EVEN if a Communist wins the Russian presidential election next June, Russia is very unlikely to make a disastrous turn away from free markets and democracy, according to Andrei Kozyrev, who was fired as foreign minister last month.
Mr. Kozyrev became one of the first victims of the Communist Party's victory in parliamentary elections last December because he had become the leading symbol of pro-Western attitudes in an increasingly nationalistic Russia. But in a recent Monitor interview he remained relatively optimistic.
''I don't share the doomsday scenarios,'' he says, such as the prediction by former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais - also a recent exile from the government of President Boris Yeltsin - that a Communist electoral victory would bring bloodshed. The Communist Party candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, is running well ahead of any other candidates, including Yeltsin, in opinion polls. Communists already dominate the parliament.
A Communist presidency ''would be very damaging to Russia,'' says Mr. Kozyrev, now a deputy in the State Duma, or lower house of parliament. ''But I don't think there is a chance, even with Communists, of a disaster.
''There will be a degree of stability, of continuation, in any case,'' he says.
Kozyrev, who was foreign minister for four years, speculates that ''there may be a period of hesitation'' in relations with the West in which Russia shows more wariness. ''But there is no alternative to active partnership with the West,'' he says.
As foreign minister, Kozyrev's priority was to move Russia beyond the improved relations with the West that marked the late-Soviet period of President Mikhail Gorbachev to the point where Russia was part of the democratic world. He pushed hard, against a great deal of resistance, to sustain support for Western sanctions against Iraq and Serbia.
Among the many Russians who deeply distrust the West, he is reviled for his efforts. He argues, however, that strong engagement with the West will strengthen Russia on the issues that Communists and nationalists care most about: tighter reintegration of the countries of the former Soviet Union, on a voluntary basis, and a strong role in Asia. If Russia withdraws from the West, he says, Russia ''will become, and behave like, a mere regional power at a time of globalization. This does not strengthen Russia in either the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] or in Asia.''
Kozyrev's former boss, President Yeltsin, has become an ambiguous figure regarding reform in Russia. Yeltsin argues publicly for staying on a reform course, but he has fired all the leading reformers in his government in the last two months. Last week, he fired the head of Russia's television network, which was an important support for him in his more strongly reformist days.
But Kozyrev says Yeltsin, the man who fired him, has not yet turned his back on reform. ''There's still a window for him to prove otherwise, that he is not backtracking. He still has a chance to consolidate reforms.'' The December parliamentary vote was not a vote for communism or a return to the Soviet Union, he says, but of discontent with how reform has been carried out.
This means that Yeltsin must not roll back reforms but ''streamline'' them. Yeltsin, with all his contradictions, ''is both the leader and a mirror of Russian society. Looking at him, many Russians recognize themselves,'' Kozyrev says.