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Russia: Primakov And The Contradictions Of Foreign Policy--An Analysis

Moscow, 18 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russia's President Boris Yeltsin announced yesterday, after talks with Germany's Chancellor Helmut Kohl, that Russia and NATO leaders would sign an agreement defining their relations May 27 in Paris.

Washington says no firm place or date has been set yet.

Yeltsin's announcement was surprising, since Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky had said a few hours earlier that it was premature to suggest the agreement would be signed next month. A few hours before Yeltsin's announcement, the leaders of an anti-NAT0 Russian Parliamentary group told reporters in Moscow they had just met Russia's main NATO negotiator, Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov. A member of the Anti-NATO coordination council, nationalist State Duma deputy speaker Sergei Baburin, said Primakov had expressed support for the group's decision to launch a broad anti-NATO program in Russia and abroad.

Russia's acceptance of a new cooperation document with NATO was voiced for the first time last week in Paris by Primakov. But, Primakov also presented tough demands as a condition of Russia's signature. NATO military sources, quoted by the Reuter news agency called the comments a "blast of cold air, going back on many of the things that NATO thought were sorted out."

Duma deputies said they had discussed with Primakov ways of implementing an anti-NATO program in Russia and abroad, including in Muslim countries. The program is aimed at interacting with sympathetic members of executives and legislative bodies in order to introduce a rule, by which a Russia-NATO cooperation agreement should have to be ratified by parliaments of all countries included.

A pro-democracy Duma deputy, Sergei Yushenkov of "Russia's Choice," tells RFE/RL he doubts the anti-NATO group's attempts to undermine the agreement will be successful. But he said the group would attempt to put pressure on Primakov to delay the preparation of the document in time for the Paris meeting.

Other deputies have expressed the fear that Russiasign an agreement with NATO in time may lead of to a worsening of relations with the West. And they noted that Russia's foreign policy has undergone an eastward shift since Primakov, an expert and the Mideast and a former top intelligence official, was appointed Foreign Minister in January 1996.

Latest foreign policy developments have marked the strengthening of Russia's warm relations with Iran, China and Belarus -- countries strongly criticized by the West for -- among other things, their poor records on human rights issues. Analysts in Moscow say Russia is looking for new partners in order to maintain a balance of powers in the world.

Irina Kobrenskaya, a foreign political analyst with the Carnagie Endowment for Democracy and Peace, says foreign policy agreements signed in the last few weeks are "not just a response to NATO," but also a sign that Moscow and is re-focusing its foreign policy to the Mideast and Asia.

But "Russia's Choice's" Yushenkov say the last developments indicate the "failure" of Russia's foreign policy. He said bad relations with the West are unacceptable, as Moscow hopes soon to become a full member of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized nations, and of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In reference to the role played by Primakov in the preparation of the draft union agreement with Belarus, Yushenkov said "it has become fashionable" for some Government officials to make public declarations in line with Yeltsin's wish," and at the same time, support parallel initiatives "aimed at undermining" the President's policies. The April 2 agreement with Belarus created open opposition among members of the Government, who fear closer integration with Minsk will harm Russia. Primakov was reported to have played an important role in the preparation of the draft union agreement, which was scaled down at the last moment.

Sergei Markov, a political analyst with the Carnegie Endowement, said it is "clear" that First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais is "keeping an eye on Primakov's job." According to Markov, candidates for Primakov's post may already be in waiting. Markov cited former acting prime minister Yegor Gaidar or Deputy Duma Chairman Aleksandr Shokhin as possible candidates.

Markov said Primakov for the moment is "confident of having the President's understanding and support," but that political observers say the situation may change. He said the failure of signing a satisfactory deal with NATO, or another issue, such as relations with Iran -- considered a "terrorist regime" by the West -- could be used as an argument to appoint a new foreign minister.