Prague, Jan. 9 (RFE/RL) - Andrei Kozyrev, who resigned
last week from his post as Russian foreign minister, had long ago
ceased to steer Moscow's foreign policy. The departure of Russia's
longest-serving cabinet minister had been expected, and Kozyrev's
recent election to a parliamentary seat gave him a face-saving chance
to quit the government.
Governments from Bonn to Washington have voiced optimism that Russia
will maintain a spirit of partnership with the West. And most
Kremlinologists say they do not expect Kozyrev's successor to
reorient Moscow's foreign policy in the months ahead. This is a sound
forecast- first, because Russian foreign policy is no longer made at
the foreign ministry and secondly, because Moscow's foreign policy
has already been mostly reoriented.
The defeat of democrats in the 1993 parliamentary elections, another
poor showing in last month's poll, the threat of NATO expansion, the
Yugoslav conflict and Asian economic interests have all pulled Russia
away from the West.
For the past two years, the Yeltsin administration has tacked with the nationalist wind. And so has the foreign ministry. But the true centers of power are now the defense ministry, as evidenced by Defense Minister Pavel Grachev's continued
high profile, and Russia's oil and gas concerns- such as Gazprom and
Lukoil. Foreign ministry diplomats, by contrast, are some of the
government's worst paid employees.
It is only logical that foreign policy is driven by economic and
military-industrial concerns. Russia earns about two-thirds of its
foreign revenue from oil and gas exports. In the manufacturing
sector, Moscow's strongest suit is still its weapons. Grachev,
despite the debacle in Chechnya, has become the Yeltsin
administration's key man on foreign policy. It was Grachev last week
who warned that Russia might reassess its treaty obligations with the
West if NATO were to expand. Grachev also has led Russian
negotiations on peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia. And he helped lay the
groundwork for Yeltsin's visit to China - which was postponed after
the president's heart problems last year but has been rescheduled for
Russia's rapprochement with Asia, and particularly with China, has
been a key component of Moscow's foreign policy reorientation in the
past two years. Recently, Dmitri Rurikov, Yeltsin's chief diplomatic
adviser and a man named by some as Kozyrev's likely successor,
outlined Russia's foreign policy priorities. In order, they are:
relations with China and other Asian states; the opening of markets
in Asia and Latin America; European affairs; relations with NATO; and
the dialogue between Washington and Moscow. Even if he does not
become Russia's new foreign minister, Rurikov has the ear of the
president. He now heads the newly formed foreign policy council, so
his comments deserve attention.
Last year, Russia's biggest arms customers were Malaysia, China,
India and the United Arab Emirates. When President Yeltsin travels to
Beijing later this year, he is expected to sign a major oil and gas
agreement worth some $8 billion. But in China's case,
economic considerations dovetail nicely with geopolitical ones. As
Beijing's relations with Washington worsen, Moscow is forging deeper
ties with its giant eastern neighbor - hoping to project its power
once again into the Pacific.
Russia will not ally itself with China - there is too much rivalry
and distrust on both sides for that. But with Russo-Japanese
relations frozen by the Kuriles dispute, and with NATO considering
expansion toward Russia's European frontiers, Moscow is once again
emphasizing its role as a Eurasian power.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin held talks in Moscow
with Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov - who will represent the new
parliament's largest faction. Zyuganov is mounting a bid to unseat
Yeltsin in Russia's June presidential election. He also was one of
those who had long called for Kozyrev's removal. Chernomyrdin also is
scheduled to hold talks with Pan-Slavic ultra-nationalist Vladimir
Zhirinovsky, the other main opposition leader in the new State Duma.
Yeltsin must consider the views of Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky when he
selects his new foreign minister because the appointee must be
confirmed by the parliament.
Russia is stuck in an uncomfortable transition as it attempts to
redefine itself. It now appears as something between a superpower and
a third world state; between a European democracy and an Asian
autocracy. And like the double-headed Russian eagle, Moscow is
looking warily in both directions. rs/