Domestic Opposition Leads Russia to Take Assertive UN Stance

DOMESTIC political concerns are diminishing Russia's ability to continue close cooperation with the West in United Nations actions against Yugoslavia and Iraq.

Russia up to now has generally followed the United States lead in the implementation of UN sanctions aimed at curbing Serbian and Iraqi aggression. But now, with its leaders under growing pressure from nationalist hard-liners at home, Russia is becoming less willing to support unconditionally further UN moves against Belgrade and Baghdad.

"Russia's leaders have to take into account the mounting opposition in [Russian] society at large, and the Supreme Soviet [parliament] in particular, to a progressive foreign policy," says Andrei Kortunov, a researcher at Moscow's USA-Canada Institute.

President Boris Yeltsin, who departed yesterday on a three-day visit to India, served notice that Russia wanted greater input in the formulation of UN policy toward Serbia and Iraq.

"We felt with Yugoslavia, we felt with Iraq, that yes, definitely, there was a tendency on the part of the United States to dictate conditions," Mr. Yeltsin said at a Monday news conference. "One country should not dictate to another what to do in one region of the world or another."

Indeed, Moscow of late has become increasingly assertive regarding the UN actions. For example, the Foreign Ministry yesterday dispatched Deputy Minister Vitaly Churkin to the Croatian capital Zagreb for discussions on Croatia's recent military offensive against Serbs in the Krajina region of the republic.

Russia, which has traditionally close ties to Serbia, has condemned the Croatian offensive, warning that it hinders advancement toward overall Yugoslav settlement at peace talks in Geneva. Mr. Churkin and others have warned that Russia may press for UN sanctions against Croatia if Zagreb does not alter its belligerent behavior.

"We are worried that at this moment, when progress in the negotiating process is taking shape, Croatia is undertaking, in my view, altogether reckless and essentially adventurist actions," Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said Tuesday.

According to Mr. Kortunov, hard-line nationalist pressure is a main reason for the shift in the Russian stance. The ultra-nationalists in parliament have become increasingly vociferous in their criticism of Russia's foreign policy, especially its role in UN actions. Economic sanctions against Yugoslavia and Iraq, they argue, are costing Russia millions of rubles - money that is badly needed to ease the economic crisis at home. Several prominent conservative legislators, such as Vladimir Isakov, say Mosco w should lift sanctions against Serbia because of its willingness to participate in the Geneva peace talks.

Meanwhile, in an appearance before parliament's International Affairs Committee Tuesday, Foreign Minister Kozyrev assured that Russia plans to curtail its foreign activity, reducing the number of top-level trips abroad.

"They [Yeltsin and Kozyrev] are trying to maintain the lead in foreign policy," Kortunov says. "By moving from the left to the center they seek to maintain the initiative, while marginalizing and isolating the extreme critics."

Russian leaders do not wish to radically change the country's foreign policy, Kortunov says, although they would like the US and other Western nations to show greater interest in economic and political reform in Russia.

Thus, the recent Yeltsin statements on Yugoslavia and Iraq can also be regarded as a call for help, Kortunov says. "By doing this he [Yeltsin] may generate renewed interest in Russia's problems.

"There is a certain frustration here over the small size and scope of Western aid for Russia," Kortunov continues. The US, he says, can help prevent a further toughening of Russian foreign policy with a few gestures of support - particularly a quick, mostly symbolic summit between Yeltsin and President Clinton.

"The US should confirm it cares about the success of economic and democratic reforms here," Kortunov says.

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