A Russian Movement Rejects Western Tilt
Powerful voices are being raised to strengthen Russia and reorient foreign policy toward Asia
IN the year since the Soviet Union's disintegration, Russia has pursued a largely Western-oriented foreign policy, and the West has grown comfortable with its new friend.
President Boris Yeltsin has looked westward for vital economic aid and political support for his controversial reforms. He has carried on and extended the arms control policies of the previous Soviet government of Mikhail Gorbachev. Russia has backed Western policy in the Persian Gulf, Cuba, and elsewhere, shedding the ideological alliances of the Soviet communist era.
But as Russians recover from the shock of the Soviet Union's collapse, a movement is growing here, one backed even by those in power, that could make Russia a less-sure friend of the West. Russia's foreign and security policies have become rallying points in the parliament for a growing coalition of former Communists and new nationalists who deplore the pro-Western policies.
Not only extremists but also many moderates criticize policies ranging from the position on the Balkan crisis to a new nuclear disarmament pact with the United States. They complain that Russia, shorn of its great-power status, is being taken for granted.
Since last fall, President Yeltsin has shown an increasing receptivity to critics of that pro-Western policy. In an Oct. 27 speech to senior officials of the Foreign Ministry, he assailed the failure to define a foreign policy that reflects Russia's status as a great power. He chided the Foreign Ministry for its obsequious attitude toward the West.
"We are too shy in the world community," Mr. Yeltsin said. "We often take defensive positions or, on the contrary, copy others. They sometimes address Russia in an inadmissible way, even put humiliating conditions. But Russia is not a country that can be kept in the entrance hall."
These assertions were followed by a series of presidential visits to Russia's Asian neighbors, beginning with South Korea. In recent weeks the Russian government has carefully distanced itself from the US decision to use force against Iraq and to contemplate using it against Serbia. Yeltsin was pointedly defiant, for example, during a visit to India last week in refusing US demands to scrap a contract to sell rocket engines to the Indian space program. During that visit, Yeltsin went the furthest he has gone so far in defining this shift in Russian foreign policy.
"Russia is a Euro-Asian power whose territory covers an area of 17 million square kilometers, including 10 million square kilometers lying in Asia," he said at a press conference Jan. 29.
"This simple arithmetic determines that we need to maintain a balance in our foreign policy relations with the West and the East. Our emblem has a two-headed eagle, one head looking to the West and the other head looking to the East.
"We had an independent foreign policy a year ago by making an emphasis on our relations with the United States. That was because we had to provide a powerful incentive to the drive for reduction of nuclear weapons to combat fear and then to proceed along the path of balance.
"The recent series of state visits to South Korea, China, and now to India ... are indicative of the fact that we are moving away from the Western emphasis." Liberals also `Eurasians'
Yeltsin counts among his advisers some respected liberals who are also strong advocates of this "Eurasian" viewpoint, as it has been popularly labeled. These include presidential counselor and historian Sergei Stankeivich and Asian specialist Vladimir Lukin, who currently serves as ambassador to the US. As moderate nationalists, these liberal democrats assert that the pro-Western policy has failed to yield results, particularly in terms of promised Western aid.
"Yeltsin's balancing act is more pragmatic than conceptual," former Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh says. "Yeltsin's actions in Asia are not a sign that he doesn't trust the West.... [But] the West practically is not doing much. Yeltsin is running around looking for more friends, more support, just to sustain the reform."
The veteran diplomat points to the failure of Westernizing liberals, dubbed the "Atlanticists," to define a comprehensive Russian foreign policy in the post-Soviet era. "It's a different country, but we are hesitant about defining what Russia is at the moment," he says. "Even the exact geographic contours of the country are not discussed." For example, the Foreign Ministry, unused to the idea that what was once a fellow Soviet republic is now a foreign country, has been slow to focus on relations with Uk raine.
But the Atlanticists' opponents have little trouble defining their vision of Russia. They reach back to a broad set of ideas of imperial nationalism, developed during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the popular ideas widely discussed in radical nationalist journals and newspapers is Eurasianism, developed by Russian emigre intellectuals in the 1920s and 30s partly in response to the creation of the Soviet Union.
Eurasianism draws heavily on the thoughts of Petr Savitsky, a geographer who in 1921 defined a concept of Eurasian geopolitics, asserting Russia represents a unique civilization. These views were summarized and promoted in a Dec. 24 article in Pravda by former Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov: "The Eurasians are those who view Russia as a specific cultural and historical world, for whom Russia is not just a state but one-sixth of the earth, neither Europe nor Asia, but a special heartland continent - Eu rasia - with its own cultural and historical destiny."
Mr. Zyuganov is one of the leaders of the National Salvation Front, the newest and most powerful manifestation of the political alliance of former Communist and Russian chauvinists. He advocates that Russia must now choose between a "Western world view" of extreme individualism and Russia's corporatist, collectivist tradition. While the West "regards the state as a `night watchman' with rather limited functions," he wrote, Eurasia sees the state as a sacred institution, "a father, not a `sales manager.' "
Sergei Baburin, a young politician considered the leading figure in the nationalist bloc in parliament, expressed this view in a lengthy address to journalists Jan. 28. To the extent that Russia looks outside for models of reform, Mr. Baburin says it should base itself on the more statist, hierarchical examples of East Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, and China.
For Baburin, as well as for many other Eurasianists, the most vital issue is the fate of the former Soviet Union, which they see as largely synonymous with Russia. They regard the separation of the Baltics, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and the Transcaucasian republics from Russia as a violation of historical logic.
"Our experience of a single, united Russian state is not decades old," Baburin says, referring to the Soviet period, "it is centuries old. Therefore, whoever is ... to be leader of Russia will have to face the challenge of stopping and reversing the centrifugal forces now working in Russia."
Eurasianists have also tried to define their own security policy. In the nationalist journal Nash Sovremennik of December, Gen. Boris Tarasov outlined a "military strategy" for Russia. "Russia faces long-term threats from a revived Germany and Japan," he wrote, adding that the greatest danger arises from former republics.
"The most important task of Russian foreign policy should be the drive toward creation or re-establishment of Russia within her historical boundaries, at least within the borders of its Slavic nucleus," he argued. "[Otherwise] Ukraine will probably become a major source of instability.... Its thrust toward a great-power-type policy and its association with other countries in order to confront Russia will be very strong."
Wary of becoming embroiled in ethnic and religious conflicts in Muslim Central Asia and the Transcaucasus, General Tarasov advocates an "allied countries' belt" including Kazakhstan, which has a 40 percent Russian population, and Communist-lead Uzbekistan. A growing potency
These advocates of Eurasianism are undoubtedly among the most strident and extreme of the nationalist camp. But Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, a major target of these forces, acknowledged the growing potency of these ideas in an unusual speech at a mid-December meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. He delivered what he later explained was a mock summary of "the demands of what is by no means the most extreme opposition in Russia."
The speech, intended to shock the Western audience, declared a shift in Russian focus from Europe to Asia, demanded the lifting of sanctions on Serbia, and announced the re-establishment of a federation among the former Soviet states.
While Mr. Kozyrev was widely criticized for his unorthodox style, his invented warning rings true. Indeed, in a speech to parliament's foreign affairs commission Jan. 26, Kozyrev outlined a policy that was noticeably inward-looking.
Yeltsin is now going to cut back his travel, and Russia's top priority will be to strengthen the Commonwealth of Independent States, the loose confederation of 10 former Soviet republics, Kozyrev told parliament, according to an official Itar-Tass report. Other priorities, he said, are defending the human rights of Russians living in former republics and creating a "belt of good neighbors" around Russia.
While he defended recent arms control treaties as beneficial for Russian security, Kozyrev added that "disarmament is not a goal in itself."