Accessibility links

Press Review: Departure of Kozyrev and Upheaval in Russia

  • Don Hill

PRAGUE, Jan. 8 (RFE/RL) - Since the resignation-dismissal of Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev on Friday, western press commentary has been focusing on post-Kozyrev Russian foreign policy.

In an analysis in The Los Angeles Times Saturday, Carol J. Williams said: "The long humiliation of Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev culminated Friday in a presidential decree announcing his dismissal.... Kozyrev had increasingly become Yeltsin's scapegoat for diplomatic failures and a magnet for nationalist accusations that the country was being subordinated to Cold War-era adversaries. With his dismissal, Kozyrev becomes the first casualty of a government shake-up promised by Yeltsin after Dec. 17 parliamentary elections."

The German daily Die Welt carried an analysis Saturday by Mathias Brueggmann. Brueggman wrote: "As far as Russia's foreign policy is concerned, the resignation which Kozyrev has now submitted in order to forestall being sacked as the fall guy for the Communist election victors has no initial significance. Russian foreign policy long has ceased being the product of the foreign ministry.... Far more threatening are the aggressive anti-western tones being struck by Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, who long since has taken actual charge of foreign policy.... Grachev is the spokesman of the militants in the Kremlin."

A Washington Post editorial today says: "Kozyrev had become identified with the early 90s view that Russia's future lay in close integration with the West. In retrospect it's possible to say this was never in the cards. The West lacked, and still lacks, both a coherent picture of an integrated greater Europe including Russia and a readiness to provide the resources, including the political space, to give it reality. .... There needs to be a large institutional framework in which the West, Central Europe and Russia make real investments in mutual confidence and seek out a co-operative way. This is the grand project that awaits the presidents who will be elected in Russia and America this year."

John Thornhill writes from Moscow today in the Financial Times of London: "President Boris Yeltsin has begun the search for a new foreign minister whose appointment is expected to signify a change in style rather than substance in Russia's foreign policy.... Mr. Yeltsin's choice of a successor will be analyzed abroad for clues about the mood in the Kremlin after the strong showing of communists and ultra-nationalists in last month's parliamentary elections."

Jonathan Eyal, director of studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London, comments today in the British newspaper The Independent: "The subject of intense hatred among Russia's nationalists and communists, Kozyrev long has been a liability for President Boris Yeltsin. His departure, elegantly explained away by a decision to opt for a parliamentary seat, allows Yeltsin to grant one of the nationalists' main demands without having to perform a humiliating climbdown.... An entire Moscow political elite now seems to believe a Russia that is feared is likely to be treated with more respect by the West than a Russia that is loved."

Alessandra Stanley wrote Saturday in The New York Times: "The departure of Kozyrev... underscored just how much the Communist victory in (the December) election has changed the political landscape.... Riding roughshod over customary political etiquette, Yeltsin appeared determined Friday to milk political advantage from the departure of his longtime aide.... The new foreign minister will be more constrained in formulating policy than his predecessor was. On Dec. 26, the Kremlin announced establishment of a Foreign Policy Council that would constitute a formal wedge between the foreign minister and the president."

Other commentary examines the political and policy environment in Russia. David Hearst in Moscow writes today in the British newspaper The Guardian: "The victors of last month's general election, Gennady Zyuganov's Communist Party of the Russian Federation, meet in secret this week to discuss their tactics for the second stage of their assault on power -- unseating Boris Yeltsin from the throne.... The communists will put their men at the head of some key committees (of the Duma, lower house of parliament), but their main task will be to create a shadow cabinet, not to block government legislation.... Even in Mr. Zyuganov's own party there is a wide divergence of opinion on some of the main policies."

The Times of London says in an editorial today: "Even in Russia, the clock will not be as easy to put back as many fear. In any great social transformation, the secret is to create more winners than losers. Russia is not there yet, but with 60 percent of the economy in private hands, the number of people with a stake in economic freedoms is growing. The political landscape is bleaker.... Russia is still run by interest groups competing behind closed doors for the Kremlin's ear (but) the turnout in the December elections proved that Russians take their vote seriously. The country is no longer a 'riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.'"

Writing from Moscow in Britain's The Observer, Victoria Clark examines the plight of recruits tossed into the continuing war in Chechnya. She writes: "Despite a presidential decree stipulating that only volunteers should be sent to hot spots, recruits still are being packed off to Chechnya after only six months' training. Worse still, a new law, due to be signed by President Yeltsin on Wednesday, (would) extend the term of military service from 18 months to two years.... Thousands of soldiers' mothers and the troops themselves are hoping President Yeltsin will veto it."

"Ukraine and Belarus are challenging the Russian tradition of keeping dependent vassal (states) on its western border," Anthony Robinson writes today in the Financial Times. He says: "The ultimate political and economic shape of 21st-century Europe could well be determined by the fate of Belarus and Ukraine, the two former Soviet territories occupying the 'borderlands' of a continent whose eastern frontier is still to be politically defined.... For the first time in living memory, the borderland states of Europe no longer are hemmed in as impoverished or oppressive states but enjoy relatively open borders and freedom to move and trade."