Cold War rivals seek to repair soured relations: A spy scandal and the tussle over Bosnia has brought distrust, writes Tony Barber

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The Independent Online
RUSSIA and the United States scrambled yesterday to calm storms in their relationship that are threatening the fragile trust built up since the Soviet Union's collapse in December 1991. A spy scandal, a tussle over Bosnia, a dispute over influence in East Europe and misunderstandings over the pace and nature of internal Russian reforms are some of the reasons why US-Russian relations are entering a turbulent period.

President Boris Yeltsin's spokesman, Vyacheslav Kostikov, indicated that there was serious displeasure in Moscow at the way the US authorities released the news on Tuesday that a senior CIA operative and his wife had been arrested on charges of spying for Moscow since 1985. 'Returning to the psychology of the Cold War and whipping up distrust and a new wave of spy mania would contradict the ideas of an international partnership for peace,' he said.

Official Russian statements hinted that the Clinton administration might have disclosed the spy scandal this week because Moscow had stolen a march over Washington in the search for a Bosnian settlement. The deployment of Russian troops in Sarajevo, announced without prior consultation with President Bill Clinton, has in effect ruled out the possibility of independent Nato military action in Serb-controlled areas of Bosnia and undermined a major element of US strategy in the Balkans.

Russia's Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, suggested it was possible to limit the damage from the espionage affair, one of the biggest such scandals in US history. 'I rule out any breakdown of our partnership,' he told reporters in the Polish city of Krakow.

The White House spokeswoman, Dee Dee Myers, also sought to play down the scandal, saying: 'It is in our national interest to maintain a relationship with Russia. We would rather see them be an economic ally than a Cold War adversary.'

In all likelihood, the Americans and Russians will agree to call it quits over the spy affair, since both sides know full well that the end of the Cold War did not mean an end to espionage. But the Bosnian crisis has provided ample evidence this month that all is not well in the US-Russian relationship.

As Nato drew up its ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs to withdraw their heavy artillery from the Sarajevo hills or face air strikes, Mr Clinton tried to reach Mr Yeltsin on the telephone to discuss the West's policy. The Washington-Moscow 'hotline' has been made virtually foolproof since it was introduced after the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, but Mr Clinton inexplicably could not contact the Russian President.

A second, still more curious incident involved Russia's Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, who let Russian television cameras film him making a telephone call to his US counterpart, William Perry. During the call, Mr Grachev invited the US to join Russia in sending peace-keeping forces to Bosnia.

It was a provocative line of conversation, since Mr Grachev knew that the Americans had set strict conditions for dispatching troops to Bosnia and were none too happy with the way Russia had intervened in Sarajevo last week. Mr Grachev's unsubtle attempt to taunt the Clinton administration ended with the telephone going dead at Mr Perry's end.

On other fronts, Mr Yeltsin diminished the impact of Mr Clinton's visit to Moscow last month when, within days of the US President's departure, he let his most prominent reformers resign from his government. Mr Clinton, who had spoken enthusiastically of Russian progress towards democracy and market-based reforms, was made to look as though he was badly out of touch with Russian politics.

The US and Russia have also squared off on the question of Nato's expansion to include Poland, the Czech Republic and other new democracies in East Europe. Russia opposes Nato's expansion, but the alliance does not want to let Moscow have a veto on its policies.

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Russia's sun sets, page 21