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Kozyrev's departure unlikely to change Moscow's foreign policy

  • Jeremy Bransten



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 March.

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/
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