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Russian Movement For National Consensus On Foreign Policy

  • Jan de Weydenthal

Prague, Feb. 15 (RFE/RL) - There is a movement afoot in Russia toward developing a national consensus on principal elements of the country's future foreign policy, says a leading Russian foreign policy expert, Sergei Karaganov.

This was the main theme of Karaganov's speech, which he delivered at Warsaw's Institute of Eastern Studies on Feb. 3. Karaganow, who is a deputy director in the Europe Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and serves as an advisor to President Boris Yeltsin, was in Poland to attend a conference on international politics.

Karaganov said that this movement started with the departure of former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, who stands accused of creating a feeling of insecurity among many Russian politicians with his "soft" approach to the West. The appointment of Yevgeny Primakov is said to open the possibility for developing new strategies.

In Karaganov's view, these strategies will focus on four basic premises. First, Russia must maintain a "strategic alliance" with the West. This is rooted in a certain "cultural" affinity between Russia and the West, reflects their common interests in containing the "Chinese factor" and, last but not least, testifies to Moscow's recognition that only the West can provide it with necessary funds and economic resources.

Second, Russia should expand contacts with China, which is destined to play a major role in world politics during the years and decades to come.

Third, Russia ought to become more active in dealing with neighboring countries and traditional allies among small and middle-size states, such as Poland and Turkey or Greece. This is dictated by a change in Russia's international status from a global superpower to a large "continental or merely regional" state.

Fourth, Russia must maintain a "special relationship" with the United States. This would provide Washington with "a semblance" of "superpower partnership" with Russia - semblance, because Russia has already lost that status - and is important for Moscow in providing Russia with a "psychological lift" in the situation of prevailing weakness. Even so, this "special relationship" is likely to become increasingly limited to military and strategic areas.

Karaganov said that the key objective is to "regain the strength and provide conditions for economic and systemic changes." He went on to emphasize that "main Russian political groups" appear ready to accept this.

Turning to the specific issue of NATO's eastward expansion, Karaganov reiterated Moscow's opposition to the move. He was quick to note that this opposition was prompted less by a military threat to Russia - he dismissed that - than by both domestic political considerations and a feeling of "betrayal" by the West. The issue of NATO enlargement, he said, has become the issue of "long-term orientation in the Russian foreign policy." The implication was that this policy could become more or less "West-oriented."

Karaganov then listed a series of arguments supporting Moscow's opposition even to enlargement limited to three or four Central European countries. These included "the inevitability of new conflicts in Europe" - he mentioned the Baltic countries and Ukraine - and the cost of the operation for both the West and Russia as Moscow would have to respond to potential threats.

Karaganov said that the long-term solution to the issue of enlargement is to create a new system of Pan-European security in which "Russia would play a key role."

But Karaganov also told the Polish audience that he "understood" Warsaw's efforts to join NATO. He said that if he were a Pole, he would "also try to gain entry" into the western alliance.

Karaganov's views are admittedly personal. But he is an influential and respected figure in Moscow's intellectual establishment. He has contributed to a series of reports on development of future foreign policies, including an important report on Russia's relations with NATO that was issued in May, 1995. These reports are said to have influenced policy decisions.

Karaganov's comments on NATO seem very similar to the ones recently presented by Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Andrei Kokoshin at a Feb. 3 security conference in Munich. Kokoshin suggested the desirability of a belt of small "neutral countries" between Russia and the West. Karaganov was more diplomatic. He said that the current situation, in which Central European countries are effectively floating between the West and Russia, should remain unchanged until "conditions are created to establish partnership relations between Russia and NATO." He said that this might be "unfair" to Poland, but merely reflected the lack of "fairness" in world affairs everywhere.

There is reason to believe that his views may be representative of the thinking currently prevailing in Moscow. That alone makes them important.