Return of the Bear

Russia is reasserting its influence on the global stage under the guiding hand of an old Soviet apparatchik.


Andrew Meier
September 26, 1996 3:19PM (UTC)

MOSCOW --

while the West wrings its hands nervously, for Russia the current violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank could not have come at a better time. With many Arab countries already wary of Israel's right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
and his coolness toward the peace process, the time may now be ripe for Moscow to re-enter the Middle East debate, resume its seat at the peacemaking table and show its tilt towards the Arab side.

If that happens, it will mark a triumph for Foreign Minister
Yevgeny Primakov -- who, while President Boris Yeltsin remains sidelined, has
quietly but dramatically reoriented Russia's foreign policy away from the West and more toward former friends and the former Soviet republics.

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The 66-year-old Primakov, a senior apparatchik in the former Soviet regime, replaced the pro-Western Andrei Kozyrev as foreign minister last January, much to the satisfaction of both Communists and extreme nationalists in the Duma, the Russian parliament. While he was long known for his hostility to the West, and for wanting to reassert Russian dominance in the former Soviet territories, he faced a
formidable challenge: how does a politically unstable and cash-strapped
great power regain international influence?

Primakov hit on a low-cost, non-military solution: wherever possible, Russia will step into regional disputes as peacemaker and expand its influence through successful
mediation.

The "Primakov doctrine" faced its first test during the latest Gulf crisis. At
first, Moscow lambasted President Clinton's cruise missile strikes at Iraq as proof
of Washington's desire to dominate the post-Cold War world. But then Primakov
softened his tone and moved into the diplomatic vacuum to mediate on
behalf of his old friend Saddam Hussein. Soon Primakov was on Russian TV
taking credit for Baghdad's vow not to fire on allied aircraft patrolling
the expanded no-fly zones over Iraq.

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To bolster his Gulf strategy, Primakov is working to revive
the "oil for food" deal previously negotiated, before the latest crisis erupted, between the United Nations and Iraq. If that works, look for Primakov to try and
orchestrate an international effort to lift all sanctions on Iraq. If he succeeds,
he will open the door for Russia's mighty banks and oil companies to return to Baghdad, this time with real money and billion-dollar deals.

The political stakes are equally high. By jumping in to defend Iraq
against American "hegemonism," Primakov, who speaks Arabic, knows he can bolster his
reputation in Baghdad as a trusted comrade of Saddam's. And he also knows
that this will help him rebuild the many old bridges to the Middle East
which fell along with the Soviet empire. The current crisis in the Arab-Israeli peace process could play right into Primakov's game plan.

As he has in the Middle East, Primakov is also moving into the diplomatic
vacuum surrounding Russia's "Near Abroad," the former Soviet republics.
Soon after assuming control of the foreign ministry, he twice toured the
Central Asian states. That started the re-building of Moscow's ties
to the region's newly independent countries: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan,
Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

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He has also been conducting shuttle diplomacy between Armenia and
Azerbaijan -- the worst of neighbors even in the old USSR. His efforts
helped secure the release of 109 prisoners held in the conflict between
the two republics over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

With his boss Yeltsin facing an uncertain fate under the knife and the
jockeying for power in the Kremlin already underway, Primakov knows his
future hangs in the balance. But he need not worry. With this forceful new
doctrine, Primakov has prepared his own best arguments for staying in
power.

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© Pacific News Service


Quote of the day

Where is the rest of him?

"Someone I don't know has stripped Bob Dole of the things that made him appealing. This was a man who got things done in Washington, who broke the logjams people hate. This was a man with a fine, ironic sense of humor, which he used to puncture stuffed shirts. But none of that shows up now."

-- A Midwestern Republican official on Dole's performance on the campaign trail (From "Dole's Persona Seems Muted in Campaign," in Thursday's
New York Times)


Andrew Meier

Andrew Meier, currently traveling through Russia on an Alicia Patterson Foundation fellowship, has lived in and reported from the former Soviet Union since the early 1990s.

MORE FROM Andrew Meier



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