PARIS — Moving to shore up Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and his shaky democracy, France on Friday concluded a landmark treaty with Russia resurrecting a historic alliance. But the French refused, for now, to commit themselves to Yeltsin's nuclear disarmament plan.
Yeltsin, vigorously seeking foreign help to resurrect a reeling economy, left Paris having won more than $1 billion worth of state credits and barter deals, as well as a promise of French help in the destruction of the ex-Soviet nuclear arsenal.
"This is a new epoch, a new era that is opening in our relations," declared Yeltsin, who told correspondents that he is fully satisfied with the fruits of his three-day state visit. "We are no longer adversaries, not even potential ones. We want to become direct allies."
One day before, the Russian president had warned Western countries in sinister terms that, if they do not extend assistance rapidly to "free and democratic Russia," tyranny could return.
To bolster Yeltsin's leadership and the reborn Russian state's chances for survival, French President Francois Mitterrand signed a pact with Yeltsin that formally commits the two countries to consult with each other during times of crisis and, when they deem it possible, to joint action.
The 26-article state treaty, which renews the Franco-Russian entente of 1893, was hailed by Russian diplomats as the first of a new generation of accords providing the diplomatic framework for Russian foreign relations in the post-Soviet age.
Under its terms, the two countries commit themselves to seeking a treaty on European security and to meetings between their presidents at least yearly. They also pledge to bring nuclear and conventional weapons in Europe down to "a level of minimum sufficiency."
"Russia and France are friends, and say it," Mitterrand declared at a news conference that followed the treaty's signing ceremony.
Before coming to Paris, Yeltsin made it clear that he would press for French support of his blueprint for sweeping global cuts in nuclear weapons. As part of that plan, Yeltsin wants Russia and the United States to slash their strategic stocks to 2,500 warheads, far fewer than President Bush has proposed.
But the French have steadfastly maintained since 1983 that they have far too few nuclear charges--about 500--to warrant thinning their numbers in the face of overwhelming superpower arms superiority. Yeltsin ended his visit expressing a new "understanding and respect" for his hosts' position.
"Naturally," Yeltsin said, "we cannot today compare the number of launch ramps and warheads" possessed by Russia and France.
In general terms, Mitterrand voiced support for Yeltsin's arms reduction plan, calling it a step in the "right direction," but said his country must retain enough weaponry "to be certain no one will attack us."
He committed France only in the most vague ways to joining at some unspecified future time in the multilateral disarmament negotiations that Yeltsin wants.
"What will the signal be?" Mitterrand asked. "The moment starting from which the quality--the power--and the quantity (of U.S. and Russian arsenals) will have been reduced in such a way that the disparity will not be too great" with France's.
Mitterrand noted that the end of East-West tensions over the past several years had already enabled his country to reduce its nuclear arsenal, including submarines.
The attention of many Russians was focused on the economic fallout of Yeltsin's visit, since the Kremlin leader did not conceal his dismay at not having coaxed more deals from U.S. businesses during his visit to New York and Washington last week.
With satisfaction, Yeltsin said the French granted Russia a 2-billion-franc ($370-million) credit to finance grain purchases and 1.5 billion francs ($280 million) for industrial goods, as well as a 2.3-billion-franc ($430-million) barter deal for the swapping of Russian oil and gas for French products.
Such economic assistance, said Yeltsin, constitutes "very real support for our reforms in Russia." Seated beside Mitterrand in a gold-trimmed hall at the Elysee Palace, where the presidents addressed the press, Yeltsin voiced his gratitude to the French leader.
Mitterrand said France will also help in the "dismembering" of the former Soviet nuclear forces, a task that he said "is necessary, useful and may last for quite a while."
Sources at the Elysee said specifically that the French may help the Russians recover plutonium from missiles and bombs for use as fuel in nuclear power plants.