Ivanov: Threats Come From Asia, Not the West

Russia's main threats come from Asia, not the West, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in an interview published Wednesday that gave a candid assessment of his country's limited role in the post-Cold War world.

"The threat for Russia hides in the Caucasus Mountains region and its Asian border," Ivanov told the daily Izvestia. "One of the main threats we have seen has not been the United States or NATO, but Afghanistan."

Concern about Afghanistan prompted Russia to back the opposition alliance fighting the Taliban there last year, and to join the U.S.-led anti-terrorist coalition, Ivanov said.

President Vladimir Putin's decision to support the United States after the Sept. 11 terror attacks strongly bolstered Russia's ties to the West, following years of tension and uncertainty about Russia's post-Soviet direction.

"In the beginning of the 1990s we were in a state of searching and shakiness" about whether to align with Europe or Asia, Ivanov was quoted as saying. "Today, we realistically recognize what is in our interests and what isn't, what we can do and what we can't."

Russia cannot "revive a bipolar world, or again seek the role of a power dictating its rules of the game to someone else. We don't want to do that, but even if we did, we wouldn't be able to," Ivanov said.

In international markets, Russia should stop expecting its weak economy to be coddled and instead embrace full, equal competition, he said. "That doesn't mean someone should make exceptions for us."

Ivanov did not name specific Asian countries as threats to Russia other than Afghanistan. Moscow is also waging a war in Chechnya, and is in dispute with Iran and former Soviet republics in Central Asia over rights to the oil-rich Caspian Sea.

Ivanov gave mixed messages about relations with China, Russia's main Asian neighbor.

"We have full cooperation on international issues," he said. But he insisted that relations were not "wonderful" and protested China's restrictions on Russian steel imports.

Before Sept. 11, Russia and China had forged what they described as a partnership intended to offset U.S. global prominence. But China has become increasingly isolated as Moscow has forged closer ties with Washington.

 Ivanov will make a three-day visit to Seoul later this month, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.

During his July 26-28 visit, Ivanov will meet with Foreign Minister Choi Sung-hong, said Kim Jung-ha, an official at the ministry's Russian affairs bureau.

Topics will include "the latest developments on the Korean Peninsula," Kim said without elaborating.

Russia has expressed concern over a deadly skirmish between North and South Korean warships near the western sea border on June 29.