Russia Pushes More Aggressive Foreign Agenda

Great-power status remains a touchy issue as the US secretary of state visits Moscow

FEW members of Boris Yeltsin's government were more pleased by the dissolution of Russia's parliament than Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev.

For almost two years, the career diplomat was a prime target of the alliance of neo-Communists and Russian nationalists who accused him of being a slavish follower of the West. On issues ranging from the former Yugoslavia and the fate of the Russian minority in the Baltics to arms control, Mr. Kozyrev was pressured to stand up for ``neglected'' Russian interests.

``We have put an end to the `red-brown' shadow and our hands have become freer,'' an exultant Kozyrev told Russian reporters on the plane back from Tokyo earlier this month. ``But,'' he added, ``no one should think that ... will lead to a situation when we shall refuse to defend Russia's position, even in those cases when it contradicts that of the West or our partners within the Commonwealth of Independent States [CIS],'' the alliance of 11 former Soviet republics (Nuclear missiles in Ukraine, Page 6).

Since the Oct. 4 siege of Russia's parliament building, the Russian foreign minister has presented an even more assertive vision of Russia's independent stance toward its would-be Western partners. He is delivering this message in person: earlier this week in Paris, today with visiting US Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and next week in London.

This may complicate the aims of Mr. Christopher, who is hoping to showcase the success of the Clinton administration's support for Russian market-economy and democratic reforms. The Yeltsin government is grateful for President Clinton's backing during the recent turmoil, but it will be eager to demonstrate Russia's own status as a great power.

In recent weeks, Kozyrev has stressed two issues in this regard: the proposed extension of membership in NATO to the Eastern European countries formerly under Moscow's thumb; and Russia's military intervention into conflicts within and between former Soviet republics as a ``peacekeeper.''

Western governments were pleasantly surprised when President Yeltsin, during a late August visit to Poland, issued a statement saying that Moscow no longer saw any problem in membership for its former satellites in the Western military bloc. But in September, Yeltsin sent a letter to Western governments opposing NATO expansion. Some ascribed this turnabout to the growing influence of the Russian military, but many here regard that as a simplistic explanation.

Kozyrev took to France on Wednesday an ``explanation'' of the Yeltsin letter, one that softened but did not change the message. Russia no longer regards NATO as a threat to its security, nor does it deny the right of Eastern European nations to decide themselves what alliances to join, Kozyrev told the French, according to his adviser, Galina Sidorova.

But citing Russian public opposition to NATO, Ms. Sidorova warned that ``there is a feeling that Russia is being placed in isolation.'' In a key policy statement published in the daily Izvestia on Oct. 20, Kozyrev expressed concerns that exclusion of Russia will only feed those anti-Western forces within his own country, unvanquished despite the recent events. Instead, Kozyrev stresses the need for creating new ``all-European'' institutions that would include Russia as well.

The Russian foreign minister takes an even sharper tone in defending what some have called Russia's Monroe Doctrine, the assertion of a special role in keeping stability and halting conflicts within its former empire. Yeltsin proposed this concept last February and Kozyrev repeated it at the United Nations in late September, calling for the world community to provide support, including money, to Russian peacekeeping operations in areas such as the Transcaucasus and Central Asia.

``Russia counts on the support for her peacekeeping efforts in the former USSR,'' Kozyrev wrote on Oct. 20. ``But let those who do not want to share this burden with us stop telling us about the threat of a new `Russian imperialism.' ''

But despite the protestation, Kozyrev himself does not hesitate to describe this peacekeeping mission in terms of protecting Russia's sphere of influence. ``There is a danger of losing geopolitical positions that had been gained over centuries,'' he wrote in Izvestia on Oct. 8. But he is careful to pose this as a struggle against Russia's Islamic neighbors rather than the old Western enemy.

``We have quite a few neighbors in Asia who are ready to send to former republics both militants and weapons, even under cover of peacekeeping forces,'' he said, in reference to Afghanistan and Iran, and perhaps even Turkey. ``It is these states, and not the US as our patriots believe, who pursue the goal of squeezing Russia out of the region, limiting her influence.''

Foreign policy analysts argue that the continued expression of a more nationalist foreign policy reflects the fact that the destruction of the old parliament does not mean the end of domestic politics as a key influence in policymaking. ``The role of the parliament as a pressure factor is now being played by the forthcoming election,'' comments former Soviet foreign minister Alexander Bessmertnykh, head of the Foreign Policy Association think tank.

``Now Yeltsin is trying to steal the slogans of the Supreme Soviet [parliament] and to use rhetoric about the Great Russian State, partially to use against the regions and to appeal to some strata of the population,'' says Andrei Kortunov, analyst at the USA-Canada Institute in Moscow.

Even if the more extremist foes of Yeltsin have been removed, criticism of an overly obsequious pro-Western policy will be well-represented in the election. For example, Russian Ambassador to the US Vladimir Lukin, who will run for parliament on the ticket of the moderate opposition bloc led by economist Grigory Yavlinsky, criticized Americans in Moscow News this week for trying to ``almost administer Russian reforms.'' He reserved harsher words for those Russians ``who are frozen in a sweet kiss with America.''

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