THE departure of Andrei Kozyrev as foreign minister breaks the last link with the euphoric, pro-Western days of Russian foreign policy following the fall of communism.
His resignation marks the end of an era and offers a graphic illustration of how Russian foreign policy has changed in the four years since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
No successor has yet been named. While several political figures are known to be keen on the job, the post may fall to a career diplomat who would act as a caretaker, at least until the presidential elections scheduled for June.
The Kremlin was quick to reassure foreign governments after Mr. Kozyrev's resignation on Friday, which allowed him to take a seat in the Duma (the lower house of parliament) he won in elections Dec. 17. The long-expected move should not be seen "as any kind of threat or as an indication of change in Russia's foreign policy," says Sergei Medvedev, a spokesman for Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
Yet expressions of regret flooded into Moscow from Europe and the United States at the news of Kozyrev's departure. Boyish, soft-spoken, and likable, he personified what the West had hoped would be the new Russia.
But from the moment Kozyrev took office, he represented governments that were robbed of real international weight by the colossal changes they were going through: first Russia as a republic within the disintegrating Soviet Union, and then Russia as an infant state that hardly had an identity, let alone a foreign policy.
The result was that on many issues, in its eagerness to build new ties to the West, Moscow followed Washington like a lap dog - most notably in the Middle East, where its role in the US-sponsored peace process was merely ornamental.
Kozyrev may have had no alternative, but his willingness to go along with the West earned him the title in the Russian press of "Mr. Yes," a play on "Mr. Nyet," used by the Western media to describe Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko during the cold war. "The problem was that Kozyrev said yes to the West even before he was asked, which grossly exaggerated the humiliation," says Sergei Karaganov, director of the Europe Institute, an influential think tank here. "He has never been forgiven for that, even by those who support the basic lines" of his policy.
Over the past two years, Russia has developed its post-Soviet identity and a Russian, rather than Soviet, foreign policy.
Not surprisingly, these interests have not always coincided with those of the West. But in the throes of economic and political changes whose end results are still unclear, Russia remains too weak to fully pursue an independent course, as events in the Balkans have revealed.
Although Moscow has not acted as Washington's lap dog in international diplomacy on the former Yugoslavia, it has been unable to offer coherent alternative policies. The best it can manage at the moment, Dr. Karaganov says, "is to show that things cannot be done without us."
At the same time, the mood in Russia has changed, and Kozyrev has changed with it.
In December 1992, he shocked the world by delivering a cold-war-style speech in which he threatened, among other things, to use "all available means, including military and economic ones," to defend Russian interests in the republics of the former Soviet Union. He quickly explained that he had not meant a word of his speech, which he had intended as shock diplomacy to highlight what might happen if reformers lost power in Moscow. "Neither President Yeltsin ... nor I will ever agree to what I read out," he said at the time.
But by April last year Kozyrev was warning that "there may be cases when the use of direct military force will be needed to defend our compatriots abroad" in the former Soviet republics. And this time it was no joke.