US and Russia Lower Barriers to Rapport
Travel restrictions lifted, POWs sought
THE cold war has long been pronounced dead from presidential rostrums, but its legacy remains in a multitude of barriers between the United States and Russia.
Last week officials of the two former enemies reported progress in removing two key obstacles. On Friday, the two governments announced removal of all restrictions on travel by journalists and businesspeople in each other's countries. Earlier the heads of a joint commission presented new information in their investigation of the fate of missing American soldiers and others held in Soviet prison camps since before World War II.
The reciprocal travel controls had been in place for decades, closing off large areas of both countries on security grounds and requiring travelers to other locales to give 24-to-48 hour notice of their plans and to make all travel arrangements only through special government agencies.
In practice those restrictions had eased somewhat in recent years as officials from "closed" areas invited journalists to visit and many cities were taken off the "closed" list. But many of the travel controls remained in place, even after the collapse of the Communist state last year. The Russian parliament even passed a law recently with a new, though shorter, list of closed zones, all of which are sites of secret military facilities.
Under the agreement reached, the travel controls are now lifted, with the exception of military sites and areas that are closed to Russian citizens as well. The new arrangement, which flows from a June memorandum on open lands signed in Washington, applies only to Americans, however.
The progress in the disclosing the fate of missing Americans was less heartening. Former US Ambassador Malcolm Toon and Russian Gen. Dmitry Volkogonov, heads of the joint US-Russian commission formed earlier this year, told reporters Thursday they had found no evidence of any American still being held against his will in Russia. Russia did provide new documents on two Americans who died in Stalin's prison camps and information on Soviet involvement in interrogation of US prisoners of war during the Korea n War, and revealed data on the Korean Airlines passenger jet shot down by Soviet fighters in 1983.
PRESIDENT Boris Yeltsin caused a sensation in the US in June when he suggested that missing Americans might still be alive somewhere in the prison system. He raised hopes that POWs from World War II, the Korean War, downed cold-war spy flights, or even the Vietnam War might be found.
But almost from the beginning, the Russian officials working to uncover information in the vast Communist Party, KGB, and other archives opened after the fall of the Soviet state tried to temper such hopes. General Volkogonov, a renowned historian, reiterated that view at last week's press conference.
"Personally I think that the likelihood of finding any live Americans [held captive in] Russia are practically zero," he said. He pointed out that greater openness in Russia in the past six or seven years would have given such a person ample opportunity to make his presence known. The commission is seeking information from ordinary citizens, as Ambassador Toon did in a visit to the Russian Far East on Friday.
Reflecting the sensitivity of this highly political issue in the US, Toon left a door open. "I have found nothing and seen nothing that would suggest there's a live American being held against his will," he said.
Toon, who met with President Yeltsin as well, generally praised the Russian government efforts, but he singled out the secret police and military intelligence agencies for offering "less than complete cooperation" in opening their files. Volkogonov, who has been a public critic of the KGB on this account, told reporters at the parliament earlier in the week that lately the situation had improved. The commission is continuing its work and plans to hold another meeting before the end of the year. Yeltsin t old Toon he would make a further statement on the issue, possibly in October.