetime cooperation between the two powers "in the likely event that we get called on to work side by side in some of these other missions, such as a peacekeeping force in a post-settlement Bosnia situation."

Mr. Perry and Mr. Grachev, in their hourlong phone conversation, also discussed ways to maintain the cease-fire in Bosnia. Mr. Perry stressed the importance of the threat of air strikes to force the Bosnian Serbs to meet last night's deadline for the withdrawal of all their heavy equipment from within 12 miles of Gorazde.

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