`Great Russia' reborn, Yeltsin tells military

President endorses acts that have tweaked NATO, United States recently

July 09, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW -- Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin described Moscow's relationship with the United States and NATO as "difficult" yesterday and pointedly endorsed recent Russian military moves in Kosovo and over the Atlantic that alarmed the West.

Before an assembled group of top military brass at the Kremlin, Yeltsin praised a vast Russian military exercise two weeks ago that saw two TU-95 Bear bombers heading close to NATO airspace, flying within 60 miles of Iceland.

Yeltsin also singled out Col. Gen. Viktor Zavarzin, who led Russian troops that seized the airport at Pristina hours before NATO-led peacekeepers arrived in the Serbian province June 12, telling him: "Thank you for Kosovo."

Reinforcing his message that the days of friendly diplomacy are over, Yeltsin called Russia's relationship with NATO and the United States "extremely subtle, delicate and difficult."

"Of course, we will not engage in an all-out quarrel with NATO, but neither do we intend to flirt with it," Yeltsin told the televised meeting.

Despite Russia's declining international clout and its demoralized and impoverished military, it managed several times in recent months to antagonize NATO.

The most recent of a series of misunderstandings, provocations and outright disagreements between Russia and NATO came last weekend, when Russia tried to reinterpret the terms of a deal reached last month in Helsinki, Finland, on how Russian peacekeepers would be deployed in Kosovo.

Russia, no longer a superpower but still extremely sensitive on the question of its global status, was wounded when NATO refused to be swayed by Moscow's opposition to the alliance's 11-week air campaign against Yugoslavia.

In trying to reassert Russia's world status, Yeltsin referred to his country yesterday as the "reviving great Russia."

Russia's army is a shambles, its equipment is rundown and its soldiers sometimes go hungry.

Yet Yeltsin said the recent West 99 military exercise -- a simulated reaction to a NATO invasion from the West -- was a sign that the army was being reformed.

Pub Date: 7/09/99

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