- BEIJING - President Boris
Yeltsin, in a stunning outburst, reminded U.S. President Bill Clinton on
Thursday that Russia possessed a "full nuclear arsenal" and would
not be lectured on its military assault on Chechnya.
- Swiftly after Yeltsin's comments in Beijing, Prime Minister
Vladimir Putin scrambled to issue an assurance that Moscow and Washington
enjoyed "very good relations."
- But Clinton poked back at Yeltsin, saying he was obliged
to speak out against a Russian offensive he believed was wrong.
- "Yesterday, Clinton permitted himself to put pressure
on Russia," Yeltsin, speaking with his trademark slow, deliberate
growl, said before sitting down to talks with China's second-ranked leader,
- "It seems he has for a minute, for a second, for
half a minute, forgotten what Russia is, that Russia has a full arsenal
of nuclear weapons. He has forgotten about that. Therefore he decided to
flex his muscles, as they say," Yeltsin said.
- The comments were shown on television repeatedly in Moscow
- Yeltsin was greeted with a bear hug from Chinese President
Jiang Zemin after arriving in Beijing looking pale and drawn following
a bout of pneumonia that put him in the hospital.
- But he appeared buoyed by strong support from Jiang for
the Chechnya assault. China is alone among major world powers in backing
the campaign, which has driven 200,000 people from their homes.
- Putin told reporters in Moscow: "I want to draw
your attention to the fact that we have very good relations with the United
States. We have very good relations with the leadership of the United States.
- "I would consider it absolutely incorrect to produce
the impression that some kind of period of cooling off of relations between
Russian and the United States has begun or is beginning."
- On Monday, Clinton rebuked Moscow for its ultimatum to
civilians in Grozny to flee or be killed, saying Russia would "pay
a heavy price" through a loss of international prestige and by alienating
- Clinton's comments were his strongest condemnation yet
of Russia's nine-week-old offensive against Moslem separatists.
- Asked to react to Yeltsin's reminder that Russia was
a nuclear power, Clinton said: "I haven't forgotten that. You know,
I didn't think he'd forgotten America was a great power when he disagreed
with what I did in Kosovo."
- Yeltsin accused Clinton of trying to dictate to Russia,
and said he and Jiang would never let that happen.
- "I want to tell Clinton through you that he should
not forget what kind of a world he lives in. No one person has and no one
will dictate to the whole world how to live, how to labor, rest and so
on," he said. "No and again no. A multipolar world - that is
the basis for everything.
- "That's what we've agreed on with Jiang Zemin, the
president of the People's Republic of China. We will dictate, and not he
- Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters in Beijing
that Jiang backed Moscow's aims in Chechnya.
- Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue confirmed
that China "understands and supports the efforts made by Russia in
safeguarding national unity and territorial integrity.'' She said Russia
"has tried to avoid civilian losses."
- China too faces separatist threats, most seriously from
Moslems in its remote western region of Xinjiang. It is adamantly opposed
to international intervention that is not sanctioned by the UN Security
- "It's of particular importance for Russia, given
its isolation in the international community over Chechnya, to brandish
its good relations with China," a Western diplomat said.
- Russia under Yeltsin has developed increasingly warm
relations with China, even though Western diplomats say they are divided
by deep-seated mistrust that would prevent them forging an anti-U.S. front.
- On Thursday, Jiang and Yeltsin sipped what appeared to
be white wine to toast the formal signing of agreements demarcating common
borders that have been a source of friction for centuries.
- "From this moment, we no longer have any border
problems," Ivanov said.
- Arriving in Beijing, Yeltsin looked pale. Arm-in-arm
with his wife, Naina, he leaned heavily on the rails of the stairs while
leaving his plane.
- Jiang, who studied car production in Moscow 44 years
ago, greeted Yeltsin in Russian, calling him an "old friend.''
- Yeltsin's schedule this week was as provocative as it
was busy. On Wednesday he triggered separatist rumblings from powerful
Russian regional leaders by signing a unification treaty in Moscow with
his Belarussian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko, which is ultimately designed
to create a single Russian-Belarussian state.
- The treaty was signed on the eighth anniversary of the
breakup of the Soviet Union.
- (Reuters, AP, SPT)