The Clinton Digital Library has released more than a 1000 pages of documents related to American/Russian relations in the 1990s. These documents include hitherto secret transcripts of talks between President Bill Clinton and his Russian counterpart Boris Yeltsin, as well as National Security Council and State Department memos. They are valuable as history and also shed light in the current fraught state of American/Russian relations.
In the 1990s, Russia was economically prostrate and eager for American investments but still proud and wanting to be seen as superpower on world stage. Many of the issues Clinton and Yeltsin had disputes over (including Ukraine and the Middle East) continue to bedevil relations between the two countries.
One of the strangest moments in the released documents comes in a dialogue in 1999, when Yeltsin suggests a private meeting to sort out Kosovo. “Well, I have one more option,” Yeltsin suggests. “It is for us two to meet in some hiding place. Well, it is for you and I to meet either on a boat or some submarine or some island so not a single person will disturb us, so you will not be agitated by anyone, and I will not be agitated by anyone or any person.” (Andrew S. Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment suggests Yeltsin was, as so often, intoxicated during this conversation).
An ominous moment comes in the end of the transcripts, when Yeltsin introduces his hand-picked successor, Vladimir Putin:
Shortly, in the next few days, you will have a meeting with Mr. Putin. Briefly at this time, I would like to tell you about him so you will know what kind of man he is. It took me a lot of time to think who might be the next Russian president in the year 2000. Unfortunately, at that time, I could not find any sitting candidate. Finally, I came across him, that is, Putin, and I explored his bio, his interests, his acquaintances, and so on and so forth. I found out he is a solid man who is kept well abreast of various subjects under his purview. At the same time, he is thorough and strong, very sociable. And he can easily have good relations and contact with people who are his partners. I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.