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Russia: Analysis From Washington -- Moscow Turns Eastward

Washington, 27 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- At a time when both Russian leaders and the Russian people are expressing increasing unhappiness with the West and Western institutions, Moscow is dramatically expanding its links with China, Japan and India.

While these developments do not necessarily presage a fundamental shift in Russian foreign policy, they do suggest that Moscow is doing what it can to increase its freedom of action relative to Western countries on whom it has had to rely for assistance.

Two developments last week suggest that Russians official and otherwise are increasingly unhappy with the West. On Friday, Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko sharply criticized the United States and other Western countries for continuing to maintain what he called an "anti-Russian" bias in their trade policies.

Speaking during talks with visiting U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Kiriyenko said that Russia is tired of having to beg for the rights and privileges that other countries enjoy.

Kiriyenko's remarks came only a day after Russia's Interfax news agency released the results of a series of polls showing an increasing number of Russians to be hostile toward Western investments, credits and loans.

One poll, for example, found that of Russians who knew about the International Monetary Fund -- a bare majority -- thirty five percent believed that Russia had not benefited from it as opposed to 31 percent who believed that the country had. And this pattern held despite the IMF agreement to extend massive new credits to the Russian government.

But far more dramatic than these expressions of discontent with the West are a series of steps that the Russian government has taken over the last several weeks with the three Asian powers: China, Japan, and India.

Two weeks ago, Kiriyenko visited China. Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeniy Primakov and the first deputy chief of the Russian general staff General Valeriy Manilov followed up.

All three visits were intended to prepare the way for the September 4 summit in Moscow between Chinese leader Ziang Zemin and Russian President Boris Yeltsin. But all three ended with declarations about joint commitments to a multi-polar world, a term often interpreted to mean opposition to American leadership.

These meetings showcased broad agreement between Russia and China against the use of economic sanctions against India and Pakistan for their development of nuclear weapons and also against any use of force against Belgrade for its policies in Kosova. And they included repeated references to Russia and China being key strategic partners in the next century.

A similar pattern of visits and rhetoric now characterizes Russia's relations with Japan, despite their continuing disagreements concerning the status of the Kurile islands.

Not only did Kiriyenko also visit Japan on his trip to Asia last month, but both sides have made it very clear that they intend to participate in a Moscow summit this October despite the recent fall of the Japanese government.

Indeed, outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto publicly expressed regret that he would not be going and working toward conclusion of a long-delayed peace treaty between his country and the Russian Federation.

More immediately, for the first time ever, Japanese and Russian naval vessels on Friday began a joint naval exercise to test search and rescue procedures.

In yet another sign of warming relations between Moscow and Beijing, Japanese businessmen and politicians have been visiting the Russian Far East, and on Friday, the Russian authorities allowed a group of Japanese citizens to visit the island of Moneron, from which their ancestors had been expelled at the beginning of this century.

But the most dramatic indication of Moscow's new focus came in India. On Thursday, the Russian government announced that it planned to sell one of its larger aircraft carriers to New Delhi. While the deal will bring Moscow some welcome cash, it will give India the ability to project power much further than ever before.

Part of a military-cooperation accord signed in June, this deal follows Russian sales of advanced fighter aircraft to the new nuclear power.

India welcomed this latest indication of Russian support. Its ambassador in Moscow Ranendra Sen noted that "Russia is the only country with which India is building its relations in the military field on such a long-term basis."

But in addition to the aircraft carrier, Moscow last week agreed to sell India spent nuclear fuel from Russian reactors. This fuel will be used in India's fast breeder program. And despite Indian pledges, such fuel could under certain conditions be used to increase the Indian nuclear stockpile.

And finally, in a related development, Russia's first deputy atomic energy minister Viktor Mikhailov said that Moscow and New Delhi may soon sign a contract for Russia to construct a new nuclear power plant in India.

That deal could be concluded in advance of Yeltsin's visit to India scheduled for December of this year.