Russian President Boris Yeltsin has a talent for taking the world by surprise. It began when he climbed on top of a tank in Moscow in 1991 and averted a coup. But his action on Tuesday at the Elysee Palace in Paris, when he suddenly announced that all his country's nuclear warheads would be turned away from countries of the NATO alliance, caught the leaders from 16 other nations present completely unawares. It was an absolute reversal of previous Russian statements about NATO plans to extend eastward. Mr Yeltsin has been understandably discomfitted at the thought of Russia's previous allies joining forces with the West. Only weeks ago, he was declaring his implacable opposition to a move which he claimed would result in 'an unpredictable, cold peace'. But since then, tough negotiating has won Russia some important concessions. They now have a voice in NATO, though no veto. Mr Yeltsin failed in his bid to get a legal, binding agreement to set limitations on the extended organisation, and he still faces condemnation among nationalist opponents in parliament at home. His arch rival, Alexander Lebed, has dismissed the NATO accord as a sell-out, while the Russian President continues to assure his countrymen that he opposes NATO expansion and is trying to minimise the threat. Yet there was no hint of those reservations at the ceremony in Paris. Instead, an ebullient Mr Yeltsin spoke of a 'victory for reason' and looked towards 'peace in Europe after the Cold War'. Indeed, East-West relations will certainly have made a major advance if Mr Yeltsin can appease his critics at home, and provided NATO fulfils its claim that eastward expansion poses no threat and is dedicated only to a stronger Europe, with an emphasis on peaceful co-operation. It must not be assumed that progress will now be entirely trouble-free. It may prove difficult to get the Russian parliament to ratify the START 2 treaty on strategic arms limitation. But a spirit of trust seems to be growing, and it could be reinforced when NATO meets in July. In the words of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: 'We are all on the same side now.'