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Russia: Analysis From Washington--A Recipe For Disaster

Washington, 1 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - An unsigned but apparently authoritative report in a leading Moscow newspaper has urged the Russian government to take all steps necessary -- up to and including the destabilization of foreign governments -- to break up what it called three "anti-Russian" groupings of states on the territory of the former Soviet Union.

Failure to do so, the 8,000-word article in last Wednesday's "Nezavsimaya gazeta" said, would threaten both Russian influence throughout the region and the economic future and territorial integrity of Russia itself.

In a highly unusual move, the Russian foreign ministry denounced the article entitled "The CIS -- The Beginning or the End of History?" In a statement released to the press, the ministry said that the article "cast a shadow on the true goals of Russia" and that its appearance just before the CIS summit on Friday was a provocation.

But the foreign ministry's denunciation has had the effect of calling more attention to the article. And it has even led some officials in the non-Russian countries to speculate that the foreign ministry itself was behind the preparation and publication of this article, both to threaten Russia's neighbors and to test what the market would bear.

Whatever the facts turn out to be -- and in such cases, they are almost by definition a matter of dispute -- there are three reasons for taking this article seriously, even if not for assuming that it reflects settled Russian policy.

First, the article highlights the emergence of at least three regional groupings of states in the post-Soviet space both within the confines of the Commonwealth of Independent States and across its borders.

During the last several years, for example, the Baltic countries have been active in talking with the Ukrainians on a variety of political issues, the Georgian and Azerbaijani governments have taken the lead in promoting cooperation with Ukraine and Uzbekistan to promote the export of oil and gas, and the Central Asian countries have signed various regional cooperation agreements.

Second, the article calls attention to how at least one important faction in Moscow views this development and what it is prepared to do to advocate in response. Among the rumored authors of the report is Andrannik Migranyan, a longtime advisor to the Russian government and someone who earlier has advocated many of the positions advanced here.

While such interstate agreements would be viewed as entirely normal virtually anywhere else on earth, the authors of this Russian report see them as a kind of plot against Russia, an effort by these states to cut Russia off from the world and ultimately to destroy her economically and politically.

And because the authors of this report see these unions as so dangerous, they advocate a series of steps far outside the accepted rules of the game.

Arguing that the model for post-Soviet integration should not be the Western one of the European Union but rather the "experience of the unification of the two Germanies," they advance a policy program to meet each of these obstacles to that "unity."

To "bury" any chance for the emergence of a "Baltic-Black Sea cordon sanitaire," they suggest Moscow must be willing to move quickly toward union with Belarus, even on President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's terms.

And they argue that Moscow should step up the pressure on Ukraine, making it clear to Kyiv that "the disintegration of Ukraine" would be a problem for Russia but not as great a problem as Ukraine's continuing challenge to Moscow's authority.

To break up the Kyiv-Tbilisi-Baku-Tashkent "axis," they argue, the Russian government must back Armenia to the hilt. Further, it must destabilize both Georgia and Azerbaijan by mobilizing ethnic minorities and political groups in the two countries against their governments, threatening both states economically and with border changes, and isolating them internationally.

Such actions, the authors say, would prevent the "consolidation" of the governments of these countries and would have the support of Armenia and Iran.

Finally, to destroy efforts at Central Asian cooperation, the report's authors say, Moscow should use its political base of Russian "compatriots" in these countries, should threaten to pull its troops out and thereby allow the region to descend into chaos, and should employ its geographic position to prevent these countries from exporting their gas and oil.

And third, this article calls attention to something far more disturbing. Despite the Russian foreign ministry's denunciation of the article, the Russian government has in fact acted in many of the ways the report recommends. Indeed, there is virtually nothing in the report which is inconsistent with past Russian government statements.

Consequently, this report poses a challenge not only to Russia's neighbors, who are likely to see it as extremely threatening despite Moscow's denial, but to Western governments who are likely to want to accept the denial at face value without considering all its ramifications.

But both are likely to conclude that they must do more than second the Russian foreign ministry's rejection of the policies proposed in the "Nezavisimaya gazeta" report, especially if they hope for Russia to behave like a normal country in its dealings with its neighbors.