AS the campaign for Russia's new parliament finally heats up, Russian nationalism is emerging as an important theme in many candidates' appeals.
Some of this is coming from expected quarters. Last Wednesday night, extremist political leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky filled a paid television broadcast with descriptions of how Russians living in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia were being discriminated against, raped, and humiliated.
Mr. Zhirinovsky, who won 6 million votes in a run for the Russian presidency two years ago, referred to these new nations as ``territories that have temporarily seceded from the Russian state.''
But the extremists' rhetoric in the run-up to the Dec. 12 election is matched in content, though perhaps not in flamboyance, by those who claim to represent the ``democratic'' end of the Russian political spectrum.
Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, who is running for the lower house of parliament on the ticket of Russia's Choice, the leading pro-reform party, has been heavily stressing nationalist themes. From opposition to the expansion of NATO to tough talk against former Soviet republics such as Armenia and Ukraine for resisting Russian policy views, Mr. Kozyrev has been talking in unusually strident tones (The politics of personality, Page 4).
In mid-November, Kozyrev used a tour of three Central Asian states to raise the issue of treatment of the Russian minorities whose presence there dates back to the days of the Czarist Empire. He demanded dual citizenship for the Russians, reportedly triggering an angry outburst from Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov and the cancellation of a meeting with Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
At a press conference called hastily for Nov. 22 to denounce Armenia for an alleged attack on the convoy of a Russian peace envoy, Kozyrev broadly warned: ``We will toughly protect the interests of the Russian-speaking population whenever they are threatened,'' he said.
The Kazakh leader, who has been one of the most ardent advocates of close ties with Russia among the former Soviet republics, later issued an unusually blunt response. ``When someone starts talking about the protection of Russians, not in Russia, but in Kazakhstan, I recall Hitler, who started with protecting the Sudeten Germans,'' he said in an interview with Interfax Nov. 24. He accused Kozryev of engaging in ``populist election games.''
Mr. Nazarbayev underlined his feelings by canceling at the last minute a talk with Russian President Boris Yeltsin during a planned stopover on a return flight from Europe on Saturday. The Kazakh leader is in the most sensitive position of any former Soviet republic as about 40 percent of the population of Kazakhstan is Russian-speaking and concentrated in a northern tier of heavily industrialized mining regions. Russian nationalists, among them author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, have frequently called for the ``return'' of these lands to Russia.
The Russian foreign minister, who has been widely viewed as the champion of a pro-Western liberal position within Mr. Yeltsin's government, puts the issue of the Russian-speaking population in a broader strategic context: Russia has a historic interest and responsibility to ensure stability in the former Soviet Union, to carry out ``peacekeeping operations,'' he says.
``There are two extreme positions,'' Kozyrev told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta on Nov. 24, ``to cling to the supercentralized state, the USSR, which is hopeless, or to completely withdraw from the zones of traditional influence which have been formed, conquered if you wish, over centuries. That would be an unjustified loss.''
The desire for recognition of Russia's supremacy on former Soviet territory also drives reaction to the proposal to expand the NATO alliance into Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics. The Russian government opposes such an expansion. A rare public report from the Foreign Intelligence Service last week poured cold water on a US compromise plan to grant transitional associate memberships in NATO.
Kozyrev will propose a totally new structure at meetings this week in Rome of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and in Brussels of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, which links NATO to the Eastern Europe and former Soviet states. According to Russian officials, he will propose that peacekeeping operations be coordinated by a new body, grouping NATO, Eastern Europe, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which includes 12 former Soviet republics.
Marshal Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, a candidate of the reformist Russian Movement for Democratic Reforms and former chief of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces, also supported Kozyrev's position. ``I just cannot understand the idea of strengthening NATO,'' Marshal Shaposhnikov told a two-day conference of military and civilian security experts last week. ``It is hard for me to imagine NATO's blue helmets in the role of peacekeepers here on Russian territory.''
Restoring Russia's status as a great power has also been a theme of other election campaigns. Vice Premier Vladimir Shumeiko, running on the Russia's Choice ticket, published an article in Rossiskaya Gazeta on Nov. 19 calling for creation of a new Russian ideology to restore Russian greatness. ``The image of Great Russia both inside and outside the country is being replaced ... with the image of a `poor, disintegrating, unstable Russia' that badly needs `Western aid' and `leftovers' of Western technology,'' he complained.
The tough talk has been enough to draw sneers from Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov that the reformers were trying to steal the ideas of their Communist-nationalist foes. ``Many of them have even mastered the national-patriotic vocabulary which they had not resorted to before,'' he told Izvestia on Nov. 19.