Russian History


The Search for Objectives

In early 1992, Russian foreign minister Andrey Kozyrev announced that Russian foreign policy would differ from foreign policy under Gorbachev's New Thinking because democratic principles would drive it. These principles would provide a solid basis for peaceful policies. Kozyrev also stressed that the basis for the new foreign policy would be Russia's national interests rather than the so-called international class interests that theoretically underlay Soviet foreign policy. For two years (1992-93), Russian foreign policy was generally low key and conciliatory toward the West with endorsement of many Western foreign policy positions on world conflicts. Pressing domestic problems were a major determinant of this direction. Kozyrev argued that good relations with the West were possible because "no developed, democratic, civil society . . . can threaten us."

Domestic politics placed increasing pressure on this pro-Western and generally benign attitude. Bureaucratic infighting broke out in the government over foreign policy goals and the means of implementing them, and the same questions stimulated a major conflict between the legislative and executive branches of power. In this period, conflict and confusion exacerbated or triggered foreign policy problems with Ukraine, Japan, and the former Yugoslavia.

The lack of clarity in many aspects of foreign policy also reflected opposing Russian viewpoints over Russia's place in the world. Public debates raged over whether Russia should orient itself toward the West or the East, whether Russia was still a superpower, and what the intentions of the West were toward Russia--all indicating Russia's general search for a new identity to replace the accepted truths of Marxism-Leninism and the Cold War. In the debate, ultranationalists and communists strongly criticized what they viewed as pro-Western policies and argued that close relations with the West constituted a danger to Russia's national security because the West remained Russia's chief enemy. As early as December 1990, Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze had cited harsh criticism of his conciliatory position toward the West as a major reason for his resignation.

To allay Russians' broad uncertainty about their country's place in the world, in early 1992 Kozyrev presented the Supreme Soviet (parliament) with his concept of three main foreign policy objectives, but the conservative legislators did not accept them. In January 1993, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs prepared another draft, which also met substantial criticism. Finally, in April 1993, the newly created Interdepartmental Foreign Policy Commission of the Security Council finalized a foreign policy concept that the parliament approved (see The Security Council, this ch.).

According to the 1993 foreign policy concept, Russia is a great power with several foreign policy priorities: ensuring national security through diplomacy; protecting the sovereignty and unity of the state, with special emphasis on border stability; protecting the rights of Russians abroad; providing favorable external conditions for internal democratic reforms; mobilizing international assistance for the establishment of a Russian market economy and assisting Russian exporters; furthering integration of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS--see Glossary) and pursuing beneficial relations with other nearby foreign states, including those in Central Europe; continuing to build relations with countries that have resolved problems similar to those that Russia faces; and ensuring Russia an active role as a great power. The concept also called for enhanced ties with Asian Pacific countries to balance relations with the West. Beginning in 1993, public statements about foreign policy placed greater emphasis on the protection of Russia's vital interests and less emphasis on openly pro-Western policies.

The 1993 concept disclosed a dispute between liberals and conservatives over the nature of Russian foreign policy toward the CIS. Liberals warned of the great human and material costs Russia would be forced to shoulder if it reabsorbed the former Soviet republics, a step the conservatives increasingly advocated in the 1990s. Liberals argued that Russia could be a great power without pursuing that policy. Both liberals and conservatives agreed, however, that Russia should play an active role in safeguarding the human rights of the 25 million ethnic Russians who found themselves in a foreign country for the first time after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The 1993 foreign-policy concept called for strengthening a "unified military strategic space" in the CIS and protecting Russia's major interests there. It warned that a third state's military-political presence in the CIS, or actions among the CIS states such as creation of an economic or religious bloc of Central Asian states, could negatively affect Russia's interests. In the case of Central Asia, this would occur if ethnic Russians were forced to flee the region. On a somewhat more liberal note that showed its compromise quality, the concept recognized that intraregional cooperation could have positive results and that Russia should react to each effort individually. The primacy of relations with the CIS was strengthened after the December 1993 Russian legislative elections, in which nationalist factions expanded their power base.

For the conservatives, Russian dominance was necessary to secure southern borders and to ensure continued access to the waterways, ports, and natural resources of the newly independent states. Some conservatives asserted that Russia's military security required a line of defense outside Russia's own borders and along the borders of the former Soviet Union (and even, according to some, including a "neutral" Central Europe) (see The Geopolitical Context, ch. 9). A related position called for Russia to counter efforts by countries such as Turkey and Iran to gain influence in the new states.

Some Western observers suggested that the characteristic positions of Russian conservatives and liberals regarding the near abroad differed only in the degree of hegemony they demanded that Russia have over the CIS states. These observers also saw Russia engaging in a two-sided foreign policy that distinguished policy toward the near abroad from policy toward the rest of the world (see The Near Abroad, this ch.).

The 1993 concept and a new military doctrine were to be parts of an all-inclusive Russian national security concept. In April 1996, the Yeltsin government announced a draft national security concept. That document included the seemingly progressive renunciation of strategic and military parity with the United States, reaffirmation of collective security within the CIS, and support for reductions in nuclear arsenals and domestic military reforms. Ratification of the new concept was subject to the political events of mid-1996, including the presidential election.