The Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was a central battleground of foreign policy formation from October 1990 until January 1996, when Andrey Kozyrev led it. In the two years before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Kozyrev had played an important role in challenging the supremacy of Soviet foreign policy. At the end of 1991, Kozyrev's ministry formally absorbed the functions and many of the personnel of the defunct Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At that point, budgetary constraints forced the closure of three dozen former Soviet embassies and consulates and the release of more than 2,000 personnel.
After some uncertainty about the role of the ministry, Yeltsin decreed in 1992 that it should ensure a unified policy line in Russian relations with foreign states and coordinate the foreign policy activities of other government agencies. At the end of 1992, increasing criticism of policy led Yeltsin to subordinate the role of the ministry to the supervision of the IFPC.
Beginning in 1992, Kozyrev and his ministry became the targets of increasingly forceful attacks from Russia's nationalist factions, who found any hint of pro-Western policy a pretext to call for Kozyrev's ouster. On several occasions, Yeltsin also criticized his foreign minister in public. Remarkably, Kozyrev retained his position until January 1996, when Yeltsin replaced him during a wave of nationalist appointments.
In December 1992, Kozyrev delivered what came to be called his shock diplomacy speech at a meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE--see Glossary). In the speech, he outlined what he termed corrections to Russian foreign policy in a list of priorities that ultranationalists advocated. The corrections included a shift in policy away from the West and toward Asia; admonitions against NATO involvement in the Baltic states or other areas of the near abroad; a call for lifting UN economic sanctions against Serbia; and a demand that the near abroad rejoin Russia in a new federation or confederation. Western foreign ministries expressed shock, and Kozyrev retracted the speech by describing it as a rhetorical warning of what might happen if ultranationalists came to dictate Russian foreign policy. Although some Russian and Western observers said the speech was irresponsible, others saw it as an attempt to discredit ultranationalist views (and prevent the creation of the IFPC, then under consideration) by dramatizing the potential impact of extremist views.
In March 1995, Yeltsin criticized Kozyrev for his actions on several policy fronts and assumed control of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the authority to appoint all deputy foreign ministers. At the same time, Yeltsin enhanced the ministry's powers by making it responsible for coordinating and controlling all governmental foreign policy actions. Perhaps to head off mounting electoral criticism of foreign policy during 1995, as well as to enhance coordination efforts, Yeltsin also established a governmental commission on foreign policy. Ostensibly, the commission was to evaluate the ministry's conduct of foreign policy and to determine policy coordination needs between the presidential apparatus and government agencies having foreign policy responsibilities. Then, after intensified NATO bombardment of Bosnian Serb military targets in September 1995, Yeltsin reiterated his dissatisfaction with the ministry and the need for personnel and policy changes.
In December 1995, Yeltsin created yet another advisory group, the Council on Foreign Policy, to present him with proposals for coordinating the foreign policy activities of various government bodies and to inform him of their activities. Members of the council were to be the ministers of foreign affairs, defense, foreign trade, and finance; the heads of the foreign intelligence, security, and border guard services; and Yeltsin's foreign policy adviser. Scheduled to meet monthly, the council had projected functions virtually indistinguishable from those of the Security Council.
In January 1996, Yeltsin announced Kozyrev's resignation, which had long been expected in view of the harsh criticism of Russian foreign policy. Western analysts explained that the powerful reactionary forces in the State Duma had been poised to name their own candidate to head the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so Yeltsin forestalled their move by dismissing Kozyrev and naming the more moderate Yevgeniy Primakov, an Arabist who had been KGB chief of espionage in 1991. Analysts viewed Primakov as a pragmatist with no strong views toward the West and predicted he would serve only until the winner of the upcoming presidential election replaced him. They expected Primakov to follow Yeltsin's lead in foreign policy by making no new gestures of friendship toward the West during the presidential election year. Although Primakov began his tenure by reassuring the United States that Russia would remain true to its international commitments, he also declared that Russia was and remains a great power and that his primary goal was to reintegrate the former Soviet republics, especially the Baltic states and Ukraine. These statements blunted the nationalist factions' complaints that Yeltsin was a puppet of Western interests.