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East/West: Former U. S. Official Speaks Of Prospects For The East

Prague, 1 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Zbigniew Brzezinski, former head of the U. S. National Security Council and recognized authority on East-West relations, says that Belarus is slowly acquiring consciousness of its national identity, Ukraine has already solidified its independence. And Russia, having lost its global power status, will eventually be compelled gradually to integrate with Europe.

These were some of the points made by Brzezinski in a wide-ranging interview with the Polish daily newspaper, Rzeczpospolita (June 30). Brzezinski served as the National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s. He is currently at the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington.

Speaking about Belarus, Brzezinski said that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's "silly and shortsighted" policies and methods have inadvertently contributed to fostering of national awareness among some sectors of the public there. And he might have, also inadvertently, strengthened similar feelings in Ukraine.

This has only reinforced the already prevailing opinion among the Ukrainian establishment -- even among those members of the establishment critical of the nascent economic and political systems -- that "Ukraine is a major country."

"There is no question any more about the existence of independent Ukraine," Brzezinski said, adding "the only question is what kind of country Ukraine is going to become."

The developments in Belarus and Ukraine are closely related to the evolution of Russia away from an "imperial power" and toward a major state of regional importance.

Russia is no longer a "world superpower," Brzezinski said. "Russia is a 'third world' state, armed with an aging nuclear arsenal which doesn't guarantee political influence any longer," Brzezinski noted. "In reality, Moscow's position in the world will depend on (progress in) its democratization and modernization. And this is a very slow process. Russia's economy is in disarray and every few months Moscow is compelled to ask Washington for help."

As a result of that weakness, but also because of growing tension in relations with the newly-independent post-Soviet states in Russia's southern periphery as well as the emergence of China as a potential "true superpower," Brzezinski said, Russia is likely to turn toward the West.

This rapprochement with the West will be gradual, Brzezinski noted, and will require considerable adjustments in Moscow's policies. "It will be a different Russia, democratic, oriented toward Europe, with policies focused on other goals than imperial goals," Brzezinski said.

Russia's grudging acceptance of NATO eastward expansion could suggest that this process of rapprochement is already on its way. Only yesterday, Russia's Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov told visiting Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski in Moscow that Poland's impending entry into NATO will not affect bilateral relations.

"Russia doesn't want Poland's eastern border to become a new barrier on its way to Europe," Kwasniewski told journalists in Moscow following his meetings with President Boris Yeltsin and Primakov. "Russia is increasingly preoccupied with opening ways, roads and transit routes" through Poland to the rest of Europe.

Will Russia ever contemplate the possibility of joining NATO itself?

Brzezinski said that "everything could be a subject of imagination," after all, "NATO expansion is a normal process leading to the establishment of a security system in the Euro-Atlantic area."

But he was quick to add that while "every democratic country willing to join and fulfilling the required criteria has the right to enter" the alliance, Russia "currently doesn't fulfill those objective requirements. This has to be openly admitted."