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Russia: Moderate Politicians Worried By Internal Consequences Of Kosovo

Prague, 7 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Leading moderate politicians in Moscow -- staggered by the intensity of Russians' emotional response to NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia -- say the conflict poses dangerous implications for the country's internal political situation.

They say they are also concerned by the widening gulf between Moscow and the West -- particularly the United States -- over the issue.

NATO began air strikes two weeks ago and says they will continue until Belgrade ends a crackdown on the ethnic Albanian majority in Serbia's Kosovo province. NATO also insists that Belgrade allow international peacekeeping troops into Kosovo.

In response to the air strikes, Russia froze most defense cooperation with NATO and -- in what is widely seen in the West as a provocative move -- sent an intelligence-gathering ship to the Adriatic to monitor the conflict. The State Duma also recently commemorated the victims of what it called the "NATO aggression" with a minute's silence. Protestors have staged anti-western rallies outside the U.S. and British embassies in Moscow. In one incident, gunmen tried to fire a grenade launcher at the U.S. embassy.

Russian economist and former reformist prime minister Yegor Gaidar recently went to Belgrade -- along with two other liberal politicians -- in an unsuccessful effort to mediate a peaceful end to the conflict.

Gaidar says NATO's actions have, so far, failed to achieve their goal. At the same time, Gaidar argues, the air strikes have greatly enhanced the opportunities for Russia's Communist and nationalist forces to grab hold of power in the not-so-distant future. He recently told RFE/RL that he does not think Western officials understand the risk.

"What is going on has a very serious and negative influence on Russian-U.S. relations. I am afraid this [outcome] can be a long-term one. If today's tendency continues, [I think] it could inevitably bring the restoration of the Cold War -- in a different form, not as in the '60s. Russia [now] is different. The world is different. But the creation of relations like during the Cold War [is possible,] with a Russia that is afraid of the world, of NATO, of America, has missiles, a mobilized economy, is friendly with authoritarian and rogue regimes, helps them with technologies, helps them create nuclear weapons."

Many Western observers, however, say Russia's desperate economic situation and its appeals for western financial support place severe limitations on its ability to influence NATO actions and could restrain Russian officials.

Gaidar disagrees and says the analysis is mainly the result of wishful thinking.

"What is the illusion now [in the West]? It is that Russians have plenty of problems on their own -- small salaries, pensions that are not paid, [while] foreign policy issues are always of secondary importance for any society." A moderate Russian politician who wishes to remain anonymous told our correspondent in Moscow that the West is wrong if it thinks "Russia's present authorities can be contained on the basis of good behavior in exchange for economic support."

The politician -- who held a top cabinet job until last year's financial meltdown -- says much of the Russian reaction over Yugoslavia is not rational. He says logic and rational behavior are being overtaken by feelings of frustration and humiliation that Russia is now feeling toward the West.

Andrei Kozyrev was Russia's foreign minister after the breakup of the Soviet Union and has been a State Duma deputy since being replaced at the foreign ministry by Yevgeny Primakov, who is now prime minister.

Kozyrev says the current anti-NATO and anti-U.S. outbursts in Russia are falling on extremely fertile soil. He says it is easier for Russians to blame the outside world for what is going wrong instead of sorting out the real reasons for the country's problems.

"The Russian government has managed in the last three or four years to restore a Soviet-world outlook, where on the one side there is Moscow and on the other all the democratic countries. I think this obviously is a happy hour for our corrupt bureaucracy, as [it was] with the Soviet bureaucracy. We are re-creating an international situation in which nobody asks anymore if there is corruption or not [in Russia], if the economy is managed in a qualified way or not, if there are or are not economic reforms. Now the talk is already about building up a pro-war camp against imperialism."

According to Kozyrev, this situation has been slowly building during the last few years and has emerged now -- in all its force -- not by chance.

"This situation did not start today. Anti-NATO hysterics have been inflated in the last three years. Anti-Western lines of argument have increased. We dropped the postulate of partnership as a [kind of] safeguard in foreign policy, and we adopted the postulate of the so-called multi-polar world. This means basically [creating] an anti-imperialistic front."

Kozyrev agrees with Gaidar and other moderate Russian politicians who say the crisis in Yugoslavia plays mainly into the hands of Russia's Communists.

Academic Yuri Ryzhev -- who served until recently as Russia's ambassador to France and who enjoys widespread respect in Moscow -- spoke late last month on the tenth anniversary of the first multi-candidate election in the Soviet Union. He said the Russian view of the world has not changed fundamentally in the last decade.

"It is hugely difficult to change the economic, political and mental outlook of society. What happened in the last 10 years is due not only to the mistakes made by authorities -- if we don't count Chechnya -- but on the absolutely deformed consciousness of society." Ryzhev said that the Russian outlook has, in his words "been deformed not only by 70 years of Soviet power, but [also] by the militarist, super power-like consciousness of the last 300 years."